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Fr. 735

November 1, 2016

The challenges arise from the tactics, conscious or unconscious, by which some people might avoid being confronted with such positions, thus inducing no alteration in their ideology of either explicit or implicit form. Such tactics often take one of two forms, according to Haslanger:

That’s right. So there’s this combination. One is that you avoid contact and you just try to get away from it, even though people are trying to encourage it. And the other is that you have an exception, you have a token or an exception that you will feel comfortable with, but say that they’re not like the others.

Through either mere avoidance or token inclusion (i.e. “my black friend”) might those people come to avoid the affective work through which their operative framework and ideology would otherwise undergo evolution. Certainly, such tactics can sap the strength of community efforts to institute new practices and associations in the hopes of changing ideology, one-on-one, through new transversal identities. But those tactics are only effective within the scope of one-on-one interactions.

In fact, the problem of scope proves more considerable if we allow that ideological change at the level of one-on-one interactions can only do so much work in bringing about societal change. “The Longest Table” may alter ideology or practical orientation at the level of interpersonal or nonpublic interactions yet does little to make changes to the public and institutional structures holding those up. Haslanger elaborates:

That’s why I think we need something more like social movements. I just gave you an example of a one-on-one change, but one-on-one changes only go so far. I’m a big believer that we need cultural change. We also need to change laws. We need to change institutions. We need to change policies […]

The interviewee goes on to speak for a time of the Black Lives Matter movement and the desegregation era (one may also think of Stout’s work on broadbased organizing) but later circles back to what people can immediately as well as the form which that action should take:

What you have to do institute new practices, have ways of engaging people in different ways on different terms so that they see that their old frame for interacting with people doesn’t work anymore, and they see that it needs to change. So they start developing new patterns of behaviour that are guided by a different practical consciousness, a different practical orientation.

More forcefully:

Just combat it. There are other ways in which I think we can work more effectively to create new ways of living together. This is hard work because it’s not as if Sally the white girl is going to tell us how we all ought to live together, because it has to come from bottom up. It’s a participatory process. It’s a process where you enter into a space where you’re uncomfortable and you try to figure out how you can interact with people […] Hopefully, they will welcome you, but they may not welcome you. Then you back off for a bit. It’s a slow process to find different ways of living together, but it can start in a household. It can start in a neighbourhood. It can start in a town.

This participatory element and bottom-up orientation underscore at once both the project’s plausibility and the obstacles still to be overcome. For Haslanger is asking nothing less than that people extend themselves beyond the comfort zones set them by the process of acculturation and put themselves out there into the new and unknown, for which there are no rules readymade.

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