The IAPSS Annual Theme 2019 was approved by the IAPSS Executive Committee in September 2018 based on an open call for proposals earlier in the year.
Justice is a fundamental value for individuals and societies around the globe. However, the understandings of just and unjust conduct may vary significantly depending on a range of factors, including historical traditions and embeddedness, ideological preferences or regime types of the respective political community. While justice is very frequently associated with courts as one of the branches of the classical conception of separation of powers, developed by the French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu and his successors, other political institutions and actors play an at least equally important role in shaping individual and societal perceptions of justice. Moreover, in some political communities, justice that is aimed to be achieved through judicial systems in modern democracies is not generally accepted and other forms of ‘everyday’ justice are much more common.
Contemporary debates about justice that span in the academic world, policy spheres and society cannot be confined to the boundaries of single political communities, states and societies, but need to examine the interaction between them and the ways how they achieve reconciliation and redress of grievances at not only national, but also local and international levels. Moreover, several scholars, activists and policymakers alike point to the importance of increasing social (in)justice in contemporary times, where significant inequalities persist, hindering opportunities for full-blown participation of many individuals and whole groups in societal affairs.
Human rights are strongly intertwined with justice not only through the international and domestic judicial systems and regulatory institutions, but also with the existence (or lack of) resources to establish functioning and tailored mechanisms for their effective protection. International organizations of various kinds and scope engage in initiatives that attempt to equalize the opportunities, trying to look at all constituencies through the Rawlsian ‘veil of ignorance’ and reduce the disadvantages many of them face. However, power and authority relations may interfere with such efforts and while some of these interventions may reduce global and/or local injustices, others even exacerbate it. Phenomena such as abuse of power, corruption and clientelism arguably have a detrimental effect on justice perceptions, and increase negative emotions among the members of societies, such as a general distrust in politics and in various ‘Others’. The general ‘playing field’ is perceived to be full of injustice. Hoaxes and demagogueries often thrive as a result because individuals are looking for alternatives to the existing political arrangements, even if that means turning away from liberal democracy. At the same time, in cases where the institutional settings and political practices establish a hybrid or outright authoritarian regime, the perception of grave injustice may stimulate upheavals capable to trigger transitions towards democracy.
In 2019, IAPSS will examine the multiplicity of forms, features and elements of justice in contemporary societies, in domestic politics as well as international relations, creating networks for interaction between students, junior academics and more senior scholars.