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Narratives of Justice

Legislators' Beliefs about Distributive Fairness

Grant Reeher

Publication Year: 1996

Narratives of Justice offers a provocative, contemporary look at the timeless questions of justice and fairness. Using face-to-face interviews, Grant Reeher plumbs the minds of legislators for their beliefs about distributive justice and attempts to discover the ways in which those beliefs influence their behavior. The book calls into question many notions of American political ideology and, in particular, the idea of an "American exceptionalism" regarding views from the political left, and the dominance in the United States of a "liberal tradition." Political philosophers have amassed a large body of work on justice and fairness from a theoretical perspective, but there is comparatively little empirical work on the subject. The work that does exist concentrates on the beliefs of the public. We know very little concerning the beliefs about justice held by political elites. This work offers a window into the beliefs of legislators, a group for which such an inquiry is rarely undertaken. The book is based on a set of extended, in-depth interviews with the members of the Connecticut State Senate as well as a year of close observation of the Senate in action. The interviews averaged four hours in length and covered a variety of topics related to fairness. Through this material, Reeher employs a narrative-based framework to understand the patterns in the senators' interview responses, and develops a typology of the senator's narratives. These narratives vary in both content and form, and as a whole present a surprising range of views. Narratives of Justice will be of interest to those concerned with justice, political ideologies, and political beliefs, as well as state and local politics and, more generally, American politics. Its wide research and thorough documentation make it a useful guide to the literature within and beyond political science concerning beliefs, ideologies, legislative behavior, and qualitative research methods. Grant Reeher is Assistant Professor, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Department of Political Science, Syracuse University, and currently a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy Research, University of Michigan.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. ix

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p. xi

I have accumulated many debts in the course of this project. Obviously, I could not have embarked on or completed it without the cooperation of thirty-five Connecticut state senators, and thus I thank them first. But lowe my greatest single debt to David Mayhew, who has cheerfully nurtured and endured the project's entire life, ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-14

The issue of distributive justice has inflamed the human mind for as long as it can remember. In the name of justice, citizens have instituted wholesale changes in their governing arrangements, revolted against their own governments, and fought wars against other nations. ...

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2. Beliefs, Behavior, and Narratives

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pp. 15-36

Any study that concentrates on deep political beliefs such as those about distributive justice must overcome many challenges. Before anything else, we must properly understand these beliefs themselves, and approach them in a way that yields clear evidence and politically relevant conceptions, as well as theories ...

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3. The Critic's Narrative

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pp. 37-90

Nine of the senators, a quarter of those interviewed, fit the mold of the critic. Their narrative may startle. What makes the account presented here particularly surprising and interesting is the fact that it is the product of a group of established, elected politicians. Although the stories these nine senators tell vary in significant ways, ...

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4. The Supporter's Narrative

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pp. 91-122

In comparison to the critic's narrative, the supporter's narrative occupies more familiar American terrain. Although the stories that the supporters tell vary in significant ways, they are held together by views about economic justice that we would associate with a conservative position. ...

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5. The Ambivalent's Narrative

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pp. 123-162

It would be tempting to assume that what I have called the "ambivalent's narrative" consists simply of an amalgamation of disparate parts of the critic's and supporter's narratives, that it is only a residual category of responses lacking an evident narrative structure (albeit a large residual category). ...

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6. How the Narratives Play Out: Three Bills

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pp. 163-202

We have now heard the respective narratives of justice. In this and the following chapter I wish to examine the effects of the senators' beliefs on their actual behavior during the 1988 legislative session, the session in which the interviews took place. For many political scientists and political observers, the uncovering of these connections ...

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7. Beliefs and the Influences on Legislative Behavior

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pp. 203-240

People are motivated to go [to the senate] for a variety of reasons. There are crusaders, there are people who want to have their influence on public policy in terms of that. And there are those who are caught by the whole political bug .... And then there are others who want personal gain. ...

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8. Endings

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pp. 241-258

In this final chapter I wish to return to a consideration of the narratives themselves, but from a different, more speculative perspective. Do the narratives of justice have any implications for our understanding of contemporary American politics, and American political ideology and political beliefs? ...


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pp. 259-290


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pp. 291-316


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pp. 317-332


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pp. 333-338

E-ISBN-13: 9780472022038
E-ISBN-10: 0472022032
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472066209
Print-ISBN-10: 047206620X

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 1996

OCLC Number: 642206225
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Narratives of Justice

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Connecticut. General Assembly. Senate.
  • Legislators -- Connecticut -- Attitudes.
  • Connecticut -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
  • Distributive justice -- Connecticut.
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