Sunday, June 4, 2017

Identity Politics and Academic Freedom.

Identity politics attempts to supplant material reality with an essentialist reading of the individual which relies upon denying the social constructions of these identities while conterminously building up the notion that this identity is inherent, felt. Identity politics is a discourse which functions precisely to reify subjectivity such that any questioning of this identity ends up being answered with claims that the question itself is “discursive violence.” Paradoxically the adherents to identity politics claim its ethos speaks for the oppressed group, but in reality it speaks for the individual. For instance, while racially-motivated and sex-based acts of violence are known phenomena, even discussions in the classroom when teaching rape law have come under fire by aspiring attorneys in law school because of individuals who hijack these discussions as “violence”. The bracketing of personal experience has made its mark in academia such that identity politics requires, much like religion, that the subject not question it, that she should just feel it and the truth will set the subject free.


The construction of identity politics relies specifically on the neoliberal experience of the individual whereby it is impermeable to change, it never shifts, and it is entirely blocked off to dialogue with competing discourses. This is what I call hypertrophic subjectivity—where each individual confers her own truth based on rigid notions of the singular identitied experience. Dare you question my experience, my right is to claim a violence that your words commit to me. These are times of faith-based unreason where disagreement is understood as an obstruction to one’s freedom. (I think to the tired phrasing of “Let’s agree to disagree” which merely contorts disagreement as agreement from the party who is uncomfortable to find herself before a person who refuses to be her mirror.) Surely, we might begin to consider that one can both be free and in a state of disagreement or challenge.

Speaking with my friend, Geneviève, a few years ago, we framed our experiences as women who come from families where one parent is “white” and one parent is brown within this troubling scene of identity politics. This conversation left us with several conclusions, one being that identity politics never could embrace us (or us it) because the very narrative which claimed to free the sexual or racial other, merely turned on its head the dynamic of who others and who is othered. And logically our lives and bodies were such that no intractible narrative of identity would ever capture our subjectivity simply because identity politics, by attempting to break down homogenous notions of race, gender, and sexuality, ended up reconstructing newer monoliths of the same. In reviewing the problems of callout culture, the bashing of those who make materialist readings of the social, and the general atmosphere of intolerance for divergent opinions within academia, we came to realise that these social behaviours were the result of a hermetically sealed notions of selfhood whereby nothing permeates the discursive membrane separating individuals.

Julian Vigo, Rebels Without a Cause: The Assault on Academic Freedom. Counterpunch 06/02/17.


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