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Engineering Teach the Teachers Workshop

Social Justice and the Economy: National and International Perspectives

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Spring 2007

The Rock Ethics Institute invites applicants for Faculty Seminar Fellowships on the topic of “Social Justice and the Economy: National and International Perspectives.”

This seminar is designed to promote interdisciplinary dialogue about ethics and economic justice, and to stimulate and support scholars who are pursuing research that helps to illuminate, theorize or apply ideas related to this topic.

The effects of Hurricane Katrina, including the inadequacy of governmental response, have graphically revealed the extent of poverty in the Gulf Coast and the complex links between poverty racism, gender, and disability. It also raised the question of why it is that the U.S. has, and accepts having, the highest poverty rate in the developed world. In response to this crisis, many scholars and citizens are raising questions regarding economic justice—both nationally and internationally.

In the U.S. neither academic nor public discourses about economic issues tend to be framed as questions about ethics or social values. While there are increasingly robust discussions about medical, environmental, and even political ethics, similar discussions about economic policies and practices are both less common and less developed.

Adam Smith argued that a just economic distribution was a necessary condition for prosperous economic development. “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members is poor and miserable,” (The Wealth of Nations, Book I Chapter VIII). Many contemporary economists have disagreed, arguing that although unregulated market forces may not lead to equity, economic progress will trickle down to the poor if the wealthy are unimpeded in the pursuit of their goals.

Despite rapid integration and growth of the world economy in the past quarter century, economic disparities in income, wealth and power have intensified both between and within nations. Progress toward alleviating poverty and economic insecurity has fallen far short of the goals set by international and national leaders.

Research questions that might be addressed in the context of this seminar are broad, encompassing both humanistic and social science approaches. Some of the kinds of questions we plan to address include:

  • What is the relationship between economic justice, democracy, and civil and human rights? 
  • Do distributive justice or the mandates of a democratic society require certain goods to be more equitably shared or more broadly accessible (e.g. public health, education, basic nutrition)? If so, what ethical and economic principles should govern redistribution?
  • How have political and social problems related to economic inequality been understood differently at different historical moments, in different cultures, and in nations differently situated within the global economy?
  • How have novelists, poets, filmmakers, musicians, religious and political leaders and social movement activists represented or envisioned and/or worked toward economic justice? 
  • How might public policy discussions about issues such as poverty, trade, education, health care, family policy, global warming, debt relief for impoverished nations, disaster relief, immigration, economic development, care work, taxation, reproductive rights and technologies, computer literacy, intellectual property, public support for the arts, cultural diversity, cost-benefit analysis, corporate responsibility, and income and wealth distribution be affected if questions of distributive justice were more fully addressed and debated? 
  • Do individuals, states, and/or nations have a moral responsibility to rectify suffering caused by economic inequality or to redress inequalities rooted in colonialism, slavery, gender and racial inequality, or other forms of injustice?
  • How are wealth, poverty and class differences represented in popular culture in the U.S. and globally? 

Seminar participants will be released from one course. Faculty fellows will attend a weekly seminar to discuss their research and shared readings relevant to the seminar topic. Seminar members share responsibility for crafting a schedule of readings and discussion topics. In addition to full participation in the seminar, fellows will commit to working with the Institute Director on a future event or program related to the seminar theme.