The law is malleable—debating it is the only way to affect change
Todd Hedrick, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Michigan State University, Sept 2012, Democratic Constitutionalism as Mediation: The Decline and Recovery of an Idea in Critical Social Theory, Constellations Volume 19, Issue 3, pages 382–400
Habermas’ alleged abandonment of immanent critique, however, is belied by the role that the democratic legal system comes to play in his theory. While in some sense just one system among others, it has a special capacity to shape the environments of other systems by regulating their interaction. Of course, the legal system is not the only one capable of affecting the environments of other systems, but law is uniquely open to inputs from ordinary language and thus potentially more pliant and responsive to democratic will formation: “Normatively substantive messages can circulate throughout society only in the language of law … . Law thus functions as the ‘transformer’ that guarantees that the socially integrating network of communication stretched across society as a whole holds together.”55 This allows for the possibility of consensual social regulation of domains ranging from the economy to the family, where actors are presumed to be motivated by their private interests instead of respect for the law, while allowing persons directed toward such interests to be cognizant that their privately oriented behavior is compatible with respect for generally valid laws. While we should be cautious about automatically viewing the constitution as the fulcrum of the legal order, its status as basic law is significant in this respect. For, recalling Hegel's broader conception of constitutionalism, political constitutions not only define the structure of government and “the relationship between citizens and the state” (as in Hegel's narrower “political” constitution); they also “implicitly prefigure a comprehensive legal order,” that is, “the totality comprised of an administrative state, capitalist economy, and civil society.”56 So, while these social spheres can be conceived of as autonomous functional subsystems, their boundaries are legally defined in a way that affects the manner and degree of their interaction: “The political constitution is geared to shaping each of these systems by means of the medium of law and to harmonizing them so that they can fulfill their functions as measured by a presumed ‘common good’.”57 Thus, constitutional discourses should be seen less as interpretations of a positive legal text, and more as attempts to articulate legal norms that could shift the balance between these spheres in a manner more reflective of generalizable interests, occurring amidst class stratification and cultural pluralism. A constitution's status as positive law is also of importance for fundamentally Hegelian reasons relating to his narrower sense of political constitutionalism: its norms must be public and concrete, such that differently positioned citizens have at least an initial sense of what the shared hermeneutic starting points for constitutional discourse might be. But these concrete formulations must also be understood to embody principles in the interest of all citizens, so that constitutional discourse can be the site of effective democratic will formation concerning the basic norms that mediate between particular individuals and the general interests of free and equal citizens. This recalls Hegel's point that constitutions fulfill their mediational function by being sufficiently positive so as to be publicly recognizable, yet are not exhausted by this positivity – the content of the constitution is instead filled in over time through ongoing legislation. In order to avoid Hegel's foreshortened conception of public participation in this process and his consequent authoritarian tendencies, Habermas and, later, Benhabib highlight the importance of being able to conceive of basic constitutional norms as themselves being the products of public contestation and discourse. In order to articulate this idea, they draw on legal theorists like Robert Cover and Frank Michelman who characterize this process of legal rearticulation as “jurisgenesis”58: a community's production of legal meaning by way of continuous rearticulation, through reflection and contestation, of its constitutional project. Habermas explicitly conceives of the democratic legal order in this way when, in the context of considering the question of how a constitution that confers legitimacy on ordinary legislation could itself be thought to be democratically legitimate, he writes: I propose that we understand the regress itself as the understandable expression of the future-oriented character, or openness, of the democratic constitution: in my view, a constitution that is democratic – not just in its content but also according to its source of legitimation – is a tradition-building project with a clearly marked beginning in time. All the later generations have the task of actualizing the still-untapped normative substance of the system of rights.59 A constitutional order and its interpretive history represent a community's attempt to render the terms under which they can give themselves the law that shapes their society's basic structure and secure the law's integrity through assigning basic liberties. Although philosophical reflection can give us some grasp of the presuppositions of a practice of legitimate lawmaking, this framework of presuppositions (“the system of rights”) is “unsaturated.”60 In Hegelian fashion, it must, to be meaningful, be concretized through discourse, and not in an one-off way during a founding moment that fixes the terms of political association once and for all, but continuously, as new persons enter the community and as new circumstances, problems, and perspectives emerge. The stakes involved in sustaining a broad and inclusive constitutional discourse turn out to be significant. Habermas has recently invoked the concept of dignity in this regard, linking it to the process through which society politically constitutes itself as a reciprocal order of free and equal citizens. As a status rather than an inherent property, “dignity that accrues to all persons equally preserves the connotation of a self-respect that depends on social recognition.”61 Rather than being understood as a quality possessed by some persons by virtue of their proximity to something like the divine, the modern universalistic conception of dignity is a social status dependent upon ongoing practices of mutual recognition. Such practices, Habermas posits, are most fully instantiated in the role of citizens as legislators of the order to which they are subject. [Dignity] can be established only within the framework of a constitutional state, something that never emerges of its own accord. Rather, this framework must be created by the citizens themselves using the means of positive law and must be protected and developed under historically changing conditions. As a modern legal concept, human dignity is associated with the status that citizens assume in the self-created political order.62 Although the implications of invoking dignity (as opposed to, say, autonomy) as the normative core of democratic constitutionalism are unclear,63 plainly Habermas remains committed to strongly intersubjective conceptions of democratic constitutionalism, to an intersubjectivity that continues to be legally and politically mediated (a dimension largely absent from Honneth's successor theory of intersubectivity). What all of this suggests is a constitutional politics in which citizens are empowered to take part and meaningfully impact the terms of their cultural, economic, and political relations to each other. Such politics would need to be considerably less legalistic and precedent bound, less focused on the democracy-constraining aspects of constitutionalism emphasized in most liberal rule of law models. The sense of incompleteness and revisability that marks this critical theory approach to constitutionalism represents a point where critical theories of democracy may claim to be more radical and revisionary than most liberal and deliberative counterparts. It implies a sharp critique of more familiar models of bourgeois constitutionalism: whether they conceive of constitutional order as having a foundation in moral rights or natural law, or in an originary founding moment, such models a) tend to be backward-looking in their justifications, seeing the legal order as founded on some exogenously determined vision of moral order; b) tend to represent the law as an already-determined container within which legitimate ordinary politics takes place; and c) find the content of law to be ascertainable through the specialized reasoning of legal professionals. On the critical theory conception of constitutionalism, this presumption of completeness and technicity amounts to the reification of a constitutional project, where a dynamic social relation is misperceived as something fixed and objective.64 We can see why this would be immensely problematic for someone like Habermas, for whom constitutional norms are supposed to concern the generalizable interests of free and equal citizens. If it is overall the case for him that generalizable interests are at least partially constituted through discourse and are therefore not given in any pre-political, pre-discursive sense,65 this is especially so in a society like ours with an unreconciled class structure sustained by pseudo-compromises. Therefore, discursive rearticulation of basic norms is necessary for the very emergence of generalizable interests. Despite offering an admirably systematic synthesis of radical democracy and the constitutional rule of law, Habermas’ theory is hobbled by the hesitant way he embraces these ideas. Given his strong commitment to proceduralism, the view that actual discourses among those affected must take place during the production of legitimate law if constitutionalism is to perform its mediational function, as well as his opposition to foundational or backward-looking models of political justification, we might expect Habermas to advocate the continuous circulation in civil society of constitutional discourses that consistently have appreciable impact on the way constitutional projects develop through ongoing legislation such that citizens can see the links between their political constitution (narrowly construed), the effects that democratic discourse has on the shape that it takes, and the role of the political constitution in regulating and transforming the broader institutional backbone of society in accordance with the common good. And indeed, at least in the abstract, this is what the “two track” conception of democracy in Between Facts and Norms, with its model of discourses circulating between the informal public sphere and more formal legislative institutions, seeks to capture.66 As such, Habermas’ version of constitutionalism seems a natural ally of theories of “popular constitutionalism”67 emerging from the American legal academy or of those who, like Jeremy Waldron,68 are skeptical of the merits of legalistic constitutionalism and press for democratic participation in the ongoing rearticulation of constitutional norms. Indeed, I would submit that the preceding pages demonstrate that the Left Hegelian social theoretic backdrop of Habermas’ theory supplies a deeper normative justification for more democratic conceptions of constitutionalism than have heretofore been supplied by their proponents (who are, to be fair, primarily legal theorists seeking to uncover the basic commitments of American constitutionalism, a project more interpretive than normative.69) Given that such theories have very revisionary views on the appropriate method and scope of judicial review and the role of the constitution in public life, it is surprising that Habermas evinces at most a mild critique of the constitutional practices and institutions of actually existing democracies, never really confronting the possibility that institutions of constitutional review administered by legal elites could be paternalistic or extinguish the public impetus for discourse he so prizes.70 In fact, institutional questions concerning where constitutional discourse ought to take place and how the power to make authoritative determinations of constitutional meaning should be shared among civil society, legislative, and judiciary are mostly abstracted away in Habermas’ post-Between Facts and Norms writings, while that work is mostly content with the professional of administration of constitutional issues as it exists in the United States and Germany. This is evident in Habermas’ embrace of figures from liberal constitutional theory. He does not present an independent theory of judicial decision-making, but warmly receives Dworkin's well-known model of “law as integrity.” To a certain extent, this allegiance makes sense, given Dworkin's sensitivity to the hermeneutic dimension of interpretation and the fact that his concept of integrity mirrors discourse theory in holding that legal decisions must be justifiable to those affected in terms of publicly recognizable principles. Habermas does, however, follow Michelman in criticizing the “monological” form of reasoning that Dworkin's exemplary Judge Hercules employs,71 replacing it with the interpretive activities of a specialized legal public sphere, presumably more responsive to the public than Hercules. But this substitution does nothing to alleviate other aspects of Dworkin's theory that make a match between him and Habermas quite awkward: Dworkin's standard of integrity compels judges to regard the law as a complete, coherent whole that rests on a foundation of moral rights.72 Because Dworkin regards deontic rights in a strongly realistic manner and as an unwritten part of the law, there is a finished, retrospective, “already there” quality to his picture of it. Thinking of moral rights as existing independently of their social articulation is what moves Dworkin to conceive of them as, at least in principle, accessible to the right reason of individual moral subjects.73 Legal correctness can be achieved when lawyers and judges combine their specialized knowledge of precedent with their potentially objective insights into deontic rights. Fashioning the law in accordance with the demands of integrity thereby becomes the province of legal elites, rendering public discourse and the construction of generalizable interests in principle unnecessary. This helps explain Dworkin's highly un-participatory conception of democracy and his comfort with placing vast decision-making powers in the hands of the judiciary.7 There is more than a little here that should make Habermas uncomfortable. Firstly, on his account, legitimate law is the product of actual discourses, which include the full spate of discourse types (pragmatic, ethical-political, and moral). If the task of judicial decision-making is to reconstruct the types of discourse that went into the production of law, Dworkin's vision of filling in the gaps between legal rules exclusively with considerations of individual moral rights (other considerations are collected under the heading of “policy”75) makes little sense.76 While Habermas distances himself from Dworkin's moral realism, calling it “hard to defend,”77 he appears not to appreciate the extent to which Dworkin links his account of legal correctness to this very possibility of individual insight into the objective moral order. If Habermas wishes to maintain his long held position that constitutional projects involve the ongoing construction of generalizable interests through the democratic process – which in my view is really the heart of his program – he needs an account of legal correctness that puts some distance between this vision and Dworkin's picture of legal elites discovering the content of law through technical interpretation and rational intuition into a fixed moral order. Also puzzling is the degree of influence exercised by civil society in the development of constitutional projects that Habermas appears willing to countenance. While we might expect professional adjudicative institutions to play a sort of yeoman's role vis-à-vis the public, Habermas actually puts forth something akin to Bruce Ackerman's picture of infrequent constitutional revolutions, where the basic meaning of a constitutional project is transformed during swelling periods of national ferment, only to resettle for decades at a time, during which it is administered by legal professionals.78 According to this position, American civil society has not generated new understandings of constitutional order that overcome group divisions since the New Deal, or possibly the Civil Rights era. Now, this may actually be the case, and perhaps Habermas’ apparent acquiescence to this view of once-every-few-generations national conversations is a nod to realism, i.e., a realistic conception of how much broad based, ongoing constitutional discourse it is reasonable to expect the public to conduct. But while a theory with a Left Hegelian pedigree should avoid “the impotence of the ought” and utopian speculation, and therefore ought not develop critical conceptions of legal practice utterly divorced from present ones, such concessions to realism are unnecessary. After all, critical theory conceptions of constitutionalism will aim to be appreciably different from the more authoritarian ones currently in circulation, which more often than not fail to stimulate and sustain public discourse on the basic constitution of society. Instead, their point would be to suggest how a more dynamic, expansive, and mediational conception of constitutionalism could unlock greater democratic freedom and rationally integrated social identities. Given these problems in Habermas’ theory, the innovations that Benhabib makes to his conception of constitutionalism are most welcome. While operating within a discourse theoretic framework, her recent work more unabashedly recalls Hegel's broader conception of the constitution as the basic norms through which a community understands and relates to itself (of which a founding legal document is but a part): a constitution is a way of life through which individuals seek to connect themselves to each other, and in which the very identity and membership of a community is constantly at stake.79 Benhabib's concept of “democratic iterations,” which draws on meaning-as-use theories, emphasizes how meaning is inevitably transformed through repetition: In the process of repeating a term or a concept, we never simply produce a replica of the original usage and its intended meaning: rather, very repetition is a form of variation. Every iteration transforms meaning, adds to it, enriches it in ever-so-subtle ways. In fact, there is really no ‘originary’ source of meaning, or an ‘original’ to which all subsequent forms must conform … . Every iteration involves making sense of an authoritative original in a new and different context … . Iteration is the reappropriation of the ‘origin’; it is at the same time its dissolution as the original and its preservation through its continuous deployment.80 Recalling the reciprocal relationship that Hegel hints at between the narrow “political” constitution and the broader constitution of society's backbone of interrelated institutions, Benhabib here seems to envision a circular process whereby groups take up the conceptions of social relations instantiated in the legal order and transform them in their more everyday attempts to live with others in accordance with these norms. Like Cover and Michelman, she stresses that the transformation of legal meaning takes place primarily in informal settings, where different groups try (and sometimes fail) to live together and to understand themselves in their relation to others according to the terms they inherit from the constitutional tradition they find themselves subject to.81 Her main example of such democratic iteration is the challenge Muslim girls in France raised against the head scarf prohibition in public schools (“L’Affaire du Foulard”), which, while undoubtedly antagonistic, she contends has the potential to felicitously transform the meaning of secularity and inclusion in the French state and to create new forms of togetherness and understanding. But although Benhabib illustrates the concept of democratic iterations through an exemplary episode, this iterative process is a constant and pervasive one, which is punctuated by events and has the tendency to have a destabilizing effect on authority.82 It is telling, however, that Benhabib's examples of democratic iterations are exclusively centered on what Habermas would call ethical-political discourses.83 While otherwise not guilty of the charge,84 Benhabib, in her constitutional theory, runs afoul of Nancy Fraser's critical diagnosis of the trend in current political philosophy to subordinate class and distributional conflicts to struggles for cultural inclusion and recognition.85 Perhaps this is due to the fact that “hot” constitutional issues are so often ones with cultural dimensions in the foreground, rarely touching visibly on distributional conflicts between groups. This nonetheless is problematic since much court business clearly affects – often subtly and invisibly – the outcomes of these conflicts, frequently with bad results.86 For another reason why centering constitutional discourse on inclusion and cultural issues is problematic, it is useful to remind ourselves of Habermas’ critique of civic republicanism, according to which the main deficit in republican models of democracy is its “ethical overburdening” of the political process.87 To some extent, republicanism's emphasis on ethical discourse is understandable: given the level of cooperativeness and public spirit that republicans view as the font of legitimate law, political discourses need to engage the motivations and identities of citizens. Arguably, issues of ethical self-understanding do this better than more abstract or arid forms of politics. But it is not clear that this is intrinsically so, and it can have distorting effects on politics. In the American media, for example, this amplification of the cultural facets of issues is very common; conflicts over everything from guns to taxes are often reduced to conflicts over who is a good, real American and who is not. It is hard to say that this proves edifying; substantive issues of rights and social justice are elided, politics becomes more fraudulent and conflictual. None of this is to deny a legitimate place for ethical-political discourse. However, we do see something of a two-steps-forward-one-step-back movement in Benhabib's advancement of Habermas’ discourse theory of law: although her concept of democratic iterations takes center stage, she develops the notion solely along an ethical-political track. Going forward, critical theorists developing conceptions of constitutional discourse should work to see it as a way of integrating questions of distributional justice with questions of moral rights and collective identities without subordinating or conflating them. 4. Conclusion Some readers may find the general notion of reinvigorating a politics of constitutionalism quixotic. Certainly, it has not been not my intention to overstate the importance or positive contributions of constitutions in actually existing democracies, where they can serve to entrench political systems experiencing paralysis in the face of long term fiscal and environmental problems, and where public appeals to them more often than not invoke visions of society that are more nostalgic, ethno-nationalistic, authoritarian, and reactionary than what Habermas and Benhabib presumably have in mind. Instead, I take the basic Hegelian point I started this paper with to be this: modern persons ought to be able to comprehend their social order as the work of reason; the spine of institutions through which their relations to differently abled and positioned others are mediated ought to be responsive to their interests as fully-rounded persons; and comprehending this system of mediation ought to be able to reconcile them to the partiality of their roles within the universal state. Though modern life is differentiated, it can be understood, when seen through the lens of the constitutional order, as a result of citizens’ jointly exercised rationality as long as certain conditions are met. These conditions are, however, more stringent than Hegel realized. In light of this point, that so many issues deeply impacting citizens’ social and economic relations to one another are rendered marginal – and even invisible – in terms of the airing they receive in the public sphere, that they are treated as mostly settled or non-questions in the legal system consitutues a strikingly deficient aspect of modern politics. Examples include the intrusion of market logic and technology into everyday life, the commodification of public goods, the legal standing of consumers and residents, the role of shareholders and public interests in corporate governance, and the status of collective bargaining arrangements. Surely a contributing factor here is the absence of a shared sense of possibility that the basic terms of our social union could be responsive to the force that discursive reason can exert. Such a sense is what I am contending jurisgenerative theories ought to aim at recapturing while critiquing more legalistic and authoritarian models of law. This is not to deny the possibility that democratic iterations themselves may be regressive or authoritarian, populist in the pejorative sense. But the denial of their legitimacy or possibility moves us in the direction of authoritarian conceptions of law and political power and the isolation of individuals and social groups wrought by a political order of machine-like administration that Horkheimer and Adorno describe as a main feature of modern political domination. Recapturing some sense of how human activity makes reason actual in the ongoing organization of society need not amount to the claim that reason culminates in some centralized form, as in the Hegelian state, or in some end state, as in Marx. It can, however, move us to envision the possibility of an ongoing practice of communication, lawmaking, and revision that seeks to reconcile and overcome positivity and division, without the triumphalist pretension of ever being able to fully do so.
Rejecting state-based legal solutions creates ineffective activism, undermining progressive forces
Orly Lobel, University of San Diego Assistant Professor of Law, 2007, The Paradox of Extralegal Activism: Critical Legal Consciousness and Transformative Politics,” 120 HARV. L. REV. 937, http://www.harvardlawreview.org/media/pdf/lobel.pdf
Both the practical failures and the fallacy of rigid boundaries generated by extralegal activism rhetoric permit us to broaden our inquiry to the underlying assumptions of current proposals regarding transformative politics — that is, attempts to produce meaningful changes in the political and socioeconomic landscapes. The suggested alternatives produce a new image of social and political action. This vision rejects a shared theory of social reform, rejects formal programmatic agendas, and embraces a multiplicity of forms and practices. Thus, it is described in such terms as a plan of no plan,211 “a project of projects,”212 “anti-theory theory,”213 politics rather than goals,214 presence rather than power,215 “practice over theory,”216 and chaos and openness over order and formality. As a result, the contemporary message rarely includes a comprehensive vision of common social claims, but rather engages in the description of fragmented efforts. As Professor Joel Handler argues, the commonality of struggle and social vision that existed during the civil rights movement has disappeared.217 There is no unifying discourse or set of values, but rather an aversion to any metanarrative and a resignation from theory. Professor Handler warns that this move away from grand narratives is self-defeating precisely because only certain parts of the political spectrum have accepted this new stance: “[T]he opposition is not playing that game . . . . [E]veryone else is operating as if there were Grand Narratives . . . .”218 Intertwined with the resignation from law and policy, the new bromide of “neither left nor right” has become axiomatic only for some.219 The contemporary critical legal consciousness informs the scholarship of those who are interested in progressive social activism, but less so that of those who are interested, for example, in a more competitive securities market. Indeed, an interesting recent development has been the rise of “conservative public interest lawyer[ing].”220 Although “public interest law” was originally associated exclusively with liberal projects, in the past three decades conservative advocacy groups have rapidly grown both in number and in their vigorous use of traditional legal strategies to promote their causes.221 This growth in conservative advocacy is particularly salient in juxtaposition to the decline of traditional progressive advocacy. Most recently, some thinkers have even suggested that there may be “something inherent in the left’s conception of social change — focused as it is on participation and empowerment — that produces a unique distrust of legal expertise.”222 Once again, this conclusion reveals flaws parallel to the original disenchantment with legal reform. Although the new extralegal frames present themselves as apt alternatives to legal reform models and as capable of producing significant changes to the social map, in practice they generate very limited improvement in existing social arrangements. Most strikingly, the cooptation effect here can be explained in terms of the most profound risk of the typology — that of legitimation. The common pattern of extralegal scholarship is to describe an inherent instability in dominant structures by pointing, for example, to grassroots strategies,223 and then to assume that specific instances of counterhegemonic activities translate into a more complete transformation. This celebration of multiple micro-resistances seems to rely on an aggregate approach — an idea that the multiplication of practices will evolve into something substantial. In fact, the myth of engagement obscures the actual lack of change being produced, while the broader pattern of equating extralegal activism with social reform produces a false belief in the potential of change. There are few instances of meaningful reordering of social and economic arrangements and macro-redistribution. Scholars write about decoding what is really happening, as though the scholarly narrative has the power to unpack more than the actual conventional experience will admit.224 Unrelated efforts become related and part of a whole through mere reframing. At the same time, the elephant in the room — the rising level of economic inequality — is left unaddressed and comes to be understood as natural and inevitable.225 This is precisely the problematic process that critical theorists decry as losers’ self-mystification, through which marginalized groups come to see systemic losses as the product of their own actions and thereby begin to focus on minor achievements as representing the boundaries of their willed reality. The explorations of micro-instances of activism are often fundamentally performative, obscuring the distance between the descriptive and the prescriptive. The manifestations of extralegal activism — the law and organizing model; the proliferation of informal, soft norms and norm-generating actors; and the celebrated, separate nongovernmental sphere of action — all produce a fantasy that change can be brought about through small-scale, decentralized transformation. The emphasis is local, but the locality is described as a microcosm of the whole and the audience is national and global. In the context of the humanities, Professor Carol Greenhouse poses a comparable challenge to ethnographic studies from the 1990s, which utilized the genres of narrative and community studies, the latter including works on American cities and neighborhoods in trouble.226 The aspiration of these genres was that each individual story could translate into a “time of the nation” body of knowledge and motivation.227 In contemporary legal thought, a corresponding gap opens between the local scale and the larger, translocal one. In reality, although there has been a recent proliferation of associations and grassroots groups, few new local-statenational federations have emerged in the United States since the 1960s and 1970s, and many of the existing voluntary federations that flourished in the mid-twentieth century are in decline.228 There is, therefore, an absence of links between the local and the national, an absent intermediate public sphere, which has been termed “the missing middle” by Professor Theda Skocpol.229 New social movements have for the most part failed in sustaining coalitions or producing significant institutional change through grassroots activism. Professor Handler concludes that this failure is due in part to the ideas of contingency, pluralism, and localism that are so embedded in current activism.230 Is the focus on small-scale dynamics simply an evasion of the need to engage in broader substantive debate? It is important for next-generation progressive legal scholars, while maintaining a critical legal consciousness, to recognize that not all extralegal associational life is transformative. We must differentiate, for example, between inward-looking groups, which tend to be self-regarding and depoliticized, and social movements that participate in political activities, engage the public debate, and aim to challenge and reform existing realities.231 We must differentiate between professional associations and more inclusive forms of institutions that act as trustees for larger segments of the community.232 As described above, extralegal activism tends to operate on a more divided and hence a smaller scale than earlier social movements, which had national reform agendas. Consequently, within critical discourse there is a need to recognize the limited capacity of small-scale action. We should question the narrative that imagines consciousness-raising as directly translating into action and action as directly translating into change. Certainly not every cultural description is political. Indeed, it is questionable whether forms of activism that are opposed to programmatic reconstruction of a social agenda should even be understood as social movements. In fact, when groups are situated in opposition to any form of institutionalized power, they may be simply mirroring what they are fighting against and merely producing moot activism that settles for what seems possible within the narrow space that is left in a rising convergence of ideologies. The original vision is consequently coopted, and contemporary discontent is legitimated through a process of self-mystification.
Focus on decolonization as a framing concept necessarily puts their scholarship in terms of the colonial oppressor—it can’t apply to the lived experience of domination.
Salvatore 2006 (Ricardo D., Departmento de Historia, Universidad Torcuato di Tella, PhD in Economics from UT Austin) “A Post-Occidentalist Manifesto: Review of The Idea of Latin America by Walter D. Mignolo” A Contracorriente, Fall 2006.
Perhaps one of the great merits of this book is to set the path or lay the foundations for an exploration of “coloniality” in the terrain of knowledge and subjectivity, what Mignolo calls “the geo-politics of knowledge.” Yet in doing so, the book presents a limited view of “coloniality,” one that emphasizes the categories, the concepts, the worldviews, and the theory over the more common forms of colonial exploitation and domination. “Coloniality” is “the logical structure of colonial domination” (7), pointing always to the terrain of language, philosophy, and categorical imperatives. However, its relationship with domination, exploitation, and exclusion in the spheres of production and reproduction, and the public space are far from clear. In Mignolo’s view the “coloniality of knowledge” results from the imposition of classifications inflected by race, and from a perspective biased by its locus of enunciation and its universal pretensions (Eurocentrism). Are we not caving into the notion of an “epistemic trap”? Is “coloniality” a meta-category intended to capture all that has been excluded and marginalized by the project of Western modernity? Is this the ultimate form of dependency? (The inability to think and write in our own terms and with our own language?) If the terrain of contestation has moved into matters of language, cosmologies, and epistemologies, I am afraid that the “coloniality of knowledge” appears as too philosophical a matter to be tackled by the majority of readers. More importantly, the idea of “coloniality” as the logical structure of domination reproduces once more the eternal divide between base and superstructure, or at least, fails to articulate well the worlds of every-day experience of colonized or racialized subalterns and the textual worlds where economies, societies, politics, and cultures are scrutinized, debated, and diagnosed by those who write in the dominant language. There are moments in the discussion when knowledge appears as something embedded in localities and cultures. But in other places, more frequently, the arguments move “up” into the philosophical atmosphere of epistemes, languages, and systems of classifications. Here Mignolo’s position becomes dualistic: it is either Western epistemology of modernity or a pluriversality of perspectives bringing only the voices and positions of the damnés. As the reader would probably agree, there is a much richer variation on both sides of the mirror.
The aff’s hegemonic notion of unchanging coloniality means their theory loses validity and historical depth.
Salvatore 2006 (Ricardo D., Departmento de Historia, Universidad Torcuato di Tella, PhD in Economics from UT Austin) “A Post-Occidentalist Manifesto: Review of The Idea of Latin America by Walter D. Mignolo” A Contracorriente, Fall 2006.
A second observation refers to the question of History and to the long duration of “coloniality.” Following Frank and Wallerstein, Mignolo places the beginning of the capitalist world system in the sixteenth century. But he sees here also the beginning of a constellation of power-knowledge that structured the world into two sides of unequal weight: modernity and coloniality. While one of the sides (of this same coin) has shown some variation over time—there have been various waves of “modernity” from the sixteenth to the twentieth century—“coloniality” has remained practically unchanged since the sixteenth century. True, there have been changes in the nature and scope of capitalist exploitation and colonialism, and in the organization of ideas and knowledge. But these changes have not affected the logic of “modernity/coloniality”. The author exemplifies this long-held persistence by comparing the contemporary US War in Iraq with the campaigns for evangelization in the sixteenth-century Spanish colonies. Is this proposition tenable? ¶ This long continuity may raise some doubts among historians and other readers willing to give credit to the idea that different waves of modernization (state-building, nationalism, industrialization, urbanization, etc.) have actually transformed the material conditions in which people live and the relations among nation-states and knowledge-producing centers. It might well be that epistemes and worldviews only move slowly, but they move nonetheless. It is unclear, then, how the “logic” of the system (whether looked from above or from below) could have remained unchanged. The very examples the author provides to deal with the racialization of peoples of native-American or African descent and of their subcontinent show that categories in fact change. Las Casas’ four categories of “barbarians” did not persist into the nineteenth-century. The identification of Africans with slavery did not last much longer than the abolition of slavery in Brazil. And the racialization of Latin American republics as “second-class nations” changed significantly with the emergence of oil-rich or industrializing economies in the region. Historians could claim that the shift from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century regarding “modernity” was such that it erased any common denominators.¶ How could the Enlightenment be compared with sixteenth- century Evangelization? What are the points in common between nineteenth-century liberalism and sixteenth-century notion of Christendom? In other words, what is common about the different temporal manifestations of “modernity”? Only that they all have their darker side (“coloniality”)? And if so, what is persistent about this systemic logic? That the excluded and marginalized—the colonized—have “always” been prevented from writing their own history, educating themselves in their own languages, or using their own categories of thought? Or that these exclusions have always been authorized by some form of racism? My point is: only at the cost of great generalization (and hence the proportional loss of validity and historical depth) can we begin to accept the notion of an unchanging “coloniality.” And when we reach that point or level of generalization we have already abandoned the historian, the political scientist, and the sociologist, and have only philosophers and critical theorists to talk to. We need to restore the historicity of the concept if we want to explain the tensions of modernity and its forms of knowledge.
The aff is just filtering local knowledge through a western understanding—this leads to wrong conclusions with negative policy effects.
Sharapova 2012 (Sevara, International Women’s Fund ‘Sharq Ayoli’, Tashkent, Uzbekistan) “Author–critic forum: decolonial theory and gender research in Central Asia: Gender epistemologies and Eurasian borderlands, by Madina Tlostanova” Central Asian Survey Vol. 31, No. 3, September 2012, p. 358
I find Tlostanova’s idea of challenging the Western monopoly of knowledge production as well as the call to join decolonialism’s movement of epistemic disobedience attractive. As a scholar from the Central Asian region I quite often face a situation described by Tlostanova: local material provided by local researchers and then theoretically comprehended by Western scholars in order to make it accepted by the audience. I often feel that such ‘theoretical’ com- prehension leads to the wrong conclusions – or at least, to conclusions that I had not intended – because it was analysed with an imported logic that is ill-fitting to the particular society being studied. Most worryingly, such analysis sometimes produces conclusions that have negative policy effects. For example, as Lewis (2008) shows, when Western scholars applied such imported logic to the analysis of the Uzbek elite and labelled different representatives of the Uzbek elite as ‘pro-Western’, ‘conservatives’, and so on, this turned out to be a poor reflection of reality.