Muschert et al, Global Agenda for Social Justice

Glenn W. Muschert, Kristen M. Budd, Michelle Christian, Brian V. Klockr, Jon Shefner and Robert Perrucci (eds), Global Agenda for Social Justice, Policy Press, 2018, xxii + 174 pp, 1 4473 4912 9, pbk, £14.99

The Society for the Study of Social Problems exists to ‘disseminate sociological knowledge as accessibly and widely as possible, with the intention that such efforts will increase the likelihood that reliable knowledge will be applied in the world of policy’ (p. viii). Until now, its focus has been social problems in the United States, to which end it publishes regular editions of its Agenda for Social Justice in the United States: but now the society is looking wider, and for first time in its sixty-eight year history it has published a Global Agenda for Social Justice, constituted by seventeen chapters tackling a wide variety of global social problems. The subject-matter ranges across criminal justice, environmental issues, gender and sexuality, violence against vulnerable groups, and inequalities. Each of the first sixteen chapters defines a social problem, summarises research about it, and offers practical policy responses that would mitigate or abolish the problem; and the final chapter briefly discusses three social problems – changing labour markets, environmental degradation, and global governance – and offers brief policy suggestions.

The book fulfils its brief. The summaries of the social problems are clear; the research summarised is relevant; and the policy recommendations are comprehensive, and often related to long-distance causes (such as the legacy of slavery) as well as to more immediate causal factors. Community engagement, social movements, and citizen organising, are frequent themes among the solutions offered.

Citizen’s Basic Income is mentioned as a policy response to labour market insecurity, and universal pensions are recommended as a solution to income inadequacy among older people, but neither unconditional cash transfers nor successful Basic Income pilot projects in Namibia and India are mentioned in relation to the problem of food insecurity.

Presumably in an attempt to appear accessible, each chapter author has summarised research results but has not referenced them, instead adding at the end of their chapter a list of ‘key resources’. This leaves the reader who wishes to study the original source of a research result guessing as to which of the resources the result might be in. This really is not good enough in a book intended to be both academically rigorous and policy-focused, because policymakers as well as academics want to know where the evidence can be found. And there is no index, which is a pity.

But having said that, this is an inspiring book. The authors have set themselves a vast agenda, they have carefully described some important social problems, and on the basis of relevant research they have proposed solutions, thus relating the academy to policy activity.

The Citizen’s Basic Income debate has much to learn from this approach. Here, too, there is a constant need for relationships between the academy and policy activity, and relevant research is essential if we are to ensure the intelligence of the debate. However, there is a difference. In relation to the Citizen’s Basic Income debate, Citizen’s Basic Income – the solution – is often the starting point rather than the outcome of a process that defines a social problem and then seeks useful research results in the cause of discovering solutions. It might sometimes be helpful for those involved in the Citizen’s Basic Income debate to choose the route taken by the authors of this volume: defining global social problems; seeking useful research – including research that relates to both Citizen’s Basic Income to the social problems; and then testing a number of possible solutions, including Citizen’s Basic Income. This approach would constitute a useful new aspect of the already deep and widespread debate on Citizen’s Basic Income.