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Global Challenges 3: Justice




Admission Requirements



What is ‘justice’? Is it man-made or divine, is it something universal, local or personal, is it ‘just’ an ideal beyond our grasp, or something that may guide our practical decisions? How have people in different places and times perceived justice? And how does justice relate to law and policy?

Whereas most political philosophers have addressed the problem of justice by investigating how ‘perfect justice’ can best be achieved through certain social arrangements, this global challenges course rather focuses on human experiences of injustice and their responses, notably subsequent efforts to realise justice by reducing injustice.

Thinking about justice often begins with an awareness of instances of injustice and possible ways to address them. Whereas the concept of justice can never be captured in a definite form, the realities of injustice are often very tangible. However, perceptions of what is just and unjust may differ among people, social groups and cultures.

Communities and individuals have always drawn upon cultures, religions, and ideologies as important sources of ideas about justice. In the nineteenth and twentieth century, the rise of the nation-state has enhanced the expectations of national and international law to provide the mechanisms to address injustices, including global injustices.

This course will look both at the idea of justice as well as at a number of specific injustices, and the ways they have been addressed. These global injustices include armed conflict, poverty, gender discrimination, environmental degradation and disease.

The course is thus not intended to provide students ‘the final answer’ to what justice means; rather, it is designed to lead and assist students to consider how justice can be conceptualised in theory and realised in practice.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course students will be able to:

  • Understand the complexity of the concept of justice;

  • Comprehend different disciplinary perspectives on justice;

  • Distinguish between normative and empirical approaches;

  • Apply concepts of justice to (perceived) injustices in a specific region, community, or institution;

  • Assess the development of policies to tackle multi-faceted current challenges;

  • Find, evaluate and critically read academic literature and other sources of information;

  • Report on their research findings orally and in writing using the appropriate formats.

Mode of Instruction

A seminar follows the plenary lecture each week. In each seminar, students compare two countries with regard to a particular problem, in order to have the opportunity to put theory into practice.

The country studies have been selected so as to reflect a geographical spread as well as a justice-related problem that is particularly relevant for those individual countries.

Through seminar debate, PowerPoint presentations and coursework, students are given the opportunity to present and defend their ideas within an academic setting, and to actively take part in group projects.

Plenary lectures

  • 2-hour, 7 weeks, on Mondays

  • Plenary lectures are given in which a number of basic global challenges of justice are discussed in various contexts and from various perspectives, and disciplines. The lectures also deal briefly with some of the underlying concepts and methods of different disciplines.

  • Attendance of the Monday lectures is compulsory, and will be monitored. Missed lectures will impact the grade for in-class participation.


  • 2-hour, 7 weeks, on Wednesdays

  • Seminars and the required assignments provide the students the opportunity to apply the newly gained knowledge, as well as train their academic skills.


To be confirmed in course syllabus:

In-class participation: 10%
Weekly country studies (6 papers of 400 words each): 25%
Weekly peer reviews: 15%
Presentations (1 as author and 1 as peer reviewer): 20%
Final essay (3000 words): 30%


The majority of literature for each seminar will be uploaded on Blackboard. Students are required to print the materials themselves and bring it to class.

In case the literature cannot appear on Blackboard due to copyright restrictions, the web link will be uploaded. Again, students will then need to retrieve, print and bring the materials themselves.

Contact Information

Dr Freya Baetens (

Weekly Overview


Preparation for first session