clara sabbagh

Prof. Clara Sabbagh

Summary of My Activities and Future Plans

My research on justice analyzes the various conceptions of distributive justice proposed in the literature as underlying the basic structure of society and directing its educational institutions. I focus on school-age children and young people, populations that are being educated for participation in civil society. I endeavor to explore this construct using a range of normative and empirical lenses (Ms B2, C5, D12). Moreover, to distinguish between universal and culture-specific aspects of distributive justice, a large part of my investigations adopt a cross-cultural perspective.

In 1991, I joined the International Society of Justice Research (ISJR), an interdisciplinary association for justice inquiry. Between 2010 and 2012, I served as ISJR President, thus becoming internationally acknowledged as a justice scholar. My enduring commitment to ISJR is expressed in the publication of a Handbook of Social Justice Theory and Research, which I edited jointly with Manfred Schmitt (Ms B2). This collection comprises work of leading scholars in the group. Between 2014 and 2018, I served as President of the Social Psychology Section of the International Sociological Association.

My Early Inquiry into Justice

My early studies in justice research employ a comparative perspective to develop a theoretical framework for identifying structural (culture-blind) features of distributive justice in the wider society (i.e., social justice preferences) and their association to related social issues (e.g., social welfare). 

1) Structural (culture-blind) approaches to social justice preferences

My early academic work is anchored in three comprehensive research projects on the notion of distributive (social) justice and its various characteristics and manifestations. The analyses gauge commonalities in the distributive-justice structures investigated. Applying a facet approach, I mapped the contents of social justice preferences and investigated their underlying structural logic from the respondents’ perspective. This analysis informed my hypotheses regarding the architecture of the different facets of such preferences: distribution principles and rules (Ms C2, C3, D2), social resources (Ms C2, C3, D2, D9, D13, D15 ), valence of the outcomes (Ms C4), and social context (Ms C8). Identifying these facets, in turn, allowed me to examine the individual styles of distribution preferences (Ms C7). To reiterate, by adopting a culture-blind research lens, I sought to formulate a universal categorization of social justice preferences rather than their aspects associated with particular circumstances. To this end, I examined how the various configurations of distribution preferences are replicated across different conditions: countries (Germany and Israel), subsamples (adolescents and adults), and when using various measures (C14). 

2) Social justice preferences and their association with societal issues: Towards a cross-cultural perspective

In contrast to the culture-blind modeling of social justice preferences described above, this trajectory of my research delves into cultural variations in social justice preferences in different welfare state regimes, with focus on a range of societal issues, such as (a) environmental and right wing extremist worldviews (Ms C13); (b) immigration issues (Ms C16 with Golden); (c) social welfare attitudes (Ms C19 and C21 with Vanhuysse); and (d) intergenerational justice (Ms  C25, C28, C31, with Vanhuysse). These publications derive from my collaborative work within two international justice projects: The International Project on Cross-national Variations in Distributive Justice Perceptions (CVDJP) and the International Social Justice Project (ISJP). 

My Later Inquiry into Justice

From 2005 onward, my justice research tends to explore how social justice preferences find expression in specific socio-cultural conditions and social spheres, such as education. I investigated distributive justice in Israeli society in general, and schooling in particular, in quantitative studies – but also enriching them with my local knowledge about Israeli society. Such an enhanced approach brought new theoretical insights and afforded tools for developing justice theory (Ms C9, C15, C20, C27). 

3) Justice in Israeli society

Through this kind of dynamic interaction between a quantitative approach and insider information, I described the different hegemonic spheres of justice in Israeli society, i.e., with regard to distribution of prestige, power, learning opportunities, and economic resources, as prescribed by the Halutziut (Jewish pioneering) ethos (Ms C6, C9, C15, C36, D5). I also tracked how this culture-specific ethos of social justice has evolved in Israel with globalization trends, resulting in new forms of contested "glocal" justice in the Israeli society (Ms C33), and specifically in its education system (Ms C38, and C39 with Binhas, a post-doctoral student). 

 4) Justice in schools 

Inspired by Walzer's seminal work Spheres of Justice, I wrote three overview papers to describe how social justice conceptions are woven into educational practices (C18, D3 and D11 with Resh). A fourth, more general, overview deals with ethics in teaching (Ms D4). 

With the support of a grant from the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF), in collaboration with Dr. Nura Resh, I carried out a comprehensive justice research project in schools. As part of this work, Dr. Resh and I edited a special issue of Social Justice Research, a leading journal in the field. Our project targeted students' sense of justice (or lack thereof) at school and its effects on their civic attitudes and behaviors, including democratic citizenship orientations (Ms C29. C32), belonging and trust (Ms C30), and pro- and anti-social civic behavior (Ms C35, C42). Premised on the assumption that these associations are nested in a classroom context, our studies encompassed the three major state educational sectors in Israel: Jewish-secular, Jewish-religious, and Israeli-Arab. 

I also co-authored several papers on justice in schools with my M.A. and doctoral students. Some of these examined teachers’ and students’ education-related distribution preferences in different socio-cultural contexts (Ms C12, D7). Others focused on the association between the sense of classroom injustice, status differences (e.g., in terms of ethno-racial affiliation and learning disability), and various outcomes (e.g., subjective well-being and identification) (C41, I1). Yet another paper written in collaboration with a graduate student focused on how the discipline taught affects teacher’s grading style (Ms C23, C26 with Resh). 

My Recent Inquiry into Justice

My book entitled Justice in Diverse Education Spheres, accepted for publication by Oxford University Press (Ms B1), culminates my academic career, devoted to a quest for justice. The book offers a comprehensive view on the multifaceted and potent roles of justice in diverse education spheres – public (and globalized) schooling, non-formal education, and the family. It develops a heuristic framework for taking account of issues related to distributive justice in the everyday lives of children and young people, and of the pillars of justice specific to diverse socialization settings. Together, these factors operate in society, propelling young generations to socialize as citizens whose conduct aligns with, and enhances, justice ideals. The book extends the scope and conclusions of existing research by making a compelling case that, not only schooling, but also non-formal education and the family are the primary socialization agents that further and inculcate competing, yet coexisting justice values.

To attain this holistic view, I undertook two related tasks. First, in different socialization settings, I gauged children’s and young people's subjective sense of justice concerning their everyday educational experiences, showing it affects their general beliefs and behavior. Second, I look at the justice perspectives of other educational agents, such as teachers, nation-state educational policymakers, and parents. These agents are the actual purveyors of distributive justice who implement distribution practices to foster children’s and young people's welfare. On my approach, children and young people are not merely subjects experiencing justice or injustice as recipients, or observers; rather, they are objects of social justice, targeted by different education agents in an effort to establish, sustain and ensure plural forms justice. 

In my book, I endeavor to disentangle and reintegrate different research traditions, thereby creating an interdisciplinary picture that shows how diverse education spheres embed multifarious forms of justice. This inquiry into justice research interfaces other, more established disciplines, such as education, sociology of education, social psychology, and political philosophy, and their methodological traditions (quantitative and qualitative). Such a strategy has allowed me to reveal controversies within justice theory regarding the distributive roles of education. Moreover, to illustrate my premise that the forms of justice underlying educational spheres are universal yet sensitive to socio-cultural conditions, I offer several illustrations of cultural variation in this regard in Israeli society and in other countries as well.

My Future Plans for Inquiry into Justice

Relying on an overview of justice in the family (Ms C40 with Golden), I am currently developing a fine-grained conceptualization of family justice climate as a group-level phenomenon. This framework distinguishes three subsets of family members: (a) spouses; (b) parents and children; and (c) adult children and elderly parents. Such a group-level approach, which takes into account the views of multiple family members, has given rise to several research questions, e.g., What is the relative weight of family subsets (e.g., spouses vs. children and parents) in determining the justice climate in the family? and What is the impact of a global (i.e., group-level) familial sense of justice on different outcomes, such as welfare and prosocial behavior? 

As part of this comprehensive project, I have already collected data from 100 Israeli-Jewish middle-class families. I have also applied to competitive grant agencies for further financial support.