Social Change or Social Justice?

I am starting to articulate the basic outline for my dissertation in the field of organizational leadership. While I have thought through the possibility of many topics, the recurrent theme is leadership in social justice or social change organizations. I am finding that the term “social change,” or more specifically “progressive social change” more easily resonates with a broader audience. I see these as terms as interconnected; perhaps social change is the process and social justice is the intended outcome.

What are your reactions to these expressions? How have you seen them used? Do you associate any specific positive or negative ideas with either one?

4 thoughts on “Social Change or Social Justice?

  1. Scott Erb says:

    “Social justice” seems to have gotten a negative connotation as a broad description for people who are ‘fighting for causes.’ It has gotten to the point that rather than think through whether the causes are justified, many just dismiss “social justice” as this unobtainable thing that drives activists to pursue causes that don’t need to be taken seriously.

    I can understand how the term can lead there – social justice is an inherently contentious term in that there are multiple definitions of justice. Moreover it posits an end point rather than a process. It’s hard to imagine achieving that end point. Social change or progressive social change opens up to a more pragmatic notion that we can see problems and work to solve them without having to have an abstract theory of “justice” or some end point in mind. To make up an example: Rather than achieving social justice for the Lakota Sioux (give them back the Black Hills? Retribution? What does justice mean), social change might involve trying to expand educational opportunities creates a do-able clear goal that most people would find worthy.

  2. Quai Franklin says:

    I agree with Scott pretty much, with the caveat that I think that the right wing media has had a lot to do with painting the term “social justice” with a negative connotation. Of course you should be aware of this, but I don’t know that I would let it stop me from using the term. The other part of the reasoning, the end point conundrum, I agree with.

    “progressive social change” would encompass the quest for and the process of social justice. I think adding the word “progressive” speaks to that. Of course adding that word would also be blood in the water for right wing sharks, but again, not a reason not to use the word.

    Being progressive isn’t really about teams after all. It’s about inclusiveness and growth for humanity and the world we live in.

    • jrdreistadt says:

      Attacks from either side won’t influence my use of language – I can only be persuaded by love! 🙂

      I also see progressive as being essentially nonpartisan, although it has become more and more associated with the left. There are other reasons why I hesitate to use the word progressive, but I will write about that in a future blog post.

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