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Second Read, Young

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 9 months ago
In light of Young's city life solution, the following link might be of interest to folks: Urban Manifesto in International Herald Tribune

Kate -- Young's social ontology

A significant element of Young’s intervention is premised on an alternative conception of the social ontology. I think a useful way to engage with this text is to clarify both her conception of social ontology, as well as the characteristics of the social ontology that she wants to undermine. Young seems to want to undermine a social ontology that undergirds liberal theories of justice (though not expressly or uniquely liberal). Such an ontology assumes an individual, rights bearing subject that is prior to social groups. Social groups are either aggregative or associative, and oppressed groups are oppressed by another group. Injustices result from unequal distribution, and can be ameliorated by law and policy initiatives.
By contrast, Young argues for a conception of the social ontology, inspired by new social movements, that does not understand an individual subject as prior to group identification. Rather, she argues, the subject is formed in and through group identification. Further, injustice cannot be understood as an issue of distribution of material goods or things that can be distributed as such. Groups, according to Young, may be socially constructed, but are experienced as real and have real material consequences. Groups and group membership is not fixed, but neither is it chosen. Finally, groups are always formed in opposition to another group, and though one group need not be an oppressor group of the other, there are groups that are privileged as a result of the oppression of others.
The questions that I want us to explore are: what is at stake for Young in this alternative conception of the social ontology? Why does she need to reassess the nature of social life in order to argue for her alternative conception of justice?  What does she argue (or imply) that her conception make clear that the dominant one occludes?

Hillary A. Jones

Second Reading of Young, Democracy with Decentralization/Representation


Young actively embraces democracy.  Although her conceptualization of democracy is clearly more about the “pure” democracy that involves a democratic decisionmaking apparatus, she also embraces the political structure.  She delineates most clearly what she means by democracy on page 92, balancing the democratic ideal with the advancing of individual interest.


In the interest of protecting such individual interests, she also carefully cautions against the dangers of the local, decentralized, and communitarian (94 and 236-238).  In each of these instances, the tyranny of the majority becomes a real threat with a pure democratic structure.  Being too local can lead to segregations and NIMBY attitudes that result in us/them acts that are counterproductive to advancing justice.


Interest groups are maintained in Young’s conceptualization of democracy, and she explores questions of redistribution because of the threat to the individual from aggregate interests.  In the end, she presents us with a rich vision of a vibrant community/that-is-not-a-community with her city life suggestion.  Interests emerge, groups form, and they dissipate once the issue is handled.


I enjoy Young’s work, and I find most of her argument here compelling.  My concern is how to balance the embracing of the democratic with the rejection of the local and communitarian.  Young is trying to find a way to advance changes without dismantling the whole; this is a case of changing the mast while we’re asail rather than jumping ship for the nearest desert island, no matter how tempting the mirage might be.  I get that, I do. 


I’m having significant trouble reconciling a representative democracy with Young’s presentation of democracy, however.  Although democratic decisionmaking as an ideal is clear and well-developed, its link to a representative form of government seems illusory.  If we are to abandon the local and communitarian solution, then we must maintain a representative structure—it simply is not economical or possible for millions of people to participate in direct democracy.  I have long believed the most significant trouble with our current iteration of the democratic enterprise is size, however. 


Say, for instance, as your shopping representative, you provided me with a list of items to purchase at the grocery store (say, milk, eggs, and bread), there’s a chance I might pick what you prefer but there’s a larger likelihood that it would be a twisted version of what you prefer.  Maybe you drink skim milk, like white eggs, and eat whole-wheat bread.  Statistically, I am more likely to bring you home a different combination of that, if I get any variables right at all.  Maybe you’ll get whole milk, free-range brown eggs, and sourdough.  Maybe you’ll get 2%, chocolate eggs, and Wonderbread.  Maybe I’d get one right and you’d receive chocolate milk, white eggs, and bagels.


I understand that if you feel strongly about the milk you’d likely tell me—and that’s how the representative government is supposed to function.  We all know that system is far from perfect and representation seems to remain in Young’s refashioned system.  So, my nagging question is how can we retain parts of the system, as Young seeks, and still advance justice?  Is there a way to remove representation and keep Young’s suggestions and rejections intact?



Kristin Rawls


            In Chapter 1, Young argues that distributive models of justice are incomplete in terms of theorizing on behalf of an emancipatory politics.  That is, while she concedes that discussions about justice cannot avoid questions about the distribution of resources, Young suggests that these theories have a tendency to overlook “decisionmaking structure and procedures, division of labor, and culture” (22).  One of Young’s central critiques of the distributive paradigm lies in its similarities to rational choice theory—that is, its tendency to “[reduce] all intentional action to a matter of maximizing a utility function in which the utility of all conceivable goods can be quantified and compared” (24).  The problem, for Young, is that this way of conceptualizing the public good is limited and “entails applying a logic of distribution to social goods which are not material things or measurable quantities” (24-5). 

            For Young, the distributive paradigm has alarming consequences when applied to such social goods as rights or power.  Indeed, she suggests that it implies “a misleading or incomplete social ontology” which leads one to think about rights as if they are material goods.  This is unhelpful, she argues, because inequality “does not mean that some people have a certain ‘amount’ or ‘portion’ of rights while others have less” (25).  Instead, she suggests that rights should be conceived as “relationships, not things”—that is, as “institutionally defined rules specifying what people can do in relation to one another” (25).  Likewise, Young suggests that power cannot be conceived appropriately within the distributive paradigm.  She explains first that “bringing power under the logic of distribution” tends to “[misconstrue] the meaning of power” (31).  As with rights, power can be better understood in relational terms (31).  Moreover, the distributive model tends to focus unhelpfully on “particular agents or roles that have power, and on agents over whom these powerful agents or roles have power” (31).  To treat power as a material good which can be redistributed in order to correct its imbalance, for Young, is to “[miss] the structural phenomena of domination” (31).

            Rather than focusing on rights or power, Young argues that justice can be better theorized in terms of domination and oppression (33).  That is, she wants to transcend the atomistic thinking that weakens the distributive paradigm in order to conceive oppression as “the institutional constraint on self-development” and domination as “the institutional constraint on self-determination” (37).  These models, she argues, account for the relational nature of injustice, as well as the importance of institutions.  Ultimately, she suggests that it is not possible to understand domination and oppression within the distributive paradigm. 

            Ultimately, I am concerned with whether or not Young really does manage to avoid the reducitivist way of thinking that she critiques in the distributive paradigm.  Her discussion of the “five faces of oppression” in the second chapter is, I think, useful in this regard.  Here, she suggests that “exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence” constitute “a family of concepts and conditions” which can help to make better sense of oppression than the distributive paradigm (40).  Young attempts to circumvent the weaknesses of the distributive paradigm by suggesting that oppression is something that one experiences in a social context and as a member of a group (40).  Moreover, she argues that each of these “faces of oppression” helps to account for the way that oppression is perpetuated through institutions.

            Notwithstanding the possibility that this short list may purport to be more totalizing than it actually is, my major concern lies in the comparative utility that Young suggests these “five faces of oppression” have.  Though she suggests that “pluralizing the category of oppression” can help to “avoid the exclusive and oversimplifying effects of such reductionism” (63), Young advocates an exercise in comparing oppressions that may itself be reductive.  That is, she suggests that each of these categories provides a useful way of “evaluating claims that a group is oppressed, or adjudicating claims about whether or how a group is oppressed” (64).  Moreover, she suggests that it is possible to “compare ways in which a particular form of oppression appears in different groups” as well as “the intensity of those oppression” (64, 65). 

            Through empirical observation, then, we can discern whether or not Blacks are more marginalized or exploited than gays and lesbians—or whether gays and lesbians are more often the victims of violence than other groups.  This comparative exercise seems, to me, to require a quantitative calculus that has the potential to be just as reductive and reifying as the distributive paradigm.  Does Young’s typology sufficiently account for the fluidity and sociality of human relations?  Does it pave the way for the further reification of various oppressions in the name of difference—that is, an understanding of Blacks as the marginalized group, of women as the group victimized by violence?  Further, is it really possible or useful to compare these various manifestations of oppression?  Could this lead to unhelpful competitions over which groups are the most marginalized and impede political coalitions based on solidarity across difference? 




Hagit Barkai

Second reading: Young – justice and the politics of difference. Xenophobia and Abjection


Young uses Joel Kovel’s distinction between dominative racism and aversive racism (141) to point at a shift she describes, from discursive consciousness to practical consciousness in racism (131).  With this link, discursive consciousness as dominative racism of direct mastery, is mapped through 19th century’s moral, political, scientific and aesthetic theories, which construct the inferiority of a group by placing it as an ‘objectified Other’ that is studied, measured, and medicalized by a ‘neutral gaze’. Practical consciousness is explained through aversive racism as racism that is no longer done through direct contact between the dominant and the inferior groups, but through avoidance and separation. In this stage, which for Young and Kovel represents increasingly a current state of racism, societies that are committed to equality of respectability of all people, still actively mark groups as different and rejected.


To explain the state of aversive racism, along with any other xenophobia such as sexism, heterosexism, ageism and ableism, Young makes use of Julia Kristeva’s concept of abjection. She marks the move from racism of discursive consciousness to racism of active consciousness as a move from an attitude of objectification to and attitude of abjection.


While the basis of attraction and rejection remains in both, in the stage of the abject, the groups of others can no longer be presented as the inferior Other, because the discursive consciousness is committed to the principle of equal respect, and xenophobia becomes structured by abjection as involuntary unconscious judgment of ugliness and loathing (145), inability to face the other, or rather – facing others become a process of facing fears of one’s own homosexuality, death, feminization, possible bad luck, or self perceived inferiority. Since the conscious discourse no longer supports its different identity, Unconsciousness processes take the place, but because of their irrationality and negation of the conscious discourse, they have to be ignored.


Though the origin of the abject is a defense of the child against the mother who rejects it, it is also disgust necessary in the formation of the borders of a self. Young describes this as a yearning for reenclosure on the one hand (144), and a fear of loosing the self on the other hand (146).  The strong repulsion is needed to compensate for the attraction of loosing the boarders. The denial of the abject, the refusal to acknowledge its existence, creates the break necessary between the subject and the object, allowing facing the object as different. It is clear that young uses abjection as a way to describe the oppression done unconsciously by privileged groups through aesthetic judgments and therefore it is here a negative concept, but With Young’s commitment to difference and suspicion towards identity because of its exclusion character and ignorance of differences (234), I ask here, should Young accept the idea that abjection is a necessary process in allowing differences? Additionally, if disgust is a practice of self bordering (144), and necessary for the formation of identity, what would be its place in accounts that posit identities, such as Alcoff’s? What does responsible aesthetic of beauty and ugliness looks like?




Lisa Beane

Discussion paper – Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference


In Chapter 8, Young describes city life as a normative ideal for social relations that can account for group difference.  But I wonder whether this ideal is really a clear, compelling alternative to the ideal of community she wants to oppose.


It seems strange to me that Young criticizes theorists who privilege the face-to-face interactions of small communities for being wildly utopian in spite of the fact that her own construction of city life as a normative ideal is also wildly utopian.  She nearly says as much with all the qualifications she offers.  She points out from the outset that cities are often spaces of segregation and exclusion that keep citizens distanced from decision-making processes (233).  Moreover, the “being together of strangers” that characterizes city life for Young can result in the kind of homogenization she wants to avoid as well as violent confrontation.  Constructing an ideal notion of city life requires us to overlook all these things, much like constructing an ideal sense of community requires us to overlook a different set of problems.


I also wonder whether city life as an ideal really gets us very far away from the small communities Young wants to criticize.  She thinks urban spaces are valuable in part because they offer a place in which marginalized groups can cultivate their own cultures and identities.  But this cultivation seems to require local, face-to-face interaction.  For Young, being constantly confronted with other groups engaged in constructing their own positive sense of group identity should make city-dwellers better at dealing with difference.  But is merely ‘being together’ enough to help people cope with difference, or do we also need some expectation that people approach difference with compassion?


Young wants to eliminate constraints on self-determination, which suggests that groups should be involved in decisions that affect them, but I think it remains unclear whether city life helps make this possible.  Most often, it seems that citizens have the greatest likelihood of affecting decisions that affect them at the neighborhood or community level rather than at the level of city government.  In fact, it is precisely at high levels of aggregation (and anonymity) that we might be most worried about citizens treating one another with compassion and respect.  Young suggests regional governments as a way of avoiding this problem, but to me, this sounds suspiciously like the sort of community politics she wants to critique.


I think we should spend some time discussing ‘city life’ as a normative ideal.  Does city life overcome the difficulties of small communities that Young diagnoses?  What new difficulties might it create?  How might city life as an ideal inform our thinking about global politics?




 Evan Seehausen


Oppression, Domination, and the Subject


            I have some thoughts about potential problems with Young’s conception of domination and oppression. While I personally resonate with much of her description of oppression, I worry that it depends on universalizing certain ideas about subjects and the ways that they can be constructed.

In the case of domination, she says that one group is dominated by another if the first “can determine without reciprocation the conditions of their actions” (38). While that is a fairly standard idea, I am not sure whether such a relationship can exist for two reasons. The first is that even as abject, the dominated group still resists and affects the way that the dominant group sees itself and acts. Her use of “reciprocation” may take care of that concern, though. In the second case, it ignores ways in which domination and oppression depends on structural conditions that exceed the agency of any particular group. For instance, the production of the image of certain ethnic groups as more or less violent or sexual depends on a base of consumers as well as producers of media, neither of whom need be of any particular group. Perhaps again, though we could think of producers as a privileged group, but their production is still determined by the buying habits and demands of consumers. In such a situation, which often includes members of the dominated group as participants on all sides, can we still say that such a group is dominated in Young’s sense of the term? I also want to leave open the question from last time as to whether or not we should be trying to eliminate the domination of children and people who are under certain types of medical care.

            With regard to both oppression and domination, I worry that Young’s application of social construction does not extend far enough. In universalizing certain ways of understanding individuals, she risks obscuring the experience of people from other groups. For instance, she claims that it is the “sexual division of labor” which has caused the distinction and structural relations between men and women in “all known societies” (43). Such an analysis depends on subjects in all of those societies being constructed through the application of their labor, which seems to be a pretty distinctly capitalistic/Marxist way of conceiving the subject. In societies where people are not constructed as essentially consumers and laborers, it seems that the division of sexes would occur for different reasons. I think that the problems with such a statement point toward a larger problem with her conception of oppression, in that it depends on a very specific understanding of subjects.

            It seems to me that Young’s call for freedom to express “needs, thoughts, and feelings” could cause some problems (40). As discussed above, the issue might be more complicated than the suppression of one group by another. If that is the case, then we need to take into account the fact that many subjects are constructed in such a way that their self-understanding is contingent on certain systems of domination. Would increased self-expression then lead to a solidifying of such social structures? In what ways could such a problem be avoided without an enforcement of certain dominant (and dominating) conceptions of self-worth, freedom, and desire? Is Young’s use of double consciousness sufficient to provide an alternative to the reification of injustice (60-1)?




Nathalie Nya


In the fifth chapter, Iris young argues “in our society aversive or anxious reactions to the bodily presence of others contribute to oppression (1990:11).”  The way we look at others and the way we relate to the bodies of others have a direct relationship to how we grant them human dignity.  To Young, by not recognizing others with respect, we reduce others to an oppressive status. 


The oppressive status that is granted to others is the result of cultural imperialism. In relationship to the body, “cultural imperialism consists in a group’s being invisible at the same time that it is marked out and stereotyped (1990:123).”  Under cultural imperialism our relationship with others tends to be characterized by stereotypical perception about others that in turn renders them invisible.  By becoming invisible, others are cast out beyond the realm of human values.  For example, others are less likely to be respected. 


Moreover, to Young,  “much of the oppressive experience of cultural imperialism occurs in mundane contexts of interaction—in the gestures, speech, tone of voice, movement, and reactions of others (1990:123).”  In view of this, the characteristic of mundane interaction with others is what make the racism that others face more aversive.  To Young, aversive racism is characterized by the avoidance to recognize others as human beings and by attempting to separate oneself from others.  Young contrast aversive racism to dominative racism. 


Dominative racism is mostly about the assertion of white privilege within direct relationship with others.  While dominative racism is easier to account for (it is visible under institutional system, e.g., between employer and employee power relationships), aversive racism is less easier to account for.  Aversive racism on the other hand can potentially permeate every instance of our existence.  While it is in restricted context that whites have direct dominance of Latinas laborers for example, it is possible that in all context “white people tend to be nervous around blacks (1990:133).”  Precisely because of others’ embodiment, others are less able to avoid aversive racism. 


Young notes that even class status does not allow others to avoid aversive racism.  She notes “even if they successfully exhibit the norms of respectability, their physical presence continues to be marked, something others take note of, and, I have argued, often evokes unconscious reactions of nervousness or aversion in others (1990: 141).”  Given that aversive racism seems to be beyond structural control, Young characterizes it as being a product of the unconscious.  Despite the fact that to Young aversive racism is a phenomenon of the unconscious, it nevertheless reduces others to oppressive status.  But how could that be the case?







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