Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Alison Jaggar

Second Advisor

Alastair Norcross

Third Advisor

Claudia Mills

Fourth Advisor

Adam Hosein

Fifth Advisor

Steven Vanderheiden


Much of the suffering and death in the world is neither natural nor inevitable, but rather results from the unjust structure of present systems of social interaction. These situations are structural injustices, and for any specific structural injustice, some set of agents is morally responsible for remedying it. In Situating Responsibility for Injustice, I offer a new account of individual moral responsibility for structural injustice, or, what I call, structural responsibility.

Specifically, I argue for four distinct claims. First, I argue for a minimal conception of structural injustice, which explains that structural injustices occur when social structures systematically harm members of certain social groups by positioning them in oppressive social relationships. Second, I argue that we ought to conceptualize the agents responsible for remedying injustice as structurally-situated; this account of social agency explains that the conduct of structurally-situated agents is both deeply shaped by and works to re-shape the social structures in which they are situated. Third, I argue that an agent’s social connection to specific injustices makes her complicit in those injustices, and her complicity is the only adequate moral basis of her structural responsibilities. Finally, I argue that structurally-responsible agents must discharge their responsibilities by: a) drawing on the specific social resources provided them by their structural location, b) working to reform or transform the unjust structures in which they are situated, and c) prioritizing and weighing their responsibilities in proportion to the strength (determined by both the kind and degree of the connection) of their social connections.