Explaining Injustice: Structural Analysis, Bias, and Individuals

In Erin Beeghly & Alex Madva (eds.), An Introduction to Implicit Bias: Knowledge, Justice, and the Social Mind. New York, NY, USA: Routledge. pp. 211-232 (2020)
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Why does social injustice exist? What role, if any, do implicit biases play in the perpetuation of social inequalities? Individualistic approaches to these questions explain social injustice as the result of individuals’ preferences, beliefs, and choices. For example, they explain racial injustice as the result of individuals acting on racial stereotypes and prejudices. In contrast, structural approaches explain social injustice in terms of beyond-the-individual features, including laws, institutions, city layouts, and social norms. Often these two approaches are seen as competitors. Framing them as competitors suggests that only one approach can win and that the loser offers worse explanations of injustice. In this essay, we explore each approach and compare them. Using implicit bias as an example, we argue that the relationship between individualistic and structural approaches is more complicated than it may first seem. Moreover, we contend that each approach has its place in analyses of injustice and raise the possibility that they can work together—synergistically—to produce deeper explanations of social injustice. If so, the approaches may be complementary, rather than competing.
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