rhetoric vs social justice

Stephen said something provocative last night about a realization he and Leda had come to about some tensions between their respective trainings….I’ve come to question most of what I learned in my formal social justice education training (I think it tended to paradoxically play into the reification of isms rather than their dissolution), yet I’m wary of more deeply-embedded biases that seem, from the non-domestic point-of-view, to characterize U.S. perceptions of how to solve/resolve questions of difference. For instance, Aihwa Ong, in the introduction to Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality, argues that

“the conjunction of postcolonial theory and diaspora studies seems to produce a bifurcated model of diasporan cultures. Some scholars dwell on narratives of sacrifice….others, who write about displacements in ‘borderland’ areas, emphasize subjects who struggle against adversity and violation” (13) She implies that these emphases may reflect “scholars’ attempts to shape their own cosmopolitan intellectual commitment” (13).
As I consider exploring citizenship processes in other nations than the U.S. (and possibly even non-Western countries), I am increasingly aware of my subjectivized lens – if not of its precise components at least of its presence. All of which is to ask Leda and Stephen to try and articulate the specific disjuncture(s) you’ve discovered in your predominantly overlapping worldviews and intellectual/activist commitments. Selfishly, I think the discussion might help me pinpoint more of the ideological assumptions in myself for which I need to be on guard.
I think this also relates to the discussion about agency that Camille brought up after [my typical] rant. ­čÖé Cultural studies and US oppression theories seem to agree that institutional and cultural forces are “too big” for those most adversely affected to resist. I do think it depends on how one defines resistance, but my intended audience was not those in the worst of conditions – it was/is “us”. We are the ones “in position” to be influential in processes of change and in constituting new forms of social relations. Stephen argues, persuasively I think, that rhetoric is the vehicle for inserting (infiltrating) dominant discourses with terms, concepts, languages that provide different ways of thinking about even the possibility of action. I think this is where/why I get a little nuts (!) and my responses may go over the top when statements are made that imply that we are “powerless” to do anything that might make a difference. The challenge, I think, is in finding effective avenues and strategies for making a difference, and combining these with moments in real-time where openings for change exist. If we go into interactions (with our boss, with our students) operating on the assumption that things “have” to go a certain way, we’ve already foreclosed possibility.

One thought on “rhetoric vs social justice”

  1. In my passionate desire to be part of a conversation that I’m only able to be in on peripherally, I may have rushed in my commentary and misjudged the audience to which you were referring. However, even if you had been referring to more opressed audiences, I do believe in promoting agency but I think the difficulties of it must be thought out carefully b/c they (in general) can border dangerously close to discourses used against welfare moms (for example) which blames them (and their lack of “agency”) for their situations. Or like discourses of self-help etc. which can do the same. Which is why I really like your idea of “finding effective stategies and avenues…”
    I am afterall a reader of “Hope” magazine which is so fantastic (I can’t help but make a plug for it) at showing people who are doing just that. (If it sounds evangelical, it’s not.)

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