Against the tide final against the tide : making waves and breaking silences



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B.Social psychology through the looking glass of domination.

More specifically, I wanted to find a framework to analyse real world liberation movements that could not be simply subsumed and described through the class struggle looking glass, as my Marxist colleagues advocated. Neither could such movements be adequately explored with a model which does not take into account the context and perspective of dynamic social change, or that ignores the relational, embedded and circular dynamics of social relations. One also has to account for the fact that invisible silenced communities can, under certain conditions, express agency and resistance to the oppressive rules under which they live. How does one overcome humiliation ? I was intrigued by such questions as: “Under what circumstances do underprivileged groups initiate resistance, challenge the legitimacy of existing system and engage in norm-breaking behavior?” (Apfelbaum, 1974. P. 149). Why, for example, did the Algerian uprising break out only in 1954? Why was there a rebellion of the Jews in the ghetto of Warsaw? And why did Black Power movements develop in the 1970's?

During the 1970's, groups that had been silenced for centuries suddenly spoke up and challenged the system. With increasing forcefulness, colonized populations, Blacks, women....denounced their oppressive situations and claimed recognition, legitimacy and emancipation. But the existing models and theories of conflict, whether interpersonal, intergroup, or international, which had guided our research in the past seemed irrelevant to these new social realities. Questions of power and domination had generally been ingored


(cf. Apfelbaum and Lubek, 1976). I searched in vain through social psychology but found nothing that addressed these issues or could be of any help to understand the dynamics and dialectical aspects of power relations.

”Where has all the power gone”was the initial disconcerting question which I raised as an introduction to a chapter titled: “Relations of domination and movements of liberation: an analysis of power between groups” (Apfelbaum, 1979). Here was a major blind spot of the discipline, making social psychology “the late 20 century hand-maiden to domination” much in the same way as “in the 19thth century, biology provided the scientific discourse through which social domination and inequity could be justified”( cf. Fine and Roberts, 1999; p.264).

The Ottawa international conference on ‘Priorities and Paradigms of Social Psychology’ in 1974, provided the first opportunity to raise and develop these issues publicly. A selected number of social psychologists had been asked to assess the progress of their respective research areas; my task, as I understood it, was to present the balance sheet on conflict and bargaining research. In my talk, later published as a co-authored paper with Ian Lubek (Apfelbaum and Lubek, 1976), for the first time, I unambiguously and extensively questioned the limits of our knowledge base in the light of the recent liberation movements.

Conflict research had originated in the 1950's, in the context of the Cold War. The specter of two equally armed superpowers, each with a similar mistrust of the other’s motivations and a strong desire to win, loomed as the paramount prototype of all conflict. Furthermore, as social psychologists adopted a “game theory” model for the analysis of conflict, they limited their analyses to conflicts of interest, because gaming situations assume that there is a basic consensus between the opponents about the goals each of them wish to attain. The game theory approach therefore rules out of consideration conflicts of liberation such as those noted above, where there is little or no consensus between the parties involved. Having examined the origins and limitations of current conflict research based on gaming situations, I set out to prepare the ground for a perspective on conflict which would allow it to be viewed within a context of dynamic social change.

When I first gave my presentation, I was still strongly convinced that science was a self-correcting enterprise with rules for the determination of “truth.” I did not believe that personal power issues existed in scientific circles, nor did I suspect that raising theoretical questions aimed at refocusing a given research field could be interpreted as a personal threat, or threat to the research community, and trigger angry reactions. So I was surprised when my discussion, which seemed to me crucial to the future development of this particular area of the discipline, was met with a strong rebuttal from Morton Deutsch (Deutsch, 1976). His remarks, often bordering on the ad hominem, seemed more concerned with my professional credibility than with discussion or debate of my ideas. The immediate consequence was a split among people at the conference, between those with traditional views of social psychology who would no longer have anything to do with me, and those who were ready to hear an alternative and/or critical analysis.

Indeed, I was arguing for an epistemological rupture by stating that questions of power should be at the center of social psychological analyses, that domination was the critical issue in social relations, and that we needed to reintroduce a structural perspective to social psychology.(Apfelbaum & Lubek, 1976; Apfelbaum, 1979). This would open the way to a major reframing not only of the problematics of conflicts but also general social theory. With hindsight, it seems no wonder that this kind of discourse stimulated hostile defensive reactions (cf. Deutsch, 1976; see also the bitter-sweet concluding comments of Harry Triandis of my chapter in Austin and Worchel’s Social Psychology of intergroup relations, 1979). In the late 1970s, this line of thought, not only in social psychology but in sociology as well, was somewhat threatening to the Establishment, or at least “surprising”, argues the French feminist sociologist Colette Guillaumin (1981):

“...the relationships of domination and the actors involved in these relationships ..[were] so seldom thought about that the discovery of the existence of the dominated actors, so surprising in itself, cannot for a certain period of time be integrated into their thinking” ( Guillaumin, 1981/1995 p. 159 -- emphasis in original. Cited in Apfelbaum, 1999; p.301).

Any researcher experiencing such criticism as was directed at me can be powerfully thwarted in one or more aspect of their scientific careers – publication, research funding, training students, career security – by the defensive reactions of a scientific community which feels threatened (Lubek and Apfelbaum, 1987 p.83). Following Deutsch’s harsh rebuttal, I could have easily myself become a renegade against the discipline or at least been marginalised and dismissed from the international research community. But I was lucky : once again I was at the right place at the right time. It was the right time because in the aftermath of the late 1960's movements, there was an opening for alternative views to be heard. Or, to put it otherwise, for their own sake, the establishment needed to include a few token alternative voices and, as a critical social psychologist, I became one of them. I was invited to contribute to the textbook edited by Worchel and Austin titled: “The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations”. Alternative scientific circles were emerging in which I found my niche; they became my reference groups, my intellectual family, and helped me construct a new (scientific) identity. Today, these groups have attained significant professional recognition for their work in critical psychology, feminist psychology, theoretical psychology, and the history of the social sciences.

Undaunted by the experience at the 1974 conference, I went on exploring the various aspects of domination. How, for example, could micro social relations and individual behavior be analysed as re-enactments of the macro level politics of oppression? And more generally, how could the power disparity between groups generate individual identity strategies? I was struggling to find a conceptual framework and language that could relate individual psychological processes to larger structural and cultural processes. That is, my aim was to analyse the dialectics of intergroup and intragroup processes, including the dynamics of group formation and fragmentation, how this could influence individual identities, as well as how people might gain a sense of agency in the most dire of situations.

Clearly, this was an ambitious project and too much of a challenge to the standard practices of a discipline seeking primarily to establish straightforward causal explanations. Yet, the mechanisms by which subordinated groups can regain agency cannot be examined without also considering the strategies by which dominant group maintain their power. It is necessary to examine domination and subordination simultaneously, in a dialectical perspective that can show how they mutually affect each other. Thus, when a dominant group seeks to break down a subordinated group’s cohesiveness in order to maintain its hegemony, the subordinated group seeks means to resist. And in addition to violent modes of domination such as genocide, torture or terror, there are also more subtle, micro modes of domination at work. Degrouping (Apfelbaum, 1979;1999) is one of the mechanisms that groups with more resources and privileges use to protect and perpetuate their advantage. It can take various forms such as creating a mythical standard and applying it as a universal law, or denying diversity in order to stigmatize a group and exclude its members. As Memmi argued in Attempt of a Definition : Dominated Men “it is not the difference which always entails racism; it is racism which makes use of the difference”. Tokenism is another mode of degrouping in which a limited number of individuals are given opportunities to join the dominant group. Conversely, regrouping -- i.e., maintaining or restoring a sense of community -- is a collective response by which subordinates (re)create a common framework, for example reclaiming a common set of traditions, language, and social practices which in turn provide the basis for individual agency.

Michel Foucault’s work as well as Hannah Arendt’s conception of the pariah figure (Arendt 1948/1976) have been true inspirations helping me to overcome the conceptual limitations imposed by the narrowly defined boundaries of my discipline. Both provided important intellectual tools for exploring the potentials for resistance by subordinated and/or silenced groups. Foucault’s seminars at the Collège de France, in 1975, were seminal for my thinking when he elaborated, in front of an attentive and dedicated audience, his general conception of power, insisting on its fundamental relational character and on the fact that it cannot be conceived without taking into account the multiple potential forms of resistance to it.(Foucault, 1976).

The distinction Hannah Arendt made between the parvenu and the conscious pariah indirectly sheds light on the dialectical tension between degrouping and regrouping. The parvenu can be considered as enacting tokenism: adopting uncritically the values and norms of the dominant group and breaking away from his/her socio-historical roots, tokenism is the price payed for the privilege of assimilation into the dominant group. The parvenu who is always at beck and call of the dominant group remains in a precarious situation, as does the pariah. But the latter has chosen to be an outsider, to remain at the margins while refusing to repudiate his/her socio-historical integrity: this is an act of autonomy and freedom (of“humanity” to use Arendt’s words), an active political attitude. To claim one’s position as pariah, as Gandhi did in British India, is a way of forcing the society as a whole to acknowledge its responsibility for this exclusion. This act of resistance falls into the category of regrouping

When I first published my analysis of domination, there was not much of a response from the social science community. The chapter (Apfelbaum, 1979) was even removed, without my knowledge, from the second edition of the widely distributed handbook of Austin and Worchel on intergroup relations. I only recently discovered that since then, despite its “disappearance”, the chapter has had an active, although subterranean life, copies being distributed like samizdats to successive generations of students (cf Gurin, 1999; Hurtado, 1999). Not only had my arguments not fallen into oblivion but they “provided a comprehensive and generative framework in which to place understand and reinterpret certain research programs” (Stewart and Zucker, 1999, p.276).

Interestingly enough, the resistance against my attempt to introduce the subject of domination within social psychology some twenty years ago still exists today. When my chapter “Relations of Dominations and Movements of Liberation” was recently republished, Patricia Gurin ( 1999, p.279), noted in her appraisal, “Even today, most social psychological theories of intergroup relations fail to talk about power at all”, while Stewart and Zucker (1999) add that arguing for direct linkages between large-scale, macro-level social structures and individual psychology. “remains woefully marginal or forgotten in the discipline of psychology”( p.296). Why is it still so subversive to deal with issues of power? Perhaps it is that the disparity which exists between those who are granted and those who are denied rights and privileges makes it difficult to continue using quantitative methods which are relevant only as long as one assumes that individuals are interchangeable, similarly motivated and pursue identical goals. But the burden introduced by a focus on the analysis of power goes far beyond a simple question of choice in methodology. In dealing with power and in stressing the structural disparities existing in society, one cannot avoid exposing the flaws and fallacies in prevailing views of democracy. The pattern here appears similar to the reaction against feminist political scientists (Pateman, 1988; Varikas, 1995) when they denounced the sexist fallacies of “egalitarian” citizenship and the falsehoods contained in the notion of universalism.


C. Uprooting and communication across cultural and traumatic boundaries

With the ending of the Cold War, if not before, uprooting began to be recognized as a major socio-political reality. In much of the world, political upheavals or economic necessities pushed growing numbers of people away from their homes, forcing them into uncertain journeys with little more than suitcases filled with artifacts from their past lives. Just as the end of the 19th century has been labelled “the era of the masses” (Apfelbaum, 1990; Moscovici, 1985), so the end of the 20th century may be viewed as the “era of uprooting.” Whereas the prior century had witnessed massive migrations from rural to urban areas that disrupted traditional social settings, uprooting was now transforming the deep physiognomy and structural features of our social space. At both the societal and individual levels, efforts to communicate across cultural divides created new tensions and identity conflicts. These social and individual problems resulted from the coexistence, within the same space, of communities with different cultural backgrounds, values and histories. Such issues can only be addressed within a conceptual framework that takes into account the increasing heterogeneity and changing realities of social life. Social psychologists have developed substantial knowledge about the construction of personal, social and collective identities when people are living in stable conditions environments, but have not really explored how people cope with major social and political changes, and how such changes affect their sense of identity and feelings of belonging. We know very little about how one can “socially be in the world” following major socio-political disruptions. We have failed to explore in earnest the full range of social and psychological injuries associated with uprooting, the realities of dislocation, and their profound consequences for the human condition.

In retrospect, the work I did with Ana Vasquez, a political refugee from Chile, was the first step toward my concern with these questions. I met her shortly before the 1976 international congress of psychology, where she was to present a paper, based on the experiences of former inmates in Pinochet’s prisons, on the uses of psychological techniques in torture. Together with a few other colleagues, I helped her prepare the paper for an academic audience. This first encounter marked the beginning of our friendship and research collaboration. Ana soon took an active part in the small research seminar that I was running for my doctoral students and a few academics who shared similar interests in institutional and political power struggles. We were trying to develop an appropriate theoretical framework that would allow analysis from the perspectives of both dominant and subordinate groups. We also wanted to focus on resistance, and attempts to gain agency, rather than simply describing submission and passivity. As noted by F. Cherry (1999), the seminar was “...a group of immigrants, exiles, outsiders of some sort or another, to our societies and to our disciplines (p.274).” We debated questions of objectivity, unearthed critical early historical formulations of social psychology, and explored the means of giving voices to those who had been denied the right to speak up. These discussions were seminal for the elaboration of a critical social psychological perspective.

Much of my work with Ana Vasquez was based on the extensive narratives which she had collected from her fellow countrymen and women as well as from political refugees from other countries in South America. Their voices spoke of personal dislocation and the devastating consequences which follow when those social frames of reference providing one’s sense of identity are shattered. They seemed to echo Hannah Arendt’s account of her painful experience of uprooting after her flight from Nazi Germany:

We have lost our home, our foyer, that is to say the familiarity of our daily life. We have lost our profession, that is to say, the assurance of being of some service in the world. We have lost our maternal language, that is to say, our natural reactions, the simplicity of gestures and the spontaneous expression of our feelings (1943/1987, p. 58, my translation).

The Chilean political exiles, having escaped Pinochet’s imprisonment and torture in their home country, now found that the forced uprooting meant much more than just the loss of their home place, or what Norbert Elias (1950/1987) called the habitus. It meant the failure of long-standing commitments to values which had defined their raison d’être, and thus the disintegration of the basic fabric of their former identity. As a result, they could see no possibility, and perhaps had even lost their desire, to elaborate any new life project, especially within a foreign setting, no matter how welcoming and friendly (Apfelbaum, 1999). They became orphans detached from their life projects and, still bewildered, frequently repeated, “I have lost my identity”. This key expression epitomized their pain and distress at having suddenly become politically divested and culturally irrelevant.



But there was a surprising gender difference among these exiles. When interviewed, the women never expressed distress similar to that of men, although they had also been professionally and politically active and had experienced the same loss of their social persona and political hopes. Yet, whereas many of the men seemed to be at total loss, most of the women were kept busy carrying their family through the daily hardships of adaptation to the host country, becoming caretakers and homemakers. These highly gendered functions seem quasi-universal, having no territorial, social or cultural anchorage; they can be performed anywhere. More importantly, through these traditional activities, the women created a bridge between their past and present worlds, keeping alive their cultural roots and the memories of the world left behind. Their traditional home maker activities thus became a truly socio-political role.
In confronting the “identity crises” voiced by Ana Vasquez’s exiled compatriots, I increasingly came to doubt that currently accepted theories of identity proposed by social psychology could adequately encompass the full range of relevant issues, especially those manifest in periods of political turbulence, when migrations and uprootings are involved. As I reflect upon my professional trajectory, there seems to be a certain “déjà vu” pattern here, because once again, historical social realities caught up with me, and opened the way to a critical reappraisal of mainstream social psychological theories. Just as the observation of the emerging liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970's had earlier suggested the limitations of traditional conflict theories, the realities of uprooting now led me to re-examine the existing conceptions of personal identity. During the past 30 years, mainstream social identity scholarship had mainly adopted a perspective which focussed on the individual, and generally assumed that the environment was unchanging and stable. As a result, little attention had been paid to the role of such broader contextual factors as historical events and socio-political forces in the development of the individual. But the disrupting effects of expatriations on people’s lives reveal the importance of these contextual factors and underscore how much one’s sense of personal integrity is linked to changing realities in one’s environment.
Forced uprootings are clearly not the most common occurrences in people’s lives. Nevertheless, they are of theoretical interest because they highlight identity processes which otherwise might remain unnoticed. Furthermore, even though political upheavals represent extreme cases of social disruptions, they stand as test cases of the much wider spectrum of social ruptures which, during the course of a life time, modify our social environment, threaten our previous social adjustment, and consequently affect our daily existence. The implications of such changes, at an individual level, may be for the better when socio-political changes provide new opportunities -- as was the case when women were granted the vote, or equal opportunity policies were promulgated giving women the option to move beyond their traditional social roles. But they can also be for the worse when new policies deprive whole categories of people of earlier taken for granted rights -- as happens, for example, in times of economic recession. Whether they open or close opportunities, the changes induce a sense of insecurity and loss, disrupt established habits, familiar interchanges and earlier socially acknowledged ways of being and call for a repositioning of the person within the new social context. By analogy with forced uprooting, which is more intense and abrupt, I have come to speak of social uprooting when environmental changes require people to adapt and alter their personal adjustments. Any form of uprooting involves a price that must be paid as people lose the security of their familiar situation and seize opportunities to assert self determination and agency. The case study of working-class British women who have become professionals described by Valerie Walkerdine in her film, Didn’t She do Well examines the problems faced by women engaged in a process of upward mobility. This example of social uprooting emphasizes the burdens and the severe feelings of alienation which the women experienced both in their new milieu as well as in their original home places, even though it was their choice to move from one life space into another.
More generally, the ways in which one takes up and deals with the challenges of social uprooting provide revealing insights about one’s identity: depending on idiosyncratic personal characteristics, and personal history, the uprooting may put the individual at a total loss, or it may open the opportunity to break away from earlier constraining social norms, customs and traditions, and become a pathway toward personal development and creativity (see Apfelbaum, 2000a). Responses to uprootings vary greatly from one person or category of persons to another. An exemplary case in point is the variability we found between men and women’s ways of coping with exile in the sample of political refugees from South America (Apfelbaum and Vasquez, 1984). The personal givens which are often seen as defining us right from birth (sex, social or ethnic origin) are by no means permanent. Instead, they should be viewed as the personal frameworks or filters through which the changing socio-historical context is processed, takes on particular meaning for individuals, and may serve to initiate or reorient their life project. Each person replays them in his/her idiosyncratic unique way; thus each life represents a unique narrative which reveals how we cope with change and organize, within specific cultural and socio-political circumstances, the various elements of our personal history.
Rarely does life follow a steady stream, and, to the extent that we do not live in a vacuum nor in an invariable social space, ultimately a life course can be conceived as a succession of existential uprootings, all of which follow from the various life challenges that confront us.

As I followed this line of thought, I was progressively compelled to shift away from a deterministic conception towards a more dynamic perspective on identity, viewing it as a fluctuating equilibrium, a permanent, ongoing negotiation with changing social realities.

When viewed in this perspective, the study of identity shifts to the study of strategies of adaptation, and agency becomes a key issue. This also demands a shift away from theories of the person as just another passive source of responses mainly determined by his/her original givens. In others words, all situations provide a certain degree of freedom; it is then up to the individual to appropriate this freedom depending on the price he/she is willing to pay for this move. A case in point is the story of a former dancer who, when ordered by an SS officer to dance as she was about to enter the gas chamber, complies and uses the opportunity to seize the officer’s gun and shoot him, thereby regaining an existential moment of agency (Bettelheim, 1966, cited by Apfelbaum, 1974, p.151).
During the 1980's I had an opportunity to empirically explore this theoretical framework.

In 1974 President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing had appointed four women as Cabinet Ministers. It was the first time, in France, that women were given the opportunity to take part in politics . These nominations were in part the President’s acknowledgment and response to the ongoing struggles of the feminist movements. From the late 1960's on, they had strongly challenged the basis of the “gender contract” (Rantalaiho,1992), calling into question the rules which informally regulate the relations between men and women and determine the socially legitimate habitus or social spaces ascribed to women. For all women, this period has been one of major social changes. Laws were being introduced that opened a number of new social opportunities, and the media’s changing representations of women’s social roles encouraged them to move beyond their traditional ascribed habitus. As gender boundaries became more permeable, women could more openly and explicitly nurture professional projects. Making incursions into spaces until then thought to be closed to them became socially more acceptable, therefore less “risky” and more frequent.

This period saw the first large scale movement of women into politics. It seemed to me to offer a unique opportunity to explore, in situ, how women could move away from their traditional locations. What personal qualities and social circumstances allowed them, particularly those gaining high level political position, to take on such a major challenge? What obstacles did they have to face at both the public and private level? In brief, what price did they have to pay for migrating into a new social and professional location? In fact, as they ventured into spaces away from their expected traditional home places and transgressed the boundaries of ascribed social roles, they were often seen as “outsiders, and gender expats,”and became the object of all sorts of derogatory gibes. This was especially true when they moved into politics, a public space which was considered, especially by the French, to be reserved for males. Thus, women in high level political position were at odds with their female peers, and at the same time were not fully accepted by their professional male colleagues. They had to face and cope with the burdens of the double marginality which resulted from their “transgression” (Apfelbaum, 1993a). The migration of women into politics became in my view, a test case for all gendered uprootings. (Apfelbaum, 1993a), and an occasion to investigate various facets of the issues generated by social gendered migration.
I proceeded to interview the French women who had become high level political and managerial leaders. I later also interviewed their Norwegian counterparts: the cabinet ministers of both the liberal and conservative party because, as opposed to France which was just then opening up the corridors of political power to women, Norway had already done this for a long time, with 40% of the cabinet positions being occupied by women. Most interesting was the cross-cultural perspective which made it possible to examine the cultural, political and value systems influencing the strategies and narratives of their rise to power positions. Here again, my work contradicted traditional social psychology approaches to leadership. I was not a specialist in this area, nor did I intend to become one. Instead, my study of women in leadership positions was mainly one more occasion to critically evaluate the underlying epistemological assumptions of my discipline and show how they limit our ability to account for the world’s evolving realities.

Liberation movements, uprootings, women’s migrations into new social and professional location were some of the most pressing social issues confronting us in the last few decades of the 20th century. To make sense of these phenomena, new approaches needed to be elaborated which took into account the realities of a world in permanent flux as well as the heterogeneity of the people who make up our social environment. Why were both of these problems almost totally absent from the agenda of mainstream social psychology? One important reason involves

the ahistorical nature of scientific social psychology. It has generally assumed that we live in a stable environment in which people are defined by tradition and custom, and bound by the rigidities of inherited biological and social givens. But the truth is that we are repeatedly confronted with a world in permanent flux, where old allegiances and ways of being in the world are constantly challenged, shaken and destroyed, and our established values and normative systems are called into question.
This reality of the human condition calls for a profound reevaluation of our ways of understanding relationships between the individual and society. Immersed in such a world, people are themselves in process, having to come to terms with the burden of seeing their world views altered by new new political, cultural and technological events.. In this perspective, new theories of the person emphasizing responsiveness and agency are required, as well as a dialectical understanding of the interactions between ongoing socio-political trends and personal adjustments. The failure of social psychology to recognize and act on this perspective follows from its implicit epistemological assumptions. Their origins can be traced to the conception of the society which prevailed at the time when the social sciences were first formulated (Apfelbaum, 1986). It is the offspring of the liberal egalitarian tradition and of a representation of democracy based on the notion of universality: the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and America’s Declaration of Independence, both, proclaiming all men to be equal. This vision of democracy is itself modelled on the classical Athenian ideal, where decisions were made by an homogeneous assembly of equal male citizens, speaking the same langage, sharing to the same worldviews and traditions a priori excluding the “other”,i.e. women, and slaves. Clearly, therefore, assumptions about democracy based on the Athenian ideal do not fit contemporary societies with their increasing flow of migration, socio-political and cultural uprootings. Modern societies are made up of people with different cultural backgrounds, divergent socio-political traditions, values and differential access to power and resources.

Given the fundamental heterogeneity of our social environment, the structural asymmetries that determine the nature of social interchange and shape personal and public personae should be obvious. Nevertheless, they are rarely considered or discussed in the literature of mainstream social psychology. Correction of this situation would require new theoretical perspectives and research methods in order to understand the complex implications of diversity. It also would demand serious re-evaluation of the ideology of equality underlying the praxis of social psychology.

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