Concepts of Justice, Ethics and Social Equity

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 13
Words: 3595
Reading time:
14 min
Study level: PhD


This section analyzes the concepts of justice and social equity. In the process, the section further provides explanations of the two concepts. In addition, the section presents some examples of threats to the concepts. The last part of the section shows the relationship between the two concepts of justice and social equity.

The Concepts of Justice and Social Equity

The concept of justice has been described as a virtue; alternatively, the concept has been described as a trait of a person (Murphy & Vives, 2013). Nonetheless, scholars have defined the concept as the quality of being righteous, equitable, or morally upright (Lindblom, 2011; Subramanian, 2011). Further, some researchers have defined justice as equality, while others have offered a legal explanation of what justice actually is. In this case, justice is the appropriate application of law to guarantee equality and impartial handling of all individuals under law. Therefore, the concept of justice is about ensuring equity and fairness (Subramanian, 2011).

The concept of justice has been understood in different ways. According to Plato, the concept implies an overarching virtue of individuals and societies (Johnson, 2011). In this regard, Plato understood the concept of justice as a series of ethical conducts. However, other scholars have argued that the concept of justice, in the context of the modern society, means a part of an individual’s morality (Johnson, 2011).

Moreover, the concept has been understood within an economic context. In this case, the economic framework, which every society has, includes laws, policies and institutions among others (Gold, 2009). It is this framework that leads to distinguished distributions of economic advantages and problems among members of the society (Gold, 2009). The foregoing facts constitute what has been described as a form of distributive justice (Gold, 2009). The principles of the idea of distributive justice are preeminently seen as sources of moral help for political reasons. It also entails the distribution of economic problems within any particular society (Gold, 2009).

Scholars have acknowledged that social equity is a concept that has become an important topic of discourse within the field of public administration (Faccenda & Pantaleon, 2011). Frederickson (2010) has defined social equity as a distinction of traditional approaches that used to understand the human history of considerations. This implies that the concept of social equity entails elements of fairness, equality and justice. This is especially with respect to the practices within the field of public administration. Frederickson (2010) further contends that, by ensuring fairness, equality and justice, the concept of social equity tries to explain how public administration has developed to be the way it currently is.

Even though justice as a concept is important for citizens, there are specific threats it faces: the use of force against a person by a public authority; the wrong punishment of innocent persons; the failure to subject an individual to a due process of law; and the unequal treatment of different groups of persons (Castillo, 2011; Rooney & Swaine, 2012). Likewise, social equity can also be threatened through a number of ways: the lack of equal opportunities; the unprecedented high rates of unemployment; the inequitable public policies’ and high income tax charges (Castillo, 2011; Rooney & Swaine, 2012).

The Relationship between the Concepts of Justice and Social Equity

It is important to note that concepts of justice and social equity are products of social constructs that are founded on cultural norms and essentials (Faccenda & Pantaleon, 2011). Interestingly, in Western democratic countries, social equity tends to be closely linked to the principles of distributive justice (Faccenda & Pantaleon, 2011). The link implies that every person has an access to resources that are basic for survival. Scholars have argued that justice protects the ideals of compassion and generosity, which can be described as being subjective and merely circumstantial (Faccenda & Pantaleon, 2011). However, it is worth noting that without the concept of justice and goodwill, the concept of social equity would only appear as an intellectual exercise that lacks meaning (Faccenda & Pantaleon, 2011).

Evidence shows that justice and social equity are both important components of a democratic society; without them, there may be great disparities in wealth acquisitions. This makes disadvantaged citizens not to fully participate in the governance process (Arnold, 2013).


The concepts of Justice and social equity are both crucial elements of democracy (Johnson, 2011). This means that every democratic society must ensure that fairness and equal accesses to resources prevail at any particular moment (Johnson, 2011). It is also important to note that justice and social equity are closely related. However, the concepts are threatened by various factors (Faccenda & Pantaleon, 2011).


The main themes of this section are ethics and social justice. In this regard, the section examines the emerging and persistent issues of social justice that have emerged within the Clayton County Library System (Clayton County Library System, n.d). Clayton County Library System is a public library which is headquartered in Jonesboro, GA 30236 (Clayton County Library System, n.d). The current library director is Rosalind Lett. Since its establishment, the library has grown to have a total of six branches that currently serve various communities within Clayton County (Clayton County Library System, n.d).

The range of services the library provides to its clients includes special services that are tailored for the needs of adults, youths and school-going children (Clayton County Library System, n.d). In this regard, the library has been in the forefront to meet the informational needs of the local community members; the needs include research services, learning materials, and other educational information (Clayton County Library System, n.d).

It is important to note that the Clayton County Library System also participates in various programs that bring together a number of public libraries (Clayton County Library System, n.d). In relation to this, one of the programs in which the library participates is the PINE program (Clayton County Library System, n.d). PINE, as a network of public libraries within the State of Georgia, has a membership of two hundred and eighty one public libraries that are spread in more than one hundred and thirty counties within the state (Clayton County Library System, n.d). Importantly, it is worth pointing out that each of the six branches of the library has an overall leader. This means that the library has more than five leaders at its apex of leadership.

Issues of Social Justice within the Clayton County Library System

Ethical violations are often very serious issues, especially when they take place within a public organization, like the Clayton County Library System (Wettstein, 2012). In one of the past incidences, the library’s members of the board of governors complained of being socially excluded from the decision making processes that concerned the library’s branches. This amounted to a number of social injustices since the board members had the right to participate in the process (Frederickson, 2010). The concept of Social justice demands that all the stakeholders should have the opportunity to contribute their views during important meetings (Frederickson, 2010). The opportunities should especially be accorded where the decisions to be made directly impact the operations of an organization.

The mission of the Clayton County Library System is to serve the local communities (Clayton County Library System, n.d). However, the lack of sufficient resources has prevented the library from serving all the community members (Knox, 2010). There are some regions within the Clayton County which do not have access to library services. This can be described as an issue of social justice since some members of the local community do not have access to the library’s services, which they are entitled to (Kathy, 2007).

There are certain occasions in which some clients and leaders have suffered unreported racial profiling, which have significantly impacted the victim’s access to the library’s services. Racial profiling is a situation in which an individual may be hated or prejudiced on the basis of his or her racial background (Boweb, 2008). It is also crucial to note that racism defeats the principles of social justice (Boweb, 2008).

Theoretical Explanations of the Issues within Clayton County Library System

The issues of social justice that were discussed in the previous section can be explained in terms of a number of philosophical theories. One of the theories is the theory of social equity, which has been described as the third pillar of public administration; other pillars include the efficiency and economic theories (Denhardt, 2010). The proponents of the theory have listed some features which they believe should describe what the theory of social equity is. In this case, the proponents have stated that the theory is the basis of a society that is just and democratic. It is also the source of influence in terms of the behavior of the organizational person, the legal basis of proliferating public services, and acts as the practical way of distributing public resources (Denhardt, 2010).

Looking at the first issue of social justice within the library, it is clear that some of the principles of democracy were not observed. Strikingly, one of the democratic principles is that all stakeholders need to be involved in a decision making process (Chipkin, 2012). By not involving the board members in the decision making process, the democratic principle of consultation was violated (Chipkin, 2012).

The second issue can be explained by the second pillar of public administration, which is the theory of efficiency (Denhardt, 2010). The advocates of the theory of efficiency have contended that the government needs to be efficient and fair in terms of its services to the public (Denhardt, 2010). The Clayton County Library System may fail the test of efficiency owing to the significantly large number of members of the local community who do not have access to the library’s services. The said lack of access can be attributed to the lack of inefficiency in terms of resource allocations (Denhardt, 2010). Therefore, it can be argued that the local members do not have equal opportunities to access the library’s services. This is inconsistent with the concept of social justice, which implies that the distributive social justice does not apply to the distribution of the library’s resources within the community (Denhardt, 2010).

The last issue can also be explained by the theory of social equity (Denhardt, 2010). As noted earlier, social equity is the basis on which a democratic society can be built (Kathy, 2007). However, there cannot be social equity where there are some elements of racial discriminations (Chipkin, 2012). Hence, with the occurrence of racial profiling, the principles of social equity theory have been violated (Chipkin, 2012). This makes the library to be perceived as an undemocratic organization, because democracy demands that everyone must be treated equally irrespective of, among other things, his or her racial origin, religious background and the level of his or her education (Chipkin, 2012).

The Relationships between the Issues and the Themes of Social Justice

It is important to note that the issues raised in the previous section have some relationships with the four themes of social justice: human rights, equality and justice. This section therefore establishes the relationships between the issues and the four themes.

First, there is a relationship between the exclusion of the library’s board of governors from participating in the decision making process and equality. Equality means that individuals within a specific group or society have the same status in a certain scenario (Perkins, 2010). In this regard, the members of the board of governors of the Clayton County Library System, by virtue of their positions and roles in the running of the library, ought to have been considered as having equal statuses as those who were tasked with the responsibility of making decisions for the library. Effectively, it means that the exclusion of the board members from the decision making process was a violation of the principles of social justice (Perkins, 2010).

Second, access to information is a significant component of human rights (Perkins, 2010). In this respect, the lack of access to the library services by some members of the local community can be described as a violation of a fundamental human right (Perkins, 2010). The Clayton County government has not ensured that all the local members have efficient access to the Clayton County Library System’s services. This can be viewed as a violation of the members’ rights to access information. Moreover, when there is no access to public resources, such as those offered by the library, the sense of fairness is lost, and justice becomes elusive (Perkins, 2010). Moreover, this scenario also reflects a lack of equality in terms of access to the library’s public resources to which everyone within the county is entitled (Perkins, 2010).

Lastly, the element of racial profiling is a serious violation of democratic principles and social justices (Chambers, 2011). The concept of social justice is the backbone of a democratic society (Chambers, 2011). However, there cannot be a democratic society where racism is practiced (Chambers, 2011). The consequence of racism in the library is that many victims may not be at liberty to utilize the public resources (Chambers, 2011). In the instance of the library, the staff members who are discriminated against may not be free to perform their duties. Apart from it being a violation of one’s liberty, an instance of racial discrimination falls under the violation of human rights (Chambers, 2011).

The Major Challenges to the Organization due to the Issues of Social Justice

One of the most important things, notwithstanding issues of justice and democracy, is to involve relevant stakeholders during the process of making crucial decisions (Perkins, 2010). With respect to this, leaving out the members of the Clayton County Library System’s board of governors was likely to jeopardize the operations of the whole library system (Perkins, 2010). When decisions are made within an organization, the participations of all stakeholders are crucial for successful implementations (Perkins, 2010).

In the case of the library, it would be difficult for the board members to participate in the implementation of decisions which they did not participate in making. The likely consequence of this would be a poor performance by the library in terms of service delivery (Perkins, 2010). The implication of the scenario is that the library did not provide sufficient and efficient learning services to the local members of the communities it serves.

The library has been trying to reach out to as many local community members as possible. However, the inefficiency of its service delivery processes is likely to have negative impacts on the mission and vision of the library (Frederickson, 2010). This is because the library may be perceived as inefficient and not committed to its vision (Frederickson, 2010). Besides, if the library does not take any step in reaching out to the rest of the community members, they are likely to feel hopeless or otherwise look for other alternatives, a situation that is likely to make the library to lose a significant portion of its clientele (Frederickson, 2010).

The claim of racial discriminations within the library is one of the worst issues of social justice in the library. Consequently, it is likely to have far reaching consequences for the library as a whole (Bleich, 2011). The library may lose some of its clients to other libraries (Bleich, 2011). The clients who experience racial profiling due to some inconsiderate library officials are also likely to feel uncared for by the very library whose services they are entitled to (Bleich, 2011). Being a public organization charged with the responsibility of service delivery to the public members, the library appears to be undemocratic (Bleich, 2011).

Moreover, there is also the claim that some of the leaders who work for the library are discriminated against on the basis of race. If the library director does not conduct investigations to establish the facts of the claim, the victimized leaders may underperform; this may negatively impact the leaders’ efficiency at work (Bleich, 2011). Possibly, the affected leaders may decide to resign on the basis of racial discriminations (Bleich, 2011). Alternatively, the leaders may sue the library on the same basis of discrimination.

Recommendations for Addressing the Issues

There are a number of approaches that the library can use in dealing with the issues that have been discussed in the previous section. Each approach is unique to every issue. With respect to the first issue, in which the members of the board of governors were left out in key decision making processes, the library should ensure that all decisions concerning the entire system of the library are either made by the board members or the members are involved in all the processes (Mihaela & Irina, 2010).

This is the best way to ensure successful implementations of the decisions (Mihaela & Irina, 2010). Moreover, the library should propose to the relevant government authority the need to establish a decision making body whose membership should include all decision makers and the board members. Importantly, the junior leaders and employees of the library should also be represented in the body (Mihaela & Irina, 2010). This step will ensure that every important stakeholder is involved in the decision making process. This will ensure successful implementations of the decisions (Mihaela & Irina, 2010).

Pertaining to the local community members, who do not have access to the library’s services, the director of the library should spearhead a process of expanding the services to areas where the services have not yet reached (Schuler, 2008). The library can achieve this by coming up with a program of mobile library services which should be provided in different areas within the community (Schuler, 2008). Importantly, the library should employ more personnel to help in the provision of the mobile services (Schuler, 2008). Such an initiative will ensure that more members within the county can access the services (Schuler, 2008).

The library should take the claim of racial discrimination seriously, because this is the issue that may have the worst negative consequences for its reputation (Leasher & Miller, 2012). In dealing with this problem, the library should therefore investigate the claim and take specific disciplinary actions against those who propagate such vices within the library (Leasher & Miller, 2012). After investigations and the establishment of facts, the director of the library should also remind the leaders of the organizational policy against racism, and the probable consequences of violating the policy (Leasher & Miller, 2012).

Factors that may Impact the Implementations of the Recommendations

Even though the foregoing recommendations are good steps towards addressing the social justice issues pointed out earlier, it is important to note that the implementation processes are likely to face a number of challenges. The next paragraphs discuss these concerns.

Taking the instance of the first issue, it is possible that there are likely to be competing interests due to personal or group interests (Eriksson, 2012). For example, the board members may propose things that other decision makers may find not acceptable to them. The same is likely to be the case with the representatives of other leaders and employees. This scenario is likely to slow down the process of finding a solution to the issue of social justice (Eriksson, 2012).

Reaching out to community members who do not have access to the library’s services definitely requires the commitment of extra resources. However, the recommended program of providing mobile services is likely to suffer a setback due to insufficient resources. The library may not have adequate resources that are required to achieve the objectives of the program. This means that the community members may continue missing the services of the library (Smallwood, 2010).

Racial discrimination is a subjective issue that is felt deep within an individual or a group of individuals. In this regard, it may not be easy to establish the facts about the claim of the issue within the organization. Furthermore, an investigation process may require a lot of time and resources to conduct. Besides, the process of investigations may result in victimizations among the leaders of the library (Rattansi, 2007).

The Anticipated Outcomes

There are a number of outcomes that are expected to be achieved after the recommendations shall have been implemented. One, in relation to the exclusion of board members from the decision making processes, the library should be able to propose the modalities of including all other stakeholders. Moreover, the establishment of the proposed mobile services should be able to enable the disadvantaged community members to access the library’s services.

This is because the program has the potential to make it easy for other community members to access the services without the necessity to access the main branches of the Clayton County Library System. The last expected outcome is very crucial for the reputation of the library, the plight of clients and leaders of the library, especially those who are affected by the problem of racism. Therefore, it is anticipated that the library will be able to ensure that democracy and social justice are upheld within it.


Public organizations experience issues of social justice, which are closely linked to human rights, liberty, equality and justice (Murphy & Vives, 2013). If the issues are not properly resolved, a public organization is likely to experience inefficiencies and difficulties in its operations (Murphy & Vives, 2013). This implies that such an organization should deal with such issues as soon as they arise in order to be able to effectively achieve its mission and objectives (Eriksson, 2012). Importantly, it is worth noting that solutions may not work as may be expected. This is because there are likely to be specific hindering factors (Eriksson, 2012).


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