Conference: Global Affirmative Action in a Neoliberal Age

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The Center for African and African American Research at Duke University and the University of Malaya will jointly promote thinking through the politics of Affirmative Actions as it has been practiced transnationally, particularly contrasting the practices of governance under the developmentalism versus the neoliberal economic agenda, in order to map the radical continuities and discontinuities inherent to regimes of globalization.
 
Content
–Schedule of Events
–Conference Brief
 
 

  Schedule of Events:

Keynote: 

PROFESSOR DENISE FERREIRA DA SILVA, QUEEN MARY, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

6 PM – 9 PM

THURSDAY, NOV 8TH

RICHARD WHITE AUDITORIUM

DUKE UNIVERSITY

Conference Panels:

FRIDAY NOV. 9TH  9 AM –  6 PM

SATURDAY NOV. 10TH  9 AM – 3 PM

SMITH WAREHOUSE GARAGE, BAY 4

Invited Guest Panelists:

COLIN HARVEY, QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY BELFAST, IRELAND
ZIMITRI ERASMUS, UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND, SOUTH AFRICA
LEWIS GORDON, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY
NIRAJA GOPAL JAYAL, JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY, NEW DELHI
RALPH PREMDAS, UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES, TRINIDAD
STEVEN RATUVA, UNIVERSITY OF AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
CATHERINE WALSH, UNIVERSIDAD ANDINA SIMÓN BOLÍVAR, ECUADOR
SALES AUGUSTO DOS SANTOS, UNIVERSITY OF BRASÍLIA
TERENCE GOMEZ, UNIVERSITY OF MALAYA, MALAYSIA
KAMALA VISWESWARAN, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, AUSTIN
J. LORAND MATORY, DUKE UNIVERSITY
ARTURO ESCOBAR, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA
WILLIAM DARITY, DUKE UNIVERSITY
JOHN FRENCH, DUKE UNIVERSITY
MICHAELINE CRICHLOW, DUKE UNIVERSITY
PRESENTED BY:
DUKE’S CENTER FOR AFRICAN & AFRICAN AMERICAN RESEARCH & THE UNIVERSITY OF MALAYA
AND DUKE’S OFFICE OF THE PROVOST, FRANKLIN HUMANITIES INSTITUTE, SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, AFRICAN & AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES, ATLANTIC STUDIES, MULTICULTURAL RESOURCE CENTER, LATINO/A STUDIES, CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, KENAN INSTITUTE, DUKE CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY, DUKE UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, INTERNATIONAL COMPARATIVE STUDIES PROGRAM

Global Affirmative Action in a Neo-liberal Age

November 8-10

Smith Warehouse Bay 4, Duke University

Michaeline A. Crichlow, (AAAS & Center for African and African American Research)©

Affirmative Action has emerged globally out of different circumstances, all depicting struggles against gross social inequalities and a demand for redress and equal treatment in locations where due to historical circumstances, e.g., a history of enslavement and legalized restrictions on employment opportunities, disproportionate privileges have accrued to one group over others. Such disparities have emerged through active processes of colonialism, migration, marginalization, and subordination, as in the case of South Africa, Brazil and the United States, or through more passive forms of othering, as in the case of the Pacific Islands, with indigenous peoples. In India, under colonialism, early attempts at reshaping structured inequities targeted traditional exclusionary practices, such as the exclusion of that sub-continent’s Dalits or untouchables, (castes) and other scheduled castes. In contrast, in places like Malaysia and Fiji, affirmative Action, has acted to serve the indigenous majority population, in order to close the gap between the more economically successful minority populations, in this instance, the Chinese-Malaysians and the Indian-Fijians respectively, but subsequently created new (and serious) intra-ethnic wealth and income disparities.  Critics argue that these new social injustices arose due to prolonged implementation of affirmative action, as well as the introduction and simultaneous implementation of neoliberal policies since the 1980s.

Since India’s 1948 formal implementation of affirmative action, this policy has been implemented in one form or the other in several other countries, namely, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Canada, China, Ecuador, Russia, Ireland, Indonesia, Israel, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, the U.S. South Africa and Sri Lanka, with the focal concern generally encompassing religious and generally disadvantaged minorities. Whether these projects  emerged after prolonged struggles over civil rights and political liberties, as in the United States and South Africa, or through various forms of social engineering to  promote equity among ethnic  groups,  as in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, they operationalize a certain logic of rule that entails attention to the question of how to justly govern and develop heterogeneous populations.   Affirmative action projects, however, are not implemented in isolation but constitute one component of a range of public policies dealing with, among other things, economic development. Affirmative action may thus be generally located in a highly complex and ‘contested space’, within what Foucault, referred to as “governmentality technologies.” The outcome of this contestation, involving affirmative action – that seeks to redress social injustices by state action – being implemented in conjunction with neoliberalism – once seen as a panacea to extensive state intervention but now clearly discredited – on multiethnic societies is the focus on this study.

The simultaneous implementation of these two policies has taken place at different times. In Ecuador, for example, there has been an attempt to entrench affirmative action principles in the constitution while dealing with neoliberal policies foisted on countries in Latin America by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. Similarly, Colombia is finding it difficult to implement social provisioning policies  at a time when  market liberalism champions,  like the WTO, privilege  markets and transnational firms, in a way that undermines such social provisioning. Yet, this contestation is not merely between affirmative action and neoliberalism. It concerns the broader dimension of governing in uncertain times, when subjectivities and responses to social positioning are in states of flux.

The expansion of various types of affirmative action programs globally should not obscure the raging debates underway in countries where such programs have already had relatively long histories, notably the U.S., Malaysia and India.  The questioning of affirmative action programs has come from a wide variety of  positions  representing  the many sides  of the political spectrum. Arguments have thus ranged from calls for its wholesale dismantling ostensibly because  it has allegedly outlived its usefulness, that racialisms (certainly of the raw type that spurred its emergence) are now passé, or that it has reinforced racial and ethnic divides, and monolithized ‘races,’ to those who argue instead for its  rethinking on the grounds that  it has resulted in the marginalizing of those for whom it was intended, and given unfair advantages to those already well positioned socially and economically.

However, there are also those who argue for its expansion to cover new targets of social inequalities, like those of France, which following the riots of late 2005, saw President Sarkozy calling for affirmative action; and yet others who see such programs as legitimating a politics that undercuts any real engagement with the ‘realpolitik.’ Such a ‘politik’ would mean substantive changes, beyond the symbolic level; perhaps the feeling here is for, to reference Paul Gilroy, ‘a  politics of transfiguration’ instead of a ‘politics of fulfillment.’[1] For these more radically orientated analysts, affirmative action programs  have resulted in – even as they disturbed the balance of powers and  spoken to rights and belonging-, not only  the marginalization of some within the minority and majority groups, but also, paradoxically,  this challenge for rights (or  righting wrongs ) has resulted in a  stabilization  of the status quo. In  Crenshaw’s words, referring to the US situation, affirmative action projects have led to “the ideological and political legitimation of continuing Black subordination,”[2] leading to gaping democratic deficits.

Whatever the interpretation or the political persuasion, given affirmative action’s contested outcomes, and recognizing that it was not implemented in isolation, it is timely to think productively about its possibilities, (or impossibilities), and its general evolution, globally, particularly in a neo-neo-liberal period, where neoliberalism has been largely discredited, but not defeated. Meanwhile, debates about the applicability of race and gender-based policies, even those implemented over a short duration, have divided academics, politicians, and policy planners. As a project of state engineering, responsive in many cases to populace demands for equality and various forms of social redress, thinking productively about affirmative action’s public and private careers necessitates a  comparison of the particular rendition of  this project undertaken  by a welfare and developmental state operating  in the context of  a hegemonic ideology and neoliberal practice of globalization.  But, as Saskia Sassen argues, the geography of globalization (or global capital) is lumpy.[3] No state is monolithic, riven by its own contradictions and divisions. So globalization’s effects are hardly uniform.

If the argument about globalization is that citizenship has become (more ) marketized, that society has become even more market embedded, and states as well as international financial institutions such as the World Bank have been captured by capital, we may ask what specific elements of state power have been mobilized to support affirmative  action interventions, and how have these changed over time? In other words, what are the particular set of governmental assemblages, within  both state and non-state spaces, that sustain support for affirmative action? And support for what kind of affirmative action is being mobilized, in light of the contentious debates about its mismanagement, ill fit, its supersession, or its dramatic failures? How, in light of these unsettled and unsettling debates, ought we to think about affirmative action’s gendered public life, given the changed relations of citizen to the state, of citizens/subjects among themselves, and among their various ethnicized or racialized communities.  In this regard, what should  we make of Thomas Sowell’s idea that affirmative action’s success or failure not be bench marked quantitatively, that is not measured by numbers only, as in the number of minority business people, public leaders versus the rest etc.[4] And relatedly his idea that the absence of minorities in business might be due to other factors and not necessarily discrimination, directly or indirectly. Might the emergence of a black President in the United States, or the election of Dalits to prominent positions, such as the Speaker of the House, Meirakumar, in India and the governor of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, be considered equivalent instances effectively measuring  ethnic/racial collective progress generally?

Several other issues also need further probing for this contemporary moment. Thus we may ask: Is racial or ethnic mixing, undercutting affirmative actions’ narrowly drawn evidence of differencing? Are communities to be apprehended in the same racialized ways in the contemporary moment as they have been under an earlier form of globalization, and state interventionism? How do communities currently (re) configured exceed, undermine or continue to affirm earlier forms of affirmative action’s expectations? For example, if older affirmative action programs emerged under a different dispensation of state and the politics of belonging, how has the current moment intervened to suggest a different ordering of priorities given a new apprehension of racialized othernesses, particularly in a post-neoliberal world? And, if the law has not succeeded in substantively redressing social and economic inequities among the more vulnerable groups, what other more effective mechanisms might there be to bring about higher degrees of parity, assuming that current market practices have themselves been unable to generate these relatively equal playing fields?  How is equality being construed today? Are there any signals  anywhere that suggest the exhaustion of particular racial or ethnic identities, even as  economic signs point to enduring inequalities? Should economic disparities constitute the bottom line for assessing and redressing structural and racial inequities? Have the legal reforms that underpinned such programs run their course? What might newer affirmative action programs have to offer by way of reforms overlooked in or by earlier programs?  What should we make of its newer or impending implementation in places like Ecuador and Colombia? The political leadership of Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela refer to their policies as post-neoliberal. That is, they endorse a struggle against neoliberalism. Brazil under Lula’s presidency did not entirely embrace nor condemn neoliberalism. Instead it seemed to have pursued an in-between path that selectively engaged  developmentalist and neoliberal social and economic policies.  To what extent has this discourse shaped the conduct of policy engineers and subjects/citizens themselves?  How have the various responses to its practices, translated the  social relations between and among racial and ethnic groupings in particular, and made  it productive to think in terms of a post-raciality  and post-ethnicity. Finally, how might we measure these continuities and discontinuities, or the continuing haunting of a plantation and/or colonial complex.?

These are the sorts of questions that are central to our symposium on Global Affirmative Action.  The Center for African and African American Research at Duke University and the University of Malaya will jointly promote the thinking through of the politics of Affirmative Actions as it has been practiced transnationally, particularly contrasting the practices of governance under the developmentalism  versus the neoliberal economic agenda, in order to map the radical continuities and discontinuities inherent to regimes of globalization. It is expected that at the end of the proposed conference that academics from both institutions, Duke University and the University of Malaya will produce a policy paper, as well as an anthology, that would make a lasting impact on understanding particular forms of social engineering, or governmental technologies, that have been combined with the pursuit of economic social and political freedoms, and have engendered several  intended and unintended consequences from a politics of fairness,  based on the  variety of circumstances and global  geographies.  Moreover it is expected that these two institutions could continue to pursue collaborative projects that track these motions of equalizing parity, in a world which, according to several analysts has become starkly more unequal.


[1] Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press,  1994.

[2] Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, “Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law,” German Law Journal, 12, 01: 247-284.

[3] Saskia Sassen, “Unsettling Master Categories: Notes on Studying the Global in C. W. Mills’ Footsteps.” International Journal of Politics, Culture, Society  20 (2008): 69-83.

[4] Thomas Sowell, Affirmative Action around the World: An empirical Study. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

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