In his 33 years after receiving a doctorate in sociology and social psychology from MU, Kjell Tórnblom has become an internationally renowned scholar in social justice. He has built upon theoretical models and carried out studies of justice judgments and reactions to injustice.
For his efforts, Tórnblom, a native of Sweden, was selected by the Department of Sociology as this year’s recipient of the annual Noel P. Gist Distinguished Alumni Award. The presentation Thursday at the Life Sciences Center marked Tórnblom’s first visit to campus since 1971.
It is bestowed on former graduate students at MU in sociology or rural sociology who achieved considerable merit in the field. Noel Gist was a sociology professor with an illustrious teaching and research career at MU.
Bruce Biddle, a longtime psychology and sociology professor at MU as well as a mentor of Tórnblom’s, said that although a lot of his students have shown great promise, Tórnblom’s success is seldom duplicated.
“I knew right away that (Tórnblom) was a genuine Viking, a very formidable human being who was incredibly bright; we all truly wondered if we would survive his arrival,” Biddle said at Thursday’s presentation. “However, the image in our heads as to what our students might accomplish in the real world often fails. But there are some that really do make it and make it big. Kjell is one of those cases.” The bulk of Tórnblom’s research, as well as the topic of his seminar last week, “Searching for Fairness through the Eyes of the Beholder,” deals with looking at justice from the perspective of most people — otherwise known as the micro level.
“The term ‘justice’ is so broad that, in a way, it is virtually meaningless,” Tórnblom said. “There are so many justice principles that it is more than likely that any two individuals will define it differently. To devise an objective approach to discerning if a situation is just or unjust has proven very challenging.”
One model paramount in Tórnblom’s studies is known as the “Total Fairness Model.” Broadly speaking, the model is used to measure the intensity of injustice in a particular situation.
“Fairness judgments are based on various principles of justice,” he said. “For example, assessments of entitlement are variously made according to our needs, our effort expenditure or simply on an egalitarian basis.”
In recent years, Tórnblom has endeavored to integrate via the “Total Fairness Model” the distributional (quantity and/or quality of the outcome) and procedural (the process, the way in which the distribution was accomplished) aspects of social resource allocation.
Tórnblom has published many book chapters and journal articles about social justice. In addition, he has edited a number of issues of the journal Social Justice Research.
Currently, he is a professor at Skovde University in Sweden and oversees graduate programs in sociology as well as social psychology.
“In my years at (MU), I was privileged to have many excellent teachers,” Tórnblom said. “Truthfully speaking, the instructors that guided me in my days at (MU) left key imprints in my approach to research and life in general.”