Anticipatory Injustice

Alice Baderin is a Lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Reading. Her current research focuses on two main areas of contemporary political philosophy. First, she is interested in questions of justice and risk: What is it like to live with insecurity, and how does foregrounding this issue shape our thinking about the demands of social justice? Second, she is addressing problems of method in political theory. For example, what role should evidence about public opinion play in normative political theory? How should we understand and evaluate recent calls for more ‘realistic’ approaches to the discipline? Some of her current research integrates philosophical argument with in-depth analysis of quantitative evidence – with the aim of generating payoffs for both normative theory and empirical enquiry.

In 2019-20, she is working on a new project on ‘Anticipatory Injustice’, supported by an ISRF Early Career Research Fellowship. This research explores the moral significance of our anticipatory responses to risk: the characteristic steps that vulnerable people take to ward off threats of future injustice or hardship. She argues that the unequal distribution of the burdens of anticipating risk represents a significant, and currently underrecognized, form of injustice in contemporary societies.

Prior to joining the University of Reading in 2018, Alice was a Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. She holds a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and a DPhil in Politics from the University of Oxford. She has also worked in applied social research.


Our imagined futures have profound effects on our lives in the here and now. In particular, the steps we commonly take to prepare for, and protect ourselves against, risks of future injustice or hardship shape our present lives in powerful ways.

For example, I talk to my black child about the risk he will be racially discriminated against, but with the fear that this necessary warning will lead him to feel alienated or demotivated. I take on a second job as a response to insecurity in my primary employment, but at significant cost to my personal relationships. I signal my class privilege in an effort to ward off racial prejudice, but in tension with my own identity and values. Thus, whilst our anticipatory reactions to insecurity can have protective and empowering effects, they often also impose significant burdens. The aim of this project is to develop a novel theory of anticipatory injustice: an account of the injustice that is constituted and caused by our anticipatory responses to risk. I will draw together insights from political science, sociology and social psychology to build a rich picture of the conscious strategies, and more instinctive steps, we characteristically take to ward off risk. The normative contribution is to show how foregrounding these practices reshapes our thinking about social injustice. By illuminating the moral significance of our anticipatory responses to insecurity, the project seeks to address an important gap in existing theories of social justice.

The account of anticipatory injustice is developed through detailed investigation of two central cases: parenting practices in response to the threat of racial discrimination and anticipatory reactions to economic insecurity. By integrating normative theory with empirical evidence, and engaging with these significant live issues, the project advances the ISRF commitment to original interdisciplinary research that addresses contemporary problems.

The Research Idea

‘All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good,” which is to say “accept half as much” … It seemed to me that our own rules redoubled plunder. It struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moments we spend readying the masks, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered’. (Coates 2015, pp. 90-91)

Threats of injustice or hardship do not stay in the future; they harm us in the here and now via the steps we take to guard against them. The core thesis of this project is that the unequal distribution of the burdens of anticipating risk represents a significant, and currently underrecognized, form of injustice in contemporary societies. The project highlights the distinctive forms of labour involved in warding off risk, and the damage caused to our identity and present relationships. I also explore how taking steps to mitigate risk can trap vulnerable people in ongoing chains of deep uncertainty.

The theory of anticipatory injustice stems from the idea that risk imposes significant burdens on the individuals who bear it, even if the threatened adverse event does not, in the end, materialize (Wolff 2009). However, confronting risk is also a necessary, sometimes valuable, part of living an active human life. The project will ask how we can harness the benefits of risk, whilst also protecting against its significant harms.


The project engages with themes of risk, insecurity, threat and vulnerability as they arise across multiple fields of empirical and normative inquiry, including political science (for example, Rehm et al. 2012), social psychology (Jonas et al. 2014; Loewenstein et al. 2001; Slovic 2000, 2010) and republican and feminist political thought (Pettit 1997, 2015; Mackenzie et al. 2013). However, it also opens up questions that these existing accounts of risk have failed to address, by focussing specifically on the costly steps that vulnerable people take to ward off insecurity.

In advancing this agenda, the project breaks with standard approaches in two important fields of contemporary philosophical research. First, I address the growing body of work in moral, legal and political philosophy that seeks to identify normative principles to regulate the distribution and imposition of risk (Oberdiek 2017; Ove Hanssen 2013). I argue that this normative work should be informed by a richer prior account of the nature of the experience of risk: What does risk do to the individuals who bear it?

Second, the project brings a new perspective to recent work on the value of personal relationships (Brighouse and Swift 2014; Brownlee 2013; Cordelli 2014; Gheaus 2018). This literature informs my account of the relational costs of anticipatory responses to insecurity, but I also identify an important silence within it on questions of race. Through my case study on anticipatory parenting practices, the project opens new lines of conversation between scholarship on racism and research on personal relationship goods.

The Focus

The project is motivated by two important contemporary problems. First, it responds to conversations and decisions that are taking place daily in ethnic minority households, in which parents strive to prepare their children for, and protect them against, the threat of racial discrimination. Whilst the notion of ‘the talk’ has gained cultural prominence in the US, as shorthand for some of these interactions (for example, PBS 2017), these practices are largely absent from public debate in the UK. They also remain unexplored by ethicists and political theorists. This project will bring a distinctively normative perspective to anticipatory parenting practices. In particular, by viewing these practices as a complex set of risk management strategies, I make new links to the ethics of risk.

Second, the project addresses the growth of economic insecurity and the changing nature of employment relationships. Most starkly in the UK context, the increasing use of ‘zero-hours’ contracts has provoked significant public debate (for figures, see ONS 2018; for discussion, see Newsome et al, 2016; Shafique 2018). By exploring precarious employment though the lens of anticipatory injustice, the project seeks to bring a fresh perspective to this pressing political issue. For example, I show how anticipatory reactions to workplace insecurity reverberate beyond the domain of employment, to impact the moral quality of our wider relationships.

In developing the account of anticipatory injustice, I will provide a new language to talk about these live cases and to uncover the ethically salient connections between them.

Theoretical Novelty

The project will introduce a new concept into theorizing about social justice. The term ‘anticipatory injustice’ appears in a small number of empirical studies of workplace attitudes and beliefs about the criminal justice system (Shapiro and Kirkman, 2001; Woolard et al, 2008). There the term is used descriptively: to characterize the expectation of unfair treatment at the hands of employers, the police or courts. This project is the first to propose ‘anticipatory injustice’ as a normative category: to capture the moral importance of the fundamental human tendency to take steps to ward off or mitigate the effects of risk; even when these steps generate their own significant costs.

Here I build on valuable insights in Jonathan Wolff and Avner de-Shalit’s account of how risk constitutes and causes disadvantage. For example, Wolff and de-Shalit (2007, Chapter 4) introduce the notion of ‘inverse cross-category risk’, to describe cases in which the effort to mitigate risk in one area of life exacerbates our vulnerability in another domain. I illustrate and develop this idea through my central case studies – showing, for instance, how parents of black children trade the risk of racial discrimination against threats to other aspects of their children’s wellbeing. By tracing a set of common moral problems across the otherwise diverse cases of economic insecurity and parenting in readiness for racial discrimination, the project will show that anticipatory injustice is a powerful organizing concept for thinking about social injustice.


The project integrates the methods of political theory – conceptual analysis and normative reasoning – with extensive engagement with empirical social science. My account of anticipatory parenting practices is grounded in both qualitative and quantitative sociology (for example, Hagerman 2018; Neblett et al, 2008; Rollock et al, 2015; Ward 1991). The investigation of anticipatory reactions to economic risk will draw together a wide range of disciplinary inputs, from political science (for example, Hacker 2008; Häusermann, Kurer and Schwander, 2015; Lucassen and Lubbers, 2012), sociology (Pugh 2015; Western et al, 2012) and psychology (Dekker and Schaufeli, 1995; Cuyper and de Witte, 2006).

The project is driven by my conviction that empirical evidence plays a valuable role in normative theorizing; but that normative theory can also enrich empirical enquiry. For example, I will show how some central insights from republican political thought can be developed through a richer social psychology of threat. Working in the other direction, I illuminate the underlying ethical significance of a complex set of quantitative findings about the impact of racial socialization practices on children’s wellbeing and attainment (see Hughes et al, 2006).

This research builds on my track record of integrating political theory with empirical social science (see Baderin and Barnes 2018). However, it also moves beyond my previous work by pushing the role of empirical evidence deeper into normative enquiry. In particular, I use a systematic engagement with social scientific data to motivate a significant conceptual innovation at the level of theorizing about social justice.

Work Plan

I would take up the fellowship in October 2019 (working 0.8 over 12 months). The intended main output is a book, to be placed with a major academic publisher such as Oxford University Press. I will also write two stand-alone academic papers (one targeting Ethics and the other The Journal of Politics).

Prior to the award period, I will present work-in-progress at a conference on social risk, and at seminar series at the Universities of Bristol and Sheffield. The work of the fellowship would be organized into two main phases:

October 2019-March 2020

• Draw together feedback received to date and revise and submit the first standalone article – explaining and defending the concept of anticipatory injustice through detailed exploration of anticipatory parenting practices.

• Write the second paper – applying and developing the core theoretical framework in relation to the problem of economic insecurity.

• Organize a series of meetings with empirical researchers working on issues of race and parenting (in particular, in the UCL Institute of Education and the Department of Educational Studies, Goldsmiths).

• Draw on expertise within the University of Reading, to consider how my work on economic insecurity might be enriched by insights from behavioural economics.

April-September 2020

• Prepare and submit the book proposal.

• Attend the annual conference of the British Sociological Association, to network outside of my home discipline and explore how my central case studies can be informed by the latest sociological research on themes of race/ethnicity and employment.


Two further steps will follow immediately after the award period. First, I will use the fellowship as a basis to generate empirical hypotheses around which to develop a future collaborative funding bid to the ESRC or ERC. Whilst there is a rich body of empirical work already available to inform my account of anticipatory injustice, I also expect the project to identify some limits to the existing evidence. For example, psychological research on the phenomenology of injustice highlights the range of reactions to unjust treatment (Miller 2001). How much can the existing evidence tell us about variations in our reactions to anticipated injustice? A future collaborative funding bid will build on my existing interdisciplinary research partnerships, as well as on new networks established during the fellowship.

Second, having developed an account of the problem of anticipatory injustice, I will begin to consider the feasibility and desirability of potential solutions. For example, what kinds of assurance strategies would ameliorate the problem of anticipatory injustice? If the fundamental causes of economic or racial insecurity are resistant to change, which second-best responses are available?

Over the longer term the project will generate a rich research agenda, exploring the ways in which our expected futures reverberate through our present lives. As well as structuring my own future research, I hope that the framework of anticipatory injustice will stimulate new lines of inquiry in empirical and normative work on risk and social justice.