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Social Justice in Comparative Political Economy: Lessons from Habermas and the Contemporary German Case

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This article critiques recent operationalisations of social justice theories in empirical research in comparative political economy from an epistemological entry point. It offers an alternative epistemic framework based on Habermas’s system and lifeworld distinction to reconcile normative theory with empirical research before developing a critical theory of social justice based on two principles: Nancy Fraser’s parity of participation and Hauke Brunkhorst’s notion that functional differentiation in systems cannot generate asymmetric moral standards. These principles are then operationalised for regimes of welfare capitalism before exploring the contemporary German labour market in these terms, drawing on original qualitative research. It demonstrates that parity of participation cannot be achieved when the moral duty to participate is asymmetrically applied. It concludes capitalism is inherently unjust in any variety due to the inequality of wealth and free movement of capital reinforcing the inequality of moral expectations characterising the lived experience of welfare-mediated labour markets. Therefore, accepting this inherent injustice and whether institutions of the welfare state exacerbate or mitigate it should be the central focus of future research on social justice in comparative political economy.
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Keywords: Social justice; comparative politics; institutions; labour market; political economy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of European and International Studies, King’s College London, London, UK

Publication date: September 3, 2019

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