Justice

We think we know what injustice feels like. We can identify moments in our own lives that felt like oppression, like the refusal of freedom, like a wrong. And we can imagine others feeling that same sense of being stifled. We can empathize. Doing so is frequently taken as a precondition for politics. We feel the unfairness, the it’s-just-not-right-ness of injustice, and thus we advocate.  

But what about justice? What does justice feel like? If injustice, as a politics, is thought to be flagged by a particular feeling, then what of justice? Is the determination of a situation as just likewise done by feeling? And, if so, what about the inverse: when a situation—a political outcome, a legal verdict, a conciliation, an election, a peace accord—is declared to be an achievement of justice but fails to elicit the expected affective response?  

This Correspondences session engages with the relationship between justice and affect to query the significance of their imbrication for politics. Do feelings of justice, like those of injustice, motivate political action? How do politics motivated by justice differ from politics motivated by injustice? Is a feeling of justice prompted by successful political action premised on senses of injustice? And can we even affectively separate feelings of justice and injustice? What are the stakes of this sort of affective engagement with the potentialities of politics?

In this dialogue, we draw out the dynamics of sociality—of shared-ness—that undergird theories of both affect and justice. In doing so, we aim to explore the affective dimensions of politics and, specifically, of coalition-building, considering whether the affective charges of justice and injustice are commensurable or not. To what extent do justice and injustice form unexpected political communities, where a sense of justice (and not just a logic) might bind populations across political divides? Where do fault lines, at which a person might declare that my (in)justice does not feel like your (in)justice, emerge?

We understand injustice to be affective, operating socially, while also aiming to highlight ethnographically individual differences in emotional experience. Perhaps (in)justice feels like disappointment, frustration, satisfaction, freedom, or exuberance. We take as a given that (in)justice feels different to different people, but consider the political implications for it feeling like something nonetheless, with the potential to bring people together or wrest them apart. In so doing, we aim to rethink the role of rationality and reason in deliberative politics and to present affect as an underexplored dimension of justice.  

Contributors  

Jessica R. Greenberg (“When is Justice Done?”) is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of After the Revolution: Youth, Democracy, and the Politics of Disappointment in Serbia.  

Karen Ann Faulk (“#19S) is a scholar with the Women’s Institute at Chatham University. She is the author of In the Wake of Neoliberalism:  Citizenship and Human Rights in Argentina (2013) and co-editor of A Sense of Justice: Legal Knowledge and Lived Experience in Latin America (2016), both with Stanford University Press.  

Jessica Cooper (“Patience) received her PhD in anthropology from Princeton University in 2018 and is a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anthropology and School of Law at Cornell University. Her first book project, Unaccountable: Surreal Life in California's Mental Health Courts, explores relationships between staff and clients in Californai's mental health courts to examine forms of care, ethics, and justice. 

Naisargi N. Dave (“What It Feels Like to Be Free: The Tense of Justice) is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Her research concerns emergent forms of relationality and politics in contemporary India. She is the author of Queer Activism in India: A Story in the Anthropology of Ethics.

Posts in This Series

When is Justice Done?

#19S

Patience