Blogging my research: what do we talk about when we talk about social justice?

Word cloud of social justice definitions

We have now completed 19 interviews with PE and Sport academics / teacher educators in universities in England (part of a total of over 50 interviews across the world!). An interesting part of the discussion in these interviews has been around the participants’ definition of social justice and socio-cultural issues. These are the key things we are investigating so they are terms that we need to define with participants in order to be on the same page for the subsequent questions. There’s a diversity of responses in how these terms are understood and used. Below are some notes I made on the responses I got.

Social justice is appreciating and accepting difference and its importance in a diverse society. Achieving potential: students’ potential, society’s potential. Tolerating and understanding difference. Social identity: fitting in, or not fitting in. It affects you as a researcher: you want to know who you students are. It means breaking down inequality and privilege to social identity and biography. It means owning and examining privilege. What might be equal to one person is not another.

Social justice is aspiration, expectation, multiculturalism. It is more than legal equality, fairness and being treated the same: it is about social structure, cultural norms, but not just structure-agency, but things beyond our control, in everyday interactions. There’s a worry that current developments to British culture and politics are showing a fear of difference.

It can also be about moving from integration to inclusion: focusing on how environments can be adapted, not changing students/children/any people. Within physical education and sport courses, we need to look beyond sport to society in order to reach for social justice across the board.

If you are going to be a critical pedagogue, you need to be aware of social justice and socio-cultural issues, you need to be aware of giving voice while also understanding your own position. You can challenge students to find the holes in your perspective, but you need to be careful not to teach in an elite way.

Social justice needs to appear across all modules, to get it across through the back door, but it should also have a stand alone module for focus.

We might be more comfortable with terms like diversity, equality, equity, inclusion. Not everyone understands or uses the notion of social justice. Is it a new term? Why use this one in particular? Does it encompass something more or greater than equity?

I’d be interested to hear your perspective if you would like to add a comment.

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