How should citizens remedy social injustice?: a Q&A with Temi Ogunye

Exploring the themes of injustice, activism, and resistance

Temi Ogunye is undertaking a PhD in Political Theory in the Department Government

I hope my research will provide some guidance to activists targeting a range of injustices.

Temi Ogunye

Temi Ogunye
Temi Ogunye

What are you currently researching?

My doctoral research explores themes of injustice, activism, and resistance. More specifically, I seek to answer the question – ‘How should citizens remedy social injustice?’ 

Many political philosophers agree that most, if not all, contemporary societies are unjust by any yardstick and that citizens of such societies have a duty to remedy this. But I think scholars have been too vague about the form these remedial efforts should take. In my doctoral research, I seek to provide more concrete guidance on the content of the duty to remedy social injustice.

My hypothesis is that the content of the duty will vary depending on the nature of the social injustice in question.

What attracted you to this area of research? 

I have been fascinated by political philosophy ever since I took a course titled ‘Arguing About Politics’ as an undergraduate. I continued to explore the discipline via a master's and it was then that I became especially interested in questions relating to injustice, activism, and resistance.

In between my master's and my PhD, I worked in politics, NGOs, and think tanks. Most work in these areas self-consciously attempts to remedy what the organisations and individuals involved consider to be social injustices. It seemed to me that political philosophy might offer useful guidance for these efforts.

How will your research have a wider impact on society? Can you give some real-world examples of the impact your research will have? 

My research has the potential to have impact in a number of ways. As the climate strike movement and the extinction rebellion protests have shown, citizens are increasingly resorting to more confrontational means to advance their social justice aims. This raises the question of whether, and under what circumstances, different means can be justified. 

The social injustices targeted by activists vary enormously, which suggests that the forms activism should take will vary too. It is unlikely that the methods available to activists resisting authoritarian governments – as the protesters in Hong Kong are – will be appropriate in liberal democracies, for example.

Moreover, while social movements of the past targeted injustice created by laws, many contemporary social injustices are generated by social phenomena that are more informal. The injustices highlighted by the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, for instance, seem to be at least partly caused by social norms or ‘implicit bias’, neither of which are simply a matter of law. 

I hope my research will provide some guidance to activists targeting a range of injustices, from those that have their source in the laws of authoritarian regimes to those that have their source in social norms or ‘implicit bias’.

What have been the highlights of your PhD/research project so far? 

Doing a PhD can sometimes feel like a lonely experience and so many of my highlights have involved meeting and presenting to people at conferences. Teaching – in particular, building confidence in students who initially think little of their own ability – has also been a highlight. Another great experience was doing a three-month visit to Harvard University.

What has been your biggest challenge so far? 

My biggest challenge so far has been turning a broad area of interest into a feasible and coherent research project.

What is your favourite way to de-stress? 

My favourite ways to de-stress are running, swimming (I’m not very good so I need to concentrate, which means I can’t think about much else), and watching films.

What do you hope to do career wise, long term?

I hope to pursue a career in academia, while also making contributions ‘outside’ of the academy.