We have a long history of publishing in the area of social justice and are committed to progressive social change. Since our inception 25 years ago, we have built a reputation for publishing scholarship that focuses on improving individual lives and that reaches beyond academia to government, professionals and the wider public to inform policy and practice.
Key to our publishing in this area is the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, an internationally unique forum for leading research on the themes of poverty and social justice, the SSSP Agendas for Social Justice series, and the Key Issues in Social Justice series.
Social Justice and Human Rights
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Today’s most compelling social problems require global solutions. While this claim is not entirely new, we suggest that a series of recent developments may make a global perspective increasingly salient. The COVID-19 pandemic, the ever-more-pressing threats posed by climate change, and the need to address issues of racial justice have propelled global issues to a new level of common-sense understanding. As Karl Mannheim (1970) suggested, historical events can shape the experience and perspective of generations. We feel that the combination of the pandemic, climate change, and Black Lives Matter may coalesce to shape the future of sociology. This may well be a moment in which there is a turn toward issues of global social justice, not just for one segment of sociologists, but for the discipline as whole. In this chapter, we argue for more attention to global issues in terms of research, teaching, and activism.
The global COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020 showed that some social issues are irreducibly global in scope. New waves of COVID-19 break out in localities and countries around the world as our global economic and social system makes it exceedingly difficult to cordon off nations, even geographically isolated places, such as New Zealand.
The pandemic also demonstrated the power of international scientific cooperation in compelling new ways: biomedical scientists have collaborated with remarkable speed across national borders; detailed genetic analyses revealed the direction of international flows of the infection; scientists shared data on genome sequences; international consortia collaborated on vaccine research; and clinical vaccine trials enrolled patients from multiple countries.
What does it mean to study and understand a global social problem from the perspective of global sociology? When invited to share some thoughts on this question for the 2022 Agenda for Social Justice, we realized that any perspective or direction for such problem-solving that we might articulate would first require substantial problem “dis-solving.” How we frame the problem in the first place shapes how we examine and understand it. In this chapter, we revisit a common discourse in sociology that distinguishes between a “social” and a “sociological” problem. This discourse suggests that there is an inherent aspect of sociology’s disciplinary logic and orientation toward representing society that leads it to question, rather than reinforce, the framing of problems deployed by administrative disciplines. Then, we challenge the underlying assumption of this argument by highlighting examples of sociology’s pernicious entanglement with administrative disciplines. We reflect on two critical agendas working not only within, but also beyond certain confines of, global sociology to discuss how each frames global sociology itself as a sociological problem—one that often reproduces structural inequalities too. We then discuss what it means to frame public sociology as a global social problem from a transnational perspective and explain how doing so can contribute to greater precision in research on the complexities of, and possibilities for, social change. We suggest that such a perspective may also help identify and create networks of critical global sociologies that transcend national borders
Opium originated in lower Mesopotamia in 3,400 BC and was used in many regions of the world throughout history before making its way to the US. It was not until the 1860s that opium-based drugs, such as morphine, were used by Civil War doctors to treat the pain of wounded soldiers. The Bayer Company later introduced heroin as a cough suppressant and an alternative to morphine, with the US government placing restrictions in the 1910s–1920s that outlawed heroin and required a prescription for opioids. The Controlled Substance Act was passed in the 1970s, which created five different groupings, or schedules, for all substances based on their medical use, potential for abuse, and safety.
Opioids are a class of drugs used to treat pain and include both prescription medications (for example, OxyContin, hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl) and heroin. Misuse or abuse of opioids can lead to an addiction, which is clinically referred to as opioid use disorder. The opioid crisis began in the 1990s with the development and increased prescription of OxyContin to treat pain. US-based drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma assured that patients would not develop an opioid use disorder and pharmaceutical sales skyrocketed, with aggressive marketing strategies and plans to expand sales globally. That decade ended with a rising number of fatal overdoses directly related to the use of prescription opioids.
While efforts focused on the global seizure of pharmaceutical opioids, the unattended effect was rising global opium production, which resulted in an increase in heroin with low cost and high availability.
In many countries in the Global South, there is a profound deficit of medical professionals. For example, World Bank (2017) data for sub-Saharan Africa showed that this region faces one of the worst health worker shortages, with only 0.2 physicians per 1,000 population. In response to these critical shortages, the World Health Organization (WHO) has advocated for the use of community health workers (CHWs) and promoted their occupational development. CHWs are community members whose purpose is to serve as intermediaries between patients in local neighborhoods or villages and the formal health system. They are trained and then tasked with a range of medical and public health services, including peer education and counseling on topics like nutrition, family planning, and disease prevention, as well as basic clinical tasks, such as taking vital signs, filling out patient registries, and monitoring adherence to medications. However, CHWs are seldom recognized as full-time workers deserving of pay, benefits, and occupational safety protections. By replacing trained health professionals with semiskilled CHWs, global health organizations have introduced a temporary solution to address a far more complex problem of health worker scarcity in the Global South.
Both governments and global health organizations recognize the value of CHW programs in expanding access to care. Some countries, such as Brazil and South Africa, have large CHW programs as part of their primary healthcare systems, funded by both national governments and global health organizations. In addition, donors in the global health field heavily fund nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that rely on CHWs to provide services. CHWs have been especially important in responses to health crises.
On 14 March, 2019, Cyclone Idai—one of the worst tropical cyclones ever to hit southern Africa—made landfall near the port city of Beira in central Mozambique, before moving across the southeast African region, affecting millions of people in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. Six weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in northern Mozambique, making it the first time in recorded history that two strong tropical cyclones hit the country in the same season. The devastation caused by Idai and Kenneth left more than 1,300 people dead, with many more missing, and 2.5 million people in need of basic resources and humanitarian assistance (for healthcare, nutrition, protection, education, water, and sanitation) in Mozambique alone (UNICEF, 2019). Today, over 104,000 people continue to live in resettlement sites and accommodation centers in central Mozambique, and nearly 670,000 people are displaced in the northern part of the country (CARE, 2021). But were these two “natural disasters,” which are deemed part of the “climate crisis,” the root cause of this tragedy?
Since 2010, the French energy firm Total has invested US$20 billion in a liquefied natural gas project just off the coast of northern Mozambique, making it one of the biggest investments in Africa. Supported by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as the Mozambican government, this gas project is estimated to produce 65 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas by 2024 and will expand to produce 43 million tonnes per annum.
In April 2013, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded to questioning about a thwarted terrorist attack by claiming: “It’s time to treat these things as serious threats…. this is not a time to commit sociology” (National Post, 2013). At the time, he and then-candidate Justin Trudeau had debated the merits of looking for root causes to social problems. Instead, Harper held fast to his administration’s focus on punishing more criminals with harsher sentences to stop crime. His colleague, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, doubled down on Harper’s anti-intellectualism, suggesting that while there is nothing necessarily wrong with trying to understand why terrorism happens, he deduced, “The root cause of terrorism is terrorists” (Fitzpatrick, 2013).
Just over a year later, Harper would reiterate his “penal populism” (Pratt, 2007) in the case of a murdered Native Canadian teen, Tina Fontaine. Despite the demand of Canadian First Nations for a federal inquiry into the disappearance of over 1,100 aboriginal women, Harper insisted that these were each individual criminal cases, not a “sociological phenomenon.” As social scientist and nongovernmental organization (NGO) activist Craig Jones (2015) explained, penal populism represents: [the right-wing] politicization of criminal justice and drug policy for short-term electoral advantage combined with a sympathetic— but largely content-free—discourse about “victims” amounting to a degradation of our justice system…. [It is] characterized by open hostility toward evidence, disdain for harm reduction, and contempt for science, and disinterest in what works to limit the damage from incarceration, drug prohibition and drug use.
The chapter highlights the deficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA’s) Internet access. The Internet has become an integral part of almost all human endeavors. People use it in multifaceted ways to such an extent that practically all aspects of human life connect in some way to the Internet. Recognizing this fact, in 2016, the United Nations (UN) passed a nonbinding resolution to declare the disruption of Internet access a violation of human rights. Even though disruption is deliberate in many instances, in SSA, the problem remains that much of the population has inadequate access.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) acknowledge how “the spread of information and communication technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress and to develop knowledge societies” (ITU Council, 2020). Currently, access to the Internet, or the lack of it, directly impacts productivity and social wellbeing. Access is not an issue for most advanced countries, as the Internet is accessible and affordable, if not free. Numerous reports attest to the fact that equitable access to the Internet could massively transform most parts of Africa (see Bahia et al, 2020, 2021; Masaki et al, 2020).
However, the narrative is different in many parts of the world, especially in SSA. Inadequate Internet access is a preexisting problem, but COVID-19 exposed how unprepared the SSA region has been for increased reliance on the Internet to keep affairs running. This chapter regards this inadequacy of Internet connectivity as a form of “digital poverty.”
Globally, an estimated one in four people still lack access to safe drinking water and nearly half of the global population—about 3.6 billion people—lack access to safe sanitation services (WHO, 2019). These statistics have shifted drastically over the years, depending on how access and safety are defined. Back in 2015, when safe water and sanitation were synonymous with improved sources—meaning likely to be protected from outside contamination through construction or intervention—it was estimated that over 90 per cent of the world’s population had access to safe water and only 2.4 billion people lacked access to safe sanitation services (UNICEF and WHO, 2015). The discrepancies between these two sets of statistics underpin the significant challenges still faced in measuring and increasing access to safe drinking water and sanitation services around the world. The ever-changing definitions of what constitutes safe water and sanitation have made it difficult to collect consistent statistical data on the situation, with access either over- or underestimated, depending on the definition. Furthermore, due to a focus on technological efforts, negative shifts in access may well be indications of backsliding, for example, when infrastructure breaks or loses efficacy. In combination with a growing body of scholarly and gray literature highlighting the systemic nature of inequalities influencing water poverty (see UNICEF and WHO, 2015; Anand, 2017; DigDeep, 2019; TMI, 2019), there is a need for a more holistic and sustained shift in how safe water and sanitation are defined, in how data are collected, and toward policy- rather than technology-focused efforts.