On conferences: the discursive construction of ‘strangers’ @ Uni Birmingham

Ruth Wodak’s lecture on the discursive construction of ‘strangers’ during a conference held by the University of Birmingham on 5.11.15:

Inclusion and exclusion of migrants and refugees are renegotiated in the European Union on almost a daily scale: ever new policies defining and restricting immigration are proposed by European member states. A return to more local policies and ideologies can be observed, on many levels: traditions, rules, languages, visions, and imaginaries are affected. I claim that we are currently experiencing a re/nationalisation in spite of (or perhaps because of) multiple globalising tendencies (Wodak 2015) as well as a normalisation of exclusionary rhetoric. Moreover, recent heated political debates across Europe, about citizenship, language tests related to citizenship and immigration, and the construction of the immigrant as ‘the post-modern stranger’, coincide with the global financial crisis, the ‘refugee crisis’, and the crisis of the welfare state. We are dealing with global and glocal developments (Wodak 2010, 2011). Post-nationalism (Heller 2011) and cosmopolitanism (Bauman 1999) have become utopian concepts. In my lecture, I will analyse recent developments in respect to immigration and asylum policies across Europe from a discourse-historical perspective, especially in respect to the current ‘refugee crisis’: The data – analysed both qualitatively and quantitatively – consist of a range of genres (focus group discussions, party programmes, TV documentaries, and election campaign materials).

see also: 95,000 words, many of them ominous, from Donald Trump’s tongue 


On “the social construction of victimhood”

Steven Walt asks the question “Whose lives matter?” in Foreign Policy’s Voice blog —

The world has no shortage of victims of terrible tragedies these days. Death tolls are rising in places from Syria to Sudan and some 60 million people have been displaced from their homes worldwide. But which of these people will get widespread support and sympathy and which will be ignored or neglected? A photograph of a single drowned Syrian child riveted the world’s attention on the humanitarian crisis unfolding there, and the beheading of two American journalists by the Islamic State forced a reluctant president to pay more attention to the problem than he initially intended. Yet few people in the United States spend much time thinking about hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who lost their lives as a consequence of the U.S. invasion, just as most of the world ignored the frightful human consequences of the long Congo War(s). Human suffering may still be a depressingly constant feature of our politics, but sometimes these tragedies bring forth an outpouring of sympathy, money, and armed intervention, at other times the world turns its back.

Why do some groups trigger our sympathy and win outside help while other victims suffer in (relative) obscurity? Here’s my initial cut at an answer: a nine-point framework that describes what I’ve called the “social construction of victimhood.”

His framework, in redux:

  1. How many are suffering or dying?
  2. Who is suffering or dying?
  3. How are people dying?
  4. Are the deaths deliberate or accidental?
  5. Is there a simple solution to the problem?
  6. Are the victims (partly) responsible?
  7. Was it “worth it?”
  8. Are the victims well-connected and media-savvy?
  9. Timing matters, too.

(links in original text)

On blindness

The NYT just posted a wide-ranging conversation between George Yancy and Seyla Benhabib in their The Stone blog

George Yancy.: We far too often fail to understand each other across racial divides. A “post-racial” discourse might even occlude the effort to do so. How do we create spaces for understanding the conditions of others, especially within the context of racial boundaries that divide us?

Seyla Benhabib: Let me begin with a personal memory: I first came to this country from Istanbul, Turkey, as a foreign scholarship student in 1970 to Brandeis University. The program that sponsored me, the Larry Wien International Program, had great outreach success in African countries and there were many African Wien students. Yet, when we sat in the student cafeteria, the African students would sit in the company of African-American students, and effectively we self-segregated in one of the most progressive institutions of its time in the country.

G.Y.: What was your response to this?

S.B.: I was almost offended by this. I came from a country that was divided along all sorts of ethnic and religious lines, but not the color line. Having been active in the student movement of ’68 and beyond, to me it was incomprehensible that at least those of us who shared similar political views could not be friends and colleagues. Brandeis, like much of North America at the time, was in the grips of forms of black separatism. Angela Davis had been a student of Herbert Marcuse at Brandeis, and I had come to study with Marcuse, not realizing that he had already left for University of California at San Diego! It was not until I attended Yale Graduate School and formed friendships with Lorenzo Simpson and Robert Gooding-Williams that I began to fathom something about depth and hurt of the color line in this country.

I share this anecdote with you because, as Iris Marion Young reminded us, to understand one another across racial and many other divides we have to begin by “greeting” and “storytelling.” One of the worst offenses of racism is that it blinds us to who the individual person is — the color of your skin becomes the mask which I see and often, behind which I do not want to see the real person. And as Du Bois, a student of Hegel’s, reminds us, the one who is in the dominated position is aware of the perspective of the master: She is conscious of herself as being seen by the other. It is this double-consciousness that we must learn to understand. We must learn to see each other — to use terms which I introduced in “Situating the Self” both as “the generalized” and “the concrete other.”

As humans, we are like one another, equally entitled to respect and dignity; but we are also different from one another because of our concrete psychological histories, abilities, racial and gender characteristics, etc. Ethics and politics are about negotiating this identity-in-difference across all divides. We live in a “post-racial” society only in the sense that we are all generalized others in the eyes of the law; but as we learn painfully, not in the eyes of those who administer the law; the bank clerk who decides upon a mortgage loan or even — to use Cornel West’s famous example — the New York taxi cab driver who refuses to pick up the black man. The history of discrimination, domination and power struggles among the concrete others trump the standpoint of the generalized other.

Relatedly: listen to Radiolab’s Update: New Normal? episode, including the story about human complexity — “Stu is Stu.

On intersectionality

Over at The Washington Post, Kimberlé Crenshaw discusses intersectionality and action —

Intersectionality was a lived reality before it became a term.

Today, nearly three decades after I first put a name to the concept, the term seems to be everywhere. But if women and girls of color continue to be left  in the shadows, something vital to the understanding of intersectionality has been lost. […]

We simply do not have the luxury of building social movements that are not intersectional, nor can we believe we are doing intersectional work just by saying words.