How is social justice promoted through education?

German conditions. A social studies

Stefan Hradil

Stefan Hradil, born in Frankenthal (Pfalz) in 1946, was Professor of Sociology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz from 1991 to 2011. After studying sociology, political science and Slavic philology at the University of Munich (1968-1973), he worked from 1974 to 1989 as a research assistant at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Munich. Doctorate in 1979 and habilitation in 1985 at the University of Munich. From 1989 to 1990 professor for social structure analysis at the University of Bamberg. Stefan Hradil received an honorary doctorate from the University of Economics in Budapest in 1994, was chairman of the German Society for Sociology from 1995 to 1998, has been chairman of the Schader Foundation in Darmstadt since 2001 and a member of the Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz since 2006. The main focus of work is social structure analysis, also in an international comparison, social inequality, social milieus and lifestyles, social change.

Whether social conflicts arise or social cohesion remains stable depends on the justice's perception of the social structure of inequality. In Germany, society has become more and more unequal. Usually there are different notions of justice.

Modern societies do not differ from traditional ones in the existence of social inequality, but in their claim to have a legitimate structure of social inequality. Whether social conflicts arise or social cohesion remains stable therefore depends crucially on the extent to which people see the structure of social inequality as just. This becomes all the more important when a society becomes more and more unequal and important, perceptible mobility barriers tend to be higher than lower, as has been the case in German society in recent decades.


Justice is understood to mean morally justified, accepted and effective rules of behavior and distribution that avoid conflicts that would arise without the application of justice rules in the distribution of desired goods or unloved burdens [1]. Like all moral rules, norms of social justice also assume that people can shape their behavior and distribution processes. Demands for justice in the face of practical constraints are pointless.

Social justice is understood to mean generally accepted and effective rules that underlie the distribution of goods and burdens by social institutions (companies, tax authorities, social insurance, authorities, etc.) to a large number of members of society, but not distribution rules that, for example, a married couple under makes up [2].

Social justice can be found on several levels: First, it is to a certain extent "built into" many social institutions (e.g. in the higher tax brackets for singles or in statutory health insurance, in which family members may be insured free of charge). Second, social justice is contained in people's attitudes. And third, it becomes clear in their behavior, e.g. B. in political participation.

If you concentrate on people's attitudes, you will find in their heads - often at the same time, often vaguely and not infrequently mixed - several different ideas of justice. If "social justice" is mentioned, then it remains to be determined which justice is involved in the individual case.

Types of social justice

Notions of fairness to performance demand that people should receive as much (wages, school grades, praise, etc.) as their personal contribution and / or effort make for the respective society. Concepts of performance equity therefore provide for unequal rewards in order to reward people for unequal efforts and unequal effectiveness, to motivate them to make further efforts and thus to achieve better living conditions for all people.

Concepts of (starting) equal opportunities are aimed at ensuring that all people who are in competition for the acquisition of goods and the avoidance of burdens should have the same opportunities to develop efficiency and produce achievements. The concept of equal opportunities does not refer to the result, but to the design of performance competition. Quite unequal distribution results are assumed. The idea of ​​equal opportunities only makes sense if there are chances of achieving greater or lesser success (for example graduating from high school instead of completing a secondary school diploma). The concept of equal opportunities extends to very different starting points and fields of competition.

Distributions that correspond to the "objective" needs of people, in particular their minimum needs, are deemed to be needs-based. Need-based justice can be found empirically, for example in the different tax classes of income tax law. Behind this concept is the insight that equal opportunities and performance are not able to meet the respective needs of those who are not able to perform, i.e. the sick, the elderly, children, etc.

According to the concept of egalitarian justice, goods and burdens should be distributed as equally as possible. In a weakened version of this concept of justice, distributions of goods and burdens that do not exceed certain ranges of inequality are also viewed as fair. Empirically, egalitarian notions of justice are expressed, for example, in the criticism of certain manager salaries solely because of their enormous amount or the expectation that "fair" health care must be equally good for all people [3].