Calhoun and Sandal, mostly.

08 Sep

Calhoun’s piece looks at this idea of public and community, and the differences therein, which are greatly implicated when we talk about the “public good,” and what exactly is good for the public? Rather than what’s “good,” though, Calhoun asks that we consider what is the “public.” There’s an element of legitimizing here, what is the legitimate public, the “normal,” and the process of legitimizing actually homogenizes and eliminates the differences of individuals and groups that are contained in an assumed “larger” public.

I keep conceptualizing the way that Calhoun examines the public as one big circle that contains a bunch of little circles, the big circle being the “legitimate” public in which people in it are assumed to be similar (the communitarian point of view), and the little circles (which Calhoun pushes for us to consider when speaking of the “public” sphere) where differences in the larger community are subsumed and oftentimes repressed (racial, sexual minorities, religious groups, socioeconomic class differences) within the more “legitimate” group. He gives an example of America, in which America becomes the “legitimate” public, but is homogenized. The identity “American” points to a set of expectations for which all Americans follow, a set of characteristics that define what it means to be “American” – and such sets of expectations and characteristics assumes a similarity amongst all members, when the reality includes people who are different, and groups that don’t fit into the “legit” idea of “American.”

Another one I always think about is the Asian American identity (a smaller circle within the larger American one, but in and of itself, a “legitimate” public and a politicized identity). Being in America often necessitates, for purposes of representation, visibility, and the fact that people of Asian descent look different than Caucasians, the construction of an identity (didn’t Stuart Hall say something to the extent that identity is articulated through difference? Calhoun also alludes to this idea of difference) that only exists and is situated specifically in America (after all, people in Asia are just as likely to call themselves “Asian” as we are to call ourselves “North Americans”). We often talk about the “Asian American community” or the “Asian American movement” as a monolithic entity that works on the larger American sociopolitical stage. The Asian American community, then, purports to speak for and represent all Asian Americans, which is, uh, problematic. As if, if you are of Asian descent, you are Asian American, and the specific history of Asian Americans and the repression and disenfranchisement all applies to you. Clearly, this negates consideration for the differences of experience, socioeconomic class, area of origin, language, etc.

Habermas neglects identity politics in his conception of the public sphere. Calhoun says that “Identity formation thus needs to be approached as part of the process of public life, not as something that can be fully settled prior to it in a private sphere.” (pg. 31) So true. I’ve heard once that identity is only good for commiseration, which is a funny and cynical way of thinking of identity, but is sort of true. Stuart Hall has also said that identity is articulated through difference – that you have an identity because you are different. But then, identity becomes this bigger public sphere that sometimes disregards or discounts the differences within a sphere of identity.

Calhoun speaks of interdependence between different groups, and that an assumed similarity is, well, an easy way out, a bit of a cop-out, sort of like how your Facebook newsfeed will likely only show you stories and points of view you agree with, since Facebook is a self-selecting news source, highly customizable. Calhoun calls for public discourse is to increase understanding between different groups.

I think, in my own work, the LGBT public is assumed as a group that strives for similar goals. No matter where you are in the world, if you identify as LGBT, you are supposed to support certain rights. This also gets really complicated. In America, if you are an LGBT individual, you are automatically assumed to support issues like gay marriage. However, many individuals and subcultural LGBT groups have a problem with the institution of marriage and may not necessarily feel like marriage is something the community should be striving for, as it buys into a heteronormative institution. Similarly, we assume an importance for certain issues here in the US that may not be a priority for LGBT groups in other countries and cultures. My project seeks to, at the very base level, increase understanding across the Pacific for LGBT organizations by discoursing through differences in goals, cultures, identities.

My initial reaction to the Sandal piece was that he was investigating the intersections of theory and praxis, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, and, I think, what a lot of the “so what” of academia boils down to. He talks of a pluralistic stance on what “good” is. Right must be proceeded by good. There needs to exist a framework that allows for individual choice and self-governance. 

He also discusses Rawls unencumbered self, and Kant’s trancendental subject, in which the self cannot be means to an end, and that one “cannot belong to any community where the self itself could be at stake.” (pg. 87) I think a poignantly obvious example is being not-straight. Within this line of thinking, to be true to oneself, even to come out, is necessary so that one is not trapped within an overwhelmingly heteronormative community that is contrary to one’s identity. This mindset, of course, would come from a very specific ideological framework – one that, I believe Sandal is discussing here. Kant and Rawls seems to talk about one identity, and that identity existing outside of circumstance. In the case of coming out, there may be many identities, many factors of selves – only one being sexual attraction. Others can be familial values, religion, nationality, etc. to reduce one’s idea of self into a Pre-formed identity is not the right way to go about it either. Perhaps then, sexual identity, and our politicized versions of it, becomes that end that betrays the individual, the self, if indeed, the self deviates from the monolithic ideologies of the identity. By understanding ourselves first, we are able to then better prioritize the factors that dictate our choice of identity and our actions. This actually gets tied back into what Calhoun says too, that the monolithic tends to homogenize and discounts the diversity and discourse needed to increase understanding among differences.

Ok, so I’m talking about a self that is based on many factors, as Sandal goes on to examine, that consist of external forces – family, friends, education, citizenship – attachments that make up the self. I think Sandal’s piece is really cool. We seem to think that a rational way of thinking separates us from our background, our past, our social and familial ties, since only then can we rupture the framework of social normativity and stop the influence of socially constructed values on our decisions, behaviors, and actions. But, like Sandal, I don’t think we can, and that we MUST consider these factors as we go about our lives. I think of Bourdieu’s discussion of habitus too here.

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Posted by on September 8, 2012 in Uncategorized


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