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.
Posts in This Series
When is Justice Done?
As part of our campus programming for the centennial of the Russian Revolution, a historian colleague and I have been teaching an undergraduate course called “A... More
On September 19, 2017, an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale struck central Mexico. It came thirty-two years to the day after the 1985 earthquake tha... More
I saw Colleen’s face through the window in the door that separated the courtroom from the hallway. She was waiting, but for what exactly, I did not know. She di... More
What It Feels Like to Be Free: The Tense of Justice
From the start, my desire lay with Michel Foucault. In graduate school I watched his 1971 debate with Noam Chomsky, “Human Nature: Justice vs. Power,” and was t... More