Justice seems not to be for all: Exploring the scope of justice

In a broad application of the concept, there is some research into the notion of the scope of justice and its relationship with procedural and distributive justice. Procedural justice refers to how we perceive the decision process in justice terms (e.g., Is it a fair or unfair decision process?). The perceived fairness of the process will depend on the final outcomes. By contrast, distributive justice refers to the perceived fairness of the distribution of resources. Therefore distributive justice is also based on outcomes but in a comparison context (e.g., who has more resources?) (Hegtvedt, 2005; Opotow, 1997).

There is a prevalence of research into procedural (over distributive) justice and the scope of justice, specifically within an explanation of the concept that focuses on “deservingness” (e.g., Hafer & Olson, 2003). For example, Brockner (1990) analyzed whether the perception of procedural fairness was influenced by the feeling of injustice, that is, in a workplace setting, when the employees knew that their peers or other workers to whom they felt attached were laid off. Results showed that workers (i.e., participants in this study) expressed low concern about procedural fairness when non-peers were laid off in comparison to when the layoff victims were similar/close to them (e.g., Heuer, Blumenthal, Douglas & Weinblatt, 1999; Olson et al., 2011).

According to Hafer and Olson (2003), this type of protection provided by procedural fairness is always available and applied only for those within one’s scope of justice but less consistently applied to excluded targets (for whom decisions would be made for reasons other than justice). However, the fairness evaluations of some of these procedures may have depended, in part, on the perceived deservingness of the target. Indeed, Heuer et al. (1999) has shown that respectful treatment, assumed by many researchers to be one aspect of procedural fairness, may not seem fair when the recipient of the treatment is perceived as undeserving of such consideration.

Although the scope of justice has been applied to research in classical justice, it has most recently been applied to intergroup conflict studies. For instance, we have analyzed the legitimizing role of the perceived exclusion of the outgroup from the ingroup’s scope of justice in the relationship between prejudice and discrimination. Specifically, we analyzed how a narrow scope of justice could influence the transition from prejudice against immigrants to discriminatory behavior against them (Lima-Nunes et al., 2013).

We hypothesized that this influence should only be true if it happened within a specific justice- perception setting: participants had to think that “the world is just” so as to legitimize the exclusion from the ingroup’s scope of justice and, therefore, the discriminatory behavior. This setting is important, because people need to “feel ok” with their decisions about others in order to maintain their sense of well-being. We applied justice perception to a broad explanation of how people legitimize discrimination against immigrants. In social psychology, when we test an explanation of how some variables are related we call it a model. The general model that we adapted to justice perception was the “Justified Discrimination Model” (JDM; Pereira, Vala, & Leyens, 2009; Pereira, Vala, & Costa-Lopes, 2010). This model shows how and when prejudice can lead to the search for explanations in order to justify and, consequently, legitimize discrimination when it faces opposition (e.g., anti- prejudice norm).

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