For quite some decades, the EU has been sailing in stormy weather. Criticised for its bureaucracy, its democratic deficit and its endorsement of the free market on the one hand, and praised for its regulation of tech giants, its gender policies and its efforts to create an equal level playing field for mobile workers on the other. But what about justice in Europe?

Following a call by the European Commission, the ETHOS consortium has engaged in developing building blocks for an empirically informed European theory of justice and fairness. Our work involves, on the one hand, theoretical investigation into various conceptions of justice developed in political, economic, social, legal and philosophical theory; and, on the other, empirical research on how the EU and its Member States deal with vulnerable populations, such as ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities and those who face socio-economic marginalisation as a consequence of recent austerity measures and welfare state retrenchment. It is through the integration of those two “ways of knowing” that we may come closer to an understanding of some of the commonalities in how Europeans think about in/justice and thus move towards a “narrative of justice” that could be meaningful to majority (and ideally all) Europeans.

The report reflects on the specific characteristics of social theory building in relation to philosophical theory building by discussing the merits of creating an intermediate tool (ideal types) that can bridge the gap between normative philosophical theories and empirical evidence on (in)justice. It elaborates the characteristics and the role of ideal types in theory construction and explores their relevance for theory building in the ETHOS programme. It also outlines the ideal types of three dimensions of justice that are central to the ETHOS programme (recognition, redistribution and representation), followed by a proposal for how these ideal types could be used to integrate the ETHOS findings.

The report includes also a critical discussion of the dimensions along which the integration of findings may take place. We focus in particular on:

  1. identifying dimensions of justice that extend beyond the taxonomy of redistribution-recognition-representation and thus fall outside the ideal-types identified as a departure for our theory building;
  2. locating the most relevant tensions between various claims to justice;
  3. reviewing the mechanisms that (might) impede justice; and
  4. elaborating on the most important fault lines, or boundaries of justice, i.e. dimensions of inclusion and exclusion that delimit the scope of justice.

The report concludes with several questions derived from this critical discussion, formulated for the purpose of facilitating the integration of findings within the ETHOS programme. As a whole the report is meant to contribute to the ETHOS discussion on theory building and shall be seen as a voice in that discussion and an inspiration in our collective theorizing on justice in contemporary Europe.

by Trudie Knijn and Dorota Lepianka
written for the ETHOS Project as Working Paper within D7.1
Find the full publication on the ETHOS website