CFP: Collective Agents and Global Structural Injustice

Submission deadline: May 22, 2017

Conference date(s):
September 11, 2017 - September 13, 2017

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Conference Venue:

MANCEPT, University of Manchester
Manchester, United Kingdom

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Workshop Conveners: Christina Friedlaender (University of Memphis) and Leonie Smith (University of Manchester)

Problems of global injustice frequently result from structural injustices. The harms that result from structural injustices are more than mere bad luck or straightforward material disadvantage, but neither are they necessarily the result of particular individuals or policies. Rather, there are three conditions that determine whether an individual is experiencing harm or disadvantage as a result of structural injustice. The harms are: (i) due in some way to features of her social position or identity; (ii) something which she has unjustifiably suffered; and (iii) not obviously, or necessarily, traceable only to the malicious intent or actions of an individual agent(s). For this workshop, we focus on this third condition. The production of structural injustices in the absence of clear individual causal or moral responsibility suggests a role for collective agents. Our focus for the workshop are the theoretical questions about collective agents under the non-ideal conditions of global structural injustices.

Broadly speaking, collective agency occurs when people act together in a minimally coordinated manner to produce a particular outcome or achieve a goal. Collective agents may be formally structured, or not. They may supervene on the base of their individual members or be emergent in some other capacity. A large body of primarily theoretical literature on collective agency already exists. Theorists are focused on finding the conditions for the existence of collective agents, capacities of collective agents, and the extent to which these collective agents might be held legally and morally responsible. Our aim however is to encourage contributors to actively bring this theoretical work on collective agency to bear on matters of substantive global structural injustice.

Global structural injustices paradigmatically range from the conditions produced by increasing wealth inequality, through the negative effects of climate change on globally vulnerable populations, to the current refugee crisis. In each of these cases, collective agents arguably play a role in producing and sustaining structural injustice. The role of collective agents in structural injustice is well-demonstrated in Iris Marion Young’s analysis of the case of global sweatshop labour; arguably, an individualist account of structural injustices fails to incorporate many other apparently (or even uniquely) responsible collective agents. However, it might also be the case that the aggregative harms of multiple individual moral agents in itself brings about – either normatively or descriptively – a form of causal and/or morally responsible collective agency, even where no identifiable formally-structured collective agent exists. We encourage contributors to consider these, and any and all other cases. Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

  • What is the relationship between cases of global structural injustice and collective agents?
  • Do individuals have a normative duty to form collective agents in order to address particular instances of global structural injustice? 

  • What impact do cases of global structural injustice have on the capacity of individuals to form collective agents to address these problems? 

  • What is the role of collective agents in producing, rectifying, and being held to account for specific cases of global structural injustice? 

  • Is there a moral discontinuity between collective and individual responsibility for structural injustices? 

  • Is the responsibility of collective agents backwards-looking, forward-looking, or both? 


Submission deadline: 21st May 2017

Abstracts should be approximately 500-750 words, prepared for anonymous review. Please include a separate cover sheet with your name, paper title, institutional affiliation, and email address. Send submissions to: collectiveagents.mancept17@gmail.com.

Participants will be notified of their acceptance by 11th June 2017, allowing time for qualifying applicants to apply for a bursary. Final papers of around 4000-5000 words will be due mid-August in order to circulate these to workshop participants in advance of the conference.

For any further questions around abstract submission or the workshop, please get in touch with Christina Friedlander (cwarne@memphis.edu) and Leonie Smith (l.smith@manchester.ac.uk).

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