Global Justice after Colonialism


Space is limited. Please register with Catherine Lu at [at] to receive the conference location and the papers. Registration is limited to faculty, postdocs, and graduate students, and all attendees are expected to read the papers in advance.

Conference summary

Global justice has become a central focus of research in contemporary political philosophy. While political theorists and philosophers have been engaged with the philosophical challenges related to determining the nature, ground, and content of global justice, this literature is only just beginning to assess and incorporate the moral relevance of the historical context of colonialism that defined global relations from the 16th to the 20th century. While historical colonialism is universally acknowledged as a historical wrong, and although the institutionalized colonial structure of international and transnational relations was officially repudiated by the United Nations in 1960, contemporary theories of global justice rarely take historical injustice into account, and international and global relations continue in practice to be structured by deep inequities.

This conference will address questions raised by historical colonialism and its legacies for global justice debates. One set of questions has to do with the principle of self-determination that grounded the decolonization movement. What is the value of self-determination? What are the implications of recognizing a group’s self-determination rights, for resource, territorial and jurisdictional claims? Does self-determination legitimize armed resistance by non-state groups against contemporary coercive state-building projects? And how do self-determination rights relate to distributive claims: do principles of distributive justice take priority over all self-determination claims? Another set of questions examines the relationship between demands for justice and the search for reconciliation. Is reconciliation possible without self-determination for groups that were forcibly incorporated into settler states, such as Canada? Does reconciliation include justice, involve an alternative form of justice, or entail various compromises of justice?

In addressing questions about self-determination, justice, and reconciliation, the conference aims also to confront worries about the parochialism and ethnocentrism of current discussions in political theory about global justice.

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