Dissertation Synopsis

Consultant & Public Speaker in Nigeria.

Subject and Significance

Half of the global population continue to live near or below the global poverty line. Mainstream global justice theorists try to develop theories that attempt to respond to this problem. Such theorists tend to define global injustice as the global prevalence of life-threatening material lack, brought about by the normal functioning of global financial and economic institutions.  While they do acknowledge that extreme poverty severely limits the agency of the poor who suffer global injustice, such theorists do not engage with the agency of the persons who make the decisions and take the actions that lead to the injustice in question. Thus, there is little theorization of the inter-subjective dimension of the problem of global injustice.

Implicitly, theories of justice provide prescriptions for how best to respond to the problem of social (and global) injustice. By theorizing global injustice as global poverty and developing analyses that remain at the level of institutions, mainstream global justice theorists do not pay adequate attention to the inter-subjective relations between the moral agents that are involved in the problem. These limitations influence the sorts of prescriptions or recommendations that could be derived from their theories. I develop an alternative analysis that is located at the level of inter-subjectivity. I analyze the relations that undergird global injustice broadly construed, and thereby also provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the challenge of global poverty.

In this project, I attempt to address the two limitations of mainstream global justice theories noted above, by asking the following question: How would a global justice theory look if we took the expression of human agency as the cause, and restriction of human freedom, as the effect of such injustice? I argue for the position that not only is global poverty but one symptom of the larger problem of global injustice, it is not enough to attribute such injustice to the normal functioning of the anonymous, faceless, forces of the global financial and economic institutions. Rather, the analysis should be moved to the deeper level of the intersubjective relations between persons who make decisions that lead to global injustice and those who suffer its ills.

An important difference between social injustice and global injustice is that in the latter case, decisions that lead to said injustice and their effects usually derive from different political units.  This is the feature that ‘globalizes’, and thereby further complicates the phenomenon. For instance, globalization further anonymizes the moral agents who could be held responsible for remote decisions and actions that contribute to global injustice. Thus, increasing globalization which further complicates the global economic and financial system, also further complicates any attempt to develop a theory of responsibility for the problem.

I address this difficulty by proposing that justice and injustice are concepts that can only derive from, or be applied to moral agents. Therefore, no matter how remote or complex the lines of causation are, any injustice suffered by an agent is the result of the expression of another’s agency.  In my project, I re-conceptualize all forms of social injustice, including global injustice as forms of inter-subjective domination. I then disambiguate the concept of responsibility and conclude on the argument that all forms of global injustice, including global poverty, are better understood as tragic symptoms of flawed intersubjective relations.

My desire to embark on doctoral studies grew from my prior professional experience in Nigeria in the fields of social and international development and public policy. Having finished course work with a 3.6 average, I felt ready to undertake this study, which should be of interest to researchers and practitioners of international development, social and foreign policy, global finance, humanitarian assistance and global human rights.