Towards a relational approach to social justice - liberals, radicals, and Brazil's 'new social contract'

UoM administered thesis: Phd


Recent literature in various practical fields calls for a ‘relational approach’ to social justice, as a theoretical alternative that transcends limitations with liberal contractarianism to offer more penetrating analysis of social justice. I critically engage literature from radical intellectual-political traditions such as Marxism, feminism, and critical race theory to propose what can – and can't – form the basis of a cogent relational critique of liberalism and an alternative positive account. I hone this through dialogue with Rawlsian ‘justice as fairness’, as well as more recent developments such as relational egalitarianism. The most distinguishing feature of a relational approach is ontological: its social-theoretic account of injustice comprises supra-individual phenomena – relations, social groups, structure, historical causality – as opposed to individual locations hosting portions of a distribuend. Moreover, I define an intermediate position in the ideal vs non-ideal theory debate, arguing that a persuasive relational approach would ‘start from injustice’; it would identify the primary desideratum incumbent on social justice theory as being that it enhances understanding of real injustice and thereby informs counteraction. One upshot is a closer relationship between political philosophy and social theory; in turn this reflects how a relational approach to social justice can enjoy symbiosis with the broader ‘relational turn’ in humanities and social sciences. The argument is furthered through exemplificatory reference to the empirical context of Brazil's post-redemocratisation experimentation with participatory democracy in the social assistance sector, as an aspect of the country's putative 'new social contract'.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2018