The open research group seminar “Social justice, arts education and community arts” is coming up, and Catharina Christophersen and Judy Lewis are offering a few reflections on the topic of social justice in music education.
As the field of social justice has grown, music education scholars have questioned the manner in which social justice is conceptualized, theorized and represented. Social justice is a relational concept that is inseparable from related concepts like democracy, equity and fairness or lack thereof, thus naturally also linking the concept of justice to injustice. Democracy is thus a core value of social justice, and must be conceived of “not as ethos, but as experience” (Gould 2007, p. 238). When perceiving social justice from the perspective of experience, the meaning will inevitably fluctuate depending on context.
The concept of social justice is fluid, contextual and situated. Social justice “resists generalization; meaning, it doesn’t necessarily ‘travel’ well. One person’s or interest group’s social justice may easily become another’s injustice” (Bowman 2007, p. 4). Naming is therefore essential in any social justice enterprise, since concepts like “justice” and “diversity” are euphemisms that may cover up the real issues at stake in certain situations . Hence, the mere concept of social justice may camouflage the complexity, diversity, and nuances of social justice. The call for social justice in education rests upon the imperative to recognize and acknowledge injustice, an “imperative to care” (Shieh and Allsup 2012, p. 48), that is to “perceive and act, and not look away” (ibid.) . However well-intended, un-reflected urges to correct injustice and to “do something” may very well end up as charity, tokenism or exoticism disguised as acts of social justice (Bradley 2007). Further, scholars and educators need to critically reflect on their own positionality and their own implicatedness in injust practices. Such criticality and reflexivity are vital both in order to recognize possible and actual manifestations of “othering” as well as provide spaces in which silenced voices could be heard.