Social Justice and Social Movements

What is the meaning of “social justice” in the 21st century?

This course will approach that question by asking two further ones: What relevance does the aspiration to a fairer society have in a nation marked by gaping and growing inequalities? And how might we (as persons and as a society) move from talking the talk to walking the walk?

Inside the Classroom

Our classroom work will involve an intensive exploration of three aspects of social justice.

First, we will explore several leading theories of social justice drawing from both classical and contemporary thinkers, with a particular focus on theories of economic justice and the relationship between justice and democracy. Second, we will empirically explore concrete problems of social justice, with a particular focus on severe economic inequalities, gender inequalities, racial inequalities. Third, we will explore social movements and other historical processes which have advanced social justice in some way, with a view to considering what kinds of movements or actions have promise for advancing social justice in the future.

These questions are all clearly related to one another but are rarely discussed together in an integrated way; this course will provide space to do just that. Throughout the classroom reading we will make frequent but not exclusive references to how questions of justice and injustice play out in our own backyard—the Richmond metropolitan area.

Outside the Classroom

Students will over the course of the year engage in community-based learning involving a minimum total of forty-five hours of community engagement, thirty hours of which will consist of direct involvement in an organization or institution actively working on questions of social justice in the Richmond area. These organizations may be involved in advocacy, public policy, or service provision.

The remaining fifteen hours will consist of attending meetings and events related to ongoing social justice work in the Richmond community. To the extent possible, this student engagement will align with the multiple goals of the Maggie L. Walker Initiative for Expanding Opportunity and Fighting Poverty, the city’s comprehensive anti-poverty agenda. A list of qualifying organizations will be made available in the spring to students enrolled in the course.

During fall break, we will visit Cleveland, Ohio to study the comprehensive anti-poverty and neighborhood revitalization effort undertaken there, in particular the innovative Evergreen Cooperatives. (We will also visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!)

Research and Capstone Project

Students in the spring semester will have an opportunity to focus in depth in one of three areas: theories of social justice, problems of social justice, and solutions and movements towards social justice. Working in groups of two or three, students will conduct original research, write a final paper and make multimedia presentations both to the campus community and in an appropriate community forum off-campus.