What is the idea of ‘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? 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.
For, 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 and social groups. 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 poverty, gender discrimination, ethnic discrimination, environmental degradation and impunity for gross human rights violation.
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 thought of and realised.
By the end of the course students will be able to:
- Understand the complexity of the concept of justice.
- Understand 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.
- 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
Two seminars will follow the plenary lecture each week. In each seminar, students work on a particular case study or problem, and have the opportunity to put theory into practice. Through seminar debate, Blackboard discussion, 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.
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.
Generally, for the plenary lectures of this course there will be no required reading. The lecturer will put her or his lecture notes on Blackboard after the lecture. In some cases there may be a limited list of recommended reading.
Attendance of the Monday lectures is compulsory, and will be monitored. Missed lectures will impact the grade for in-class participation.
2×2-hour, 7 weeks, on Wednesdays and Fridays
Seminars and the required assignments provide the students the opportunity to apply the newly gained knowledge, as well as train their academic skills.
The outline and accompanying assignments will differ for the Wednesday and Friday Seminars.
Wednesday Seminars. Preparation for the Wednesday Seminars consists of reading the prescribed literature. Based on the literature all students (except those who are giving a group presentation in the same week, see below) are required to respond to the readings by writing a 300-word short statement (individual assignment) in accordance with the guidelines found in Appendix V of the syllabus. Linking the assignment with the topic of the Monday lecture will be rewarded. Students are required to bring two printed copies of their individual assignment to class, one to be handed in at the start of the class for evaluation by the seminar leader, and one to be used by the student as a speaking note for short individual presentations during the seminar meeting.
Friday Seminars: on Fridays there will be two group presentations. The presentation should focus on the prescribed materials for the Friday seminar, and the topic should be linked with the course theme of the week. All students are required to present twice during the full course. The composition of the groups will differ per week. The duration of group presentations is 15 minutes, with each member of the group presenting for an equal amount of time (i.e., 5 minutes per student for a group of three, 7.5 minutes per student for a group of two). Group presentations may use PowerPoint or hand-outs; presentations should be clear, concise, informative, interesting and relevant. Group presenters are encouraged to set their presentations up as introductions to lively seminar debates, in which all students are invited to defend specific positions.
Students who have been assigned a group presentation, do not have to hand in the 300-word short individual assignment in the respective same week. Students who do not give a group presentation, should show their knowledge of the literature by asking informed questions and engaging in the discussions.
The final essay should count max. 3.000 words, excluding footnotes and bibliography. The essay should deal with a topic of choice, within the context of the global challenges course on justice, and will be based on/make meaningful use of the literature prescribed for the course. The topic will need to be approved by the seminar leader. At the end of week 4 (Friday 2 March, before 21:00 hours) an initial proposal consisting of 300-500 words will need to be handed in digitally to the seminar leader. This proposal will list:
topic (concerned with justice issue)
research question (and its significance for theory and practice)
main sources of literature: include at least 3 complete references to relevant academic articles/book chapters (including one article of the course, see above).
Short description of further steps you anticipate to progress in your inquiry.
Feedback on the proposal will be given by the seminar leader, either in person or in writing. Students who find it difficult to come up with a topic can ask their seminar leader for help on the condition that they can account for the research undertaken.
By the end of week 5 (Friday 9 March) all topics will need to be finalised. The final essay needs to be handed in on Friday 30 March, before 21:00 hours. Papers should be submitted via SafeAssign on blackboard. Further details will be provided by the individual seminar leaders. Students can expect written feedback on the final essay within two weeks after the deadline.
Missing deadlines: Essays and essay proposals handed in late will see this reflected in their grades: for every day that a student fails to meet the deadlines stated in the syllabus, their grade will be reduced by 0.5 point.
Assessment: In-class participation
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7
Assessment: Weekly individual assignments (300 words)
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7 (see above for specifics)
Assessment: Group presentations (2 per student)
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1-7 (see above for specifics)
Assessment: Final essay (3000 words)
Deadline: Week 8 (see above for specifics)
The literature for each seminar meeting will be placed on the Blackboard, where you will find the majority of articles and chapters. Students are required to print the literature themselves and bring to class. In the case that material cannot appear on Blackboard due to copyright restrictions, the web link will be placed. Again, students will then need to retrieve and print the literature themselves.
Course Convenor: Dr Janine Ubink (email@example.com)
Dr Marius de Geus (GEUS@FSW.leidenuniv.nl)
Dr Anne-Charlotte Martineau (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dr Eric Herber (e.d.herber@
Dr David Ehrhardt (david email@example.com)
Preparation for first session