Applebaum (2012). Reframing responsibility in the social justice classroom.

Applebaum, B. (2012). Reframing responsibility in the social justice classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(5), 615–631.

“I propose a rearticulated notion of responsibility that is not focused on blame or fault and that understands that critique is at the heart of ethics.” (p 615)

“… white privilege can be the product of just being white and that one might be implicated in the marginalization of ‘Others’ even without intent or awareness and even when one is ‘doing good.’ ” (p 616)

“… white supremacy … ‘a political, economic, and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutional and social settings. (Ansley 1997, 592)’ ” (p 616)

“Failing to pay attention to the subtle, often unintentional ways that white people [page break] contribute to the perpetuation of systemic racial injustice through white practices protects white innocence.” (p 616-617)

“A growing body of studies in educational research (Chizhik and Chizhik 2005; Chavez Chavez and O’Donnell 1998; Case and Hemmings 2005; McIntyre 1997; Hytten and Warren 2003) has explored how white students use discursive maneuvers to resist knowledge of their complicity in racism. For instance, Case and Hemmings (2005) refer to ‘distancing strategies’ to describe how white women preservice teachers avoid being positioned as racist or implicated in systemic oppression. Along similar lines, McIntyre (1997) coined the phrase ‘white talk’ to name discourse that functions to ‘insulate White people from examining their/our individual and collective role(s) in the perpetuation of racism’ (45). … such discursive strategies safeguard dominant ideologies from being challenged.” (p 617)

“… conceptions of responsibility that are exclusively dependent on causal connections to harm and individual intentions are available, commonplace and so widespread that they obscure other possible conceptions of responsibility.” (p 617)

“… when responsibility is presumed to be largely about fault-finding, the focus is on the individual’s agency as a source of moral blameworthiness. This may result in an extreme concern about one’s moral status.” (p 618)

“Since contemporary forms of systemic racism are insidiously covert, conceptions of responsibility that cannot capture the subtle ways individuals are related to the perpetuation of such systems may themselves be implicated in preserving an unjust status quo.” (p 618)

[“Young’s Social Connection Model of Responsibility (SCM)” (p 618) …]

“Structural injustice, according to Young (2008), exists: [page break] ‘… when social processes put large categories of persons under a systematic threat of domination or deprivation of the means to develop and exercise their capacities, at the same time as these processes enable others to dominate or have a wide range of opportunities for developing and exercising their capacities. (170)'” (p 618-619)

“The ‘liability model of responsibility’ which is the standard model in moral and legal theory is inadequate for confronting structural injustice because it requires that we trace a direct relationship between the action of an identifiable person or group and the harm. However, in cases of structural injustice this is not possible. What is required is a conception of responsibility that is derived _from our social connections_ in the sense of ‘belonging together with others in a system of interdependent processes of cooperation and competition through which we seek benefits and aim to realize projects’ (175).” (p 619)

“… under structural injustice it is precisely the ‘normal background’ conditions that need to be interrogated.” (p 619)

“… the model remains focused on _action_ rather than on _being and the practices that constitute subject being_.” (p 621)

[“Butler: complicity and subject constitution” (p 622) …]

“Building on Foucault’s insight that the power that produces us is not just external to us but is also inherently part of our existence, Butler insists that there is no subjectivity outside of discursive regimes of power — the subject is _an effect of power_.” (p 622)

“Butler insists that ‘identity categories are never merely descriptive, but always normative, and as such, exclusionary’ (Butler 1990, 50).” (p 622)

“This compelled repetition of norms, or what Butler refers to as performativity, implicates the subject in its own constitution.” (p 622)

“Since power works through the norms and conventions that regulate discourse, this means that having subject status depends upon complying with and participating in dominant norms and conventions.” (p 623)

“White regulatory norms that are reiterated involve normative violence — both in the terms of setting the limits to what one can become and also in terms of the violence of constituting Others.” (p 623)

“The subject, then, is deeply intertwined with regimes of power to the core of its very existence. Nevertheless, Butler insists that this does not preclude [page break] the possibility of agency. … Change is possible because of the _instability_ of symbolic and discursive norms.” (p 623-624)

“It is the ongoing instability of language that opens up a space for new reiterations. Resignifications can take on a subversive form when they undermine the established meanings of entrenched norms by openly displaying the norms’ status _as_ enactments and, when repeatedly performed, deprive these meanings of their authority. … Agency is to be found in the possibility to disrupt the repetition of social norms.” (p 624)

“… white regulative norms are never totally successful. If they were, they would not have to be repeatedly cited. Discursive formations, Butler argues, are prone to ‘misfire.’ It is because of this instability that subversive resignification becomes possible.” (p 624)

[“Critique, ethics, and what we can hear” (p 624) …]

“Butler insists that one can only know oneself incompletely and only in relation to broader discursive formations that always precede one’s becoming a subject.” (p 624)

“Critique, then, is a practice (for Foucault it is a virtue, even _the_ virtue) in which we pose the question of the limits of our most sure ways of thinking. Critique exposes a space at the limits of an epistemological framework and reveals what is foreclosed by that framework.” (p 625)

[“Conclusion” (p 627) …]

“… calling for us to not only take stock ‘of how the world has become formed in this way’ but also how we have become formed in this way, ‘precisely in order to form it anew’ (Butler 2005, 188).” (p 628)

“… the type of responsibility that Butler articulates demands more discomfort as one becomes willing to interrogate the limits of one’s epistemological and ethical framework and as one becomes more open to risking one’s own intelligibility.” (p 629)

Selected References

  • Ansley, F.L. 1997. White supremacy (and what we should do about it). In Critical white studies: Looking behind the mirror, ed. R. Delgado and J. Stefancic, 592–5. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
  • Butler, J. 1990. Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.
  • Butler, J. 2002. What is critique? An essay on Foucault’s virtue. In The political,
    ed. D. Ingram. Boston, MA: Blackwell.
  • Butler, J. 2005. Giving an account of oneself. New York: Fordham University Press.
  • Case, K., and A. Hemmings. 2005. Distancing strategies: White women preservice teachers and antiracist curriculum. Urban Education 40, no. 6: 606–26.
  • Chavez Chavez, R., and J. O’Donnell. 1998. Speaking the unpleasant: The politics of (non)engagement in the multicultural education terrain. Albany, NY: State University Press.
  • Chizhik, E.W., and A.W. Chizhik. 2005. Are you privileged or oppressed? Students’ conceptions of themselves and others. Urban Education 40, no. 2: 116–43.
  • Hytten, K., and J. Warren. 2003. Engaging whiteness: How racial power gets reified in education. Qualitative Studies in Education 16, no. 1: 65–89.
  • McIntyre, A. 1997. Making meaning of whiteness: Exploring racial identity with white teachers. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  • Young, I.M. 2008. Global challenges: War, self-determination and responsibility for justice. Malden, MA: Polity Press.
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