Papers & presentations



SWAN Conference

Durham University 

12th April 2014

The construction of ‘troubled families’ as a ‘social problem’

SWAN workshop slides

Social Futures Institute (SoFI) Conference

Teesside University

8th July 2013

The (mis)appropriation of ‘social justice’: Iain Duncan Smith and the ‘would-be scholars of the obvious’


The establishment by Iain Duncan Smith of the ‘independent’ think-tank, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), and the development of a government social justice strategy has resulted in the relatively uncontested (mis)appropriation of the term. The social justice strategy sets out a vision ‘for a second chance society’, taking for granted the ‘self-evident’ first chances that individuals apparently have. Using Bourdieu’s concept of doxa – the portrayal of the arbitrary as natural – this paper will analyse how the (mis)appropriation of social justice has occurred, exploring the role of the doxosophers of the CSJ and the Department for Work & Pensions.

Bourdieu suggested that politicians ‘are prisoners of a reassuring entourage of young technocrats who often know almost nothing about the everyday lives of their fellow citizens and have no occasion to be reminded of their ignorance’. These doxosophers – ‘would-be scholars of the obvious’ or ‘lackey intellectuals’ are omnipresent in a readily complicit mainstream media, always available for ‘sloganization’ or sound-bite, ‘saturating public discourse with ready-made phrases’  such as ‘Broken Britain’, ‘dadlessness’ and ‘pathways to poverty’. Critical analysis of their representations of reality is effectively crowded-out, creating a doxic society.

Parallels can be drawn between this ‘new’ version of social justice and ‘weak’ versions of social exclusion highlighted by Veit-Wilson, where the role of structural influences on exclusion or injustice are minimalized and the perceived behavioural failings of the individuals/families are emphasised. It is therefore necessary for ‘critical intellectuals’ to challenge this doxic understanding and highlight the ‘often absurd, sometimes odious projections’ that characterise the new, weak version of social justice which is ‘about ensuring everybody can put a foot on the ladder’, leaving the ladder’s height and the width between rungs unspoken and unquestioned.



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