International Workshop

Global Justice
and Global Health Ethics

Exploring the influence of Iris Marion Young

July 8 and 9, 2016
Munich Centre for Ethics, LMU Munich


Iris Marion Young, who died 10 years ago, was an influential scholar in political, social and moral theory – as well as an engaged citizen and activist. In her writings she suggests an innovative political conception of responsibility for social justice, both on a domestic and global level. Young develops a distinctive view, departing from a critical analysis of persisting structural injustice and different forms of oppression and exclusion. She offers original views about the moral demand for impartiality, individual and collective responsibility and spells out an important alternative to prevailing theories of procedural and distributive justice.

The conference will examine the impact of Iris Marion Young’s work on contemporary global justice theory and practice in order to stimulate a broader reception of her valuable contributions. The conference will further explore the application of Young’s theory to the field of global health ethics – an undertaking that promises great potential, but has received little attention so far.

Papers will address issues of responsibility for global justice, social connections and relational equality, as well as feminist views on epistemic injustice, and inquire how these theoretical innovations impact on practical challenges, e.g. in the fields of public and global health and health care, migration, climate change, and others.


  • Gillian Brock (University of Auckland): Chair
  • Ryoa Chung (Université de Montréal):
    Gendered health vulnerabilities, structural and epistemic injustice
  • Lisa Eckenwiler (George Mason University):

    The reckoning with our identities as ecological subjects, that is, social and corporeal creatures whose vulnerabilities and prospects hinge on our need for care across the lifespan and for fit between our embodiments and our environments, has inspired the practice of "place-making". Place-based interventions that target neighborhoods and sites like parks and paths, features of landscape, long-term care facilities, and hospitals are touted as the “new frontier" in public and global health. Yet what, more precisely, might the WHO mean when it says “people need good places to live”? When community members, architects, planners, developers, or even humanitarian actors, set out to create or to "improve" a place, what considerations ought to guide them? These are at once empirical and profoundly ethical questions. Drawing partly on Young's writings on cities and inequalities, and her relational, enabling account of justice, I propose and define ethical place-making as an ethical ideal--indeed, obligation--and an ethical practice for health and for health justice. I offer several examples including an urban pathway, a long-term care setting, innovations in refugee health services, and a border intervention. I conclude by considering Young's emphasis on dwelling and connectedness, and find here the grounding for a cosmopolitanism that is less anthropocentric, that considers not merely our social connections but rather, our radical, ecological enmeshed-ness.

  • Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra (University of Edinburgh):
    Sex-selection and cultures: a structural account of gender injustice
  • Jan-Christoph Heilinger (LMU Munich):

    In my paper, I will introduce and defend “global relational egalitarianism” (GRE) as a way to understand the ideals of justice and equality on the global level and contrast it with distributive theories of global luck-egalitarianism. Iris M. Young’s Social Connection Model of Global Responsibility is an important example of relational egalitarianism. GRE lies at the intersection of ethics and political philosophy, for it is capable to inform individual decision-making, and not only calling for institutional reform. In my discussion of GRE, I will focus on the challenge that it may turn out to be excessively demanding for the individual agent. I will argue that such overdemandingness should be admitted, but that it does not provide a reason to reject GRE. In a critical engagement with Iris M. Young’s writing, I suggest one possible way to deal with the challenge of overdemandingness.

  • Alison Jaggar (University of Colorado, Boulder):

    Philosophers working on global ethics pay increasing attention to wrongs that result from systemic injustices. They look beyond the actions of individual “bad apples,” the failings of corrupt states, and the practices of supposedly “illiberal” cultures to provide increasingly comprehensive accounts of the global structural processes that produce and perpetuate many wrongs. Structural analyses reveal connections among wrongs that at first sight appear unrelated to each other and show how the actions of individuals can contribute to injustice at local, national, regional, and even global levels. However, although these accounts illuminate the empirical situation, the ethical picture remains blurred. How, if at all, are individual citizens morally responsible for global structural injustices? This paper builds on Iris Marion Young’s work to offer an answer based on complicity with unjust social-structural processes.

  • Elizabeth Kahn (Univerity of Durham): Chair
  • Eszter Kollár (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt a.M.):

    Relational conceptions of justice have a difficult relationship with natural disasters. Part of the reason is that some relational theories take the distinction between the social and the natural origins of inequalities to be morally salient, and take the social to be the priority-maker for public action. Another related, but distinct, reason is that some relational theories hold that institutional actions and omissions stand in normative hierarchy in terms of the strength of our moral reason to mitigate harms. So purely natural disasters that are “merely allowed” to affect millions of victims annually are considered lower priority, or not matters of justice at all. Building on the pioneering work of Iris Marion Young, I argue that we can bring natural disasters related suffering and disadvantage into the purview of justice by rethinking the role of the social world in natural disasters. I distinguish between a narrower social origins view of disadvantage and the broader social structuring of disadvantage. On the latter view, the social structure is both empirically and normatively constitutive of seemingly natural disadvantages, which put into question the moral significance of the distinction between the social and the natural and between institutional actions and omissions. Drawing on an analogy with the social model of disability I develop the idea of a social model of disaster disadvantage. Insofar as disaster related disadvantage depends on the distribution of external resources and the structure of the physical and social environment, we ought, as a matter of justice, to mitigate unequal risks and exposure in terms of disaster preparedness and unequal vulnerability in terms of disaster relief. If we take seriously the idea of equal moral standing in the global community, restructuring our physical and social environment and building more resilient communities is both a matter of national as well as international responsibility.

  • Maeve McKeown (University of Oxford):

    Iris Marion Young proposed the “social connection model” of responsibility as a way of thinking about individuals’ responsibilities for global structural injustices, such as sweatshop labour. She claims that individuals are not guilty for participation in these practices, but that they bear a different kind of responsibility – political responsibility – which is non-blameworthy, forward-looking and entails participation in collective action to overcome the unjust structures. Young’s theory has become popular in political theory, but it is often misrepresented and misunderstood. In this paper, I address four problems that are commonly attributed to the social connection model. The first is the question why do we need a conception of responsibility without guilt? The second is Martha Nussbaum’s “free pass” objection – that if individuals are not held to account for failing to take up their political responsibility, they get a free pass indefinitely. The third is the non-attributability objection – can no agents be blamed for structural injustice? The fourth is that the social connection model is too vague. I show that each objection can be responded to through a deeper analysis of Young’s theory or through critical reconstruction.

  • Darrel Moellendorf (University of Frankfurt):

    Poor people living in the developing world are especially vulnerable to the contagion of economic crises. Witness the remarkable spread of the crisis that began as a home mortgage crisis in the United States but quickly generalized into an economic crisis there and around the world, and which is still being profoundly experienced in several countries of the European Union. When contagion breaks out, its victims are the poor. According to the World Bank report in 2010, “as a result of the food, fuel and financial crises, 64 million more people are living in extreme poverty in 2010, and some 40 million more people went hungry last year. By 2015, 1.2 million more children under five may die, and about 100 million more people may remain without access to safe water.” The world built by financial integration as we have known it transmits crises that destroy the lives of the poor. Contagion is a powerful metaphor. One worthy project of global justice would be a pro-poor virology of this contagion. Such pro-poor virology needs many analyses. In this paper I offer, and seek to link, two. One is a bit of social theory. How can we understand the claim that a failure to properly regulate financial and other markets caused the crisis? The other is normative. How shall we best understand who is responsible for the crisis?

  • Alison Thompson (University of Toronto): Chair
  • Heather Widdows (University of Birmingham):

    In this paper I argue that current trends in beauty procedures, practices and preferences suggest that there is an emerging global beauty ideal. This ideal is more dominant and demanding (it applies to more types of women – and increasingly men – and more is demanded to attain ‘normal’). What is ‘normal’ becomes harder to achieve and there is increasing pressure to go beyond normal. This is not trivial (for individuals or communally given the costs of beauty). As the beauty ideal becomes global it is increasingly difficult to argue that difference provides resources for resistance, making ‘opting out’ of the demands of beauty harder for individuals and increasingly political (as can be seen, for example, in the trends in body hair removal). Having set out the increasing demands of an evermore global ideal of beauty, I will consider the extent to which Iris Marion Young’s account of structural injustice, as set out in Responsibility for Justice, helps us understand such demands.

  • Verina Wild (LMU Munich & University of Zurich):

    So far no convincing ethical theory or approach exists in the area of migration, health and ethics. In my presentation I explore how Iris Marion Young’s theory might be able to fulfill this role, for example as a theory that helps to formulate solidarity and responsibility as political determinants of health. I present four cases from different contexts and discuss whether and how Young’s theory provides the adequate theoretical basis for discussing the health related problems of migrants and refugees. In my discussion I mention that so far unsolved problems exist in the connection between political theory and health (ethics) which renders the relation between Young’s theory and health (ethics) difficult too. In the conclusion I show that Young’s theory is not adequate as theoretical approach to migration, health and ethics, but I sketch ideas how her theory provides highly promising avenues to explore in health (ethics) in general.

  • James Wilson (UCL): Chair
  • Jonathan Wolff (UCL):

    In the epidemiological literature it is often assumed that action on the social determinants of health will reduce health inequalities. However, this is not always the case. For example the better off generally respond more quickly to new information about behavioural risks to health than disadvantaged people, and are better placed to take advantage of public health measures. For these reasons health inequalities can increase even when general health and life expectancy is rising. To reduce health inequalities via the social determinants of health it is necessary to identify those determinants that lead espcially to poor health for the disadvantaged. Here Iris Marion Young's concept of "structural inequality" can be deployed. Although Young said little about health her work has affinities with the concept of "structural violence" utilised by Paul Farmer, in the explicit context of theorising about health inequality. (This connection has been pointed out by Ryoa Chung and Matthew Hall.) By exploring the health effects of structural inequality and structural violence it may be possible to identify specific actions on the social determinants of health that will reduce health inequality by tackling the deeper structural issues that can cause diminished health.

The workshop is organised by:

Ryoa Chung, Lisa Eckenwiler, Jan-Christoph Heilinger, Verina Wild

in cooperation with the Munich Center for Ethics, the Chair for Philosophy IV and the Institute of Ethics, History and Theory of Medicine, LMU Munich


program available for download



Participation is free. Due to limited seating, please send an email with your affiliation before March 30th to or fill out the contact form.


Conference takes place at the Munich Centre for Ethics

University of Munich (Main Building)
Room M210 (2nd floor)

Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1
80539 Munich, Germany

This conference of the Munich Center for Ethics received generous financial support from Freundeskreis des MKE e.V. and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

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