Reflection: Response to Razack's Article

Razack's article was my favourite read of the semester and I found it the easiest to reflect upon as there was so much content that can be applied to so many current (and maybe not so current) events. This reflection draws on my limited knowledge of human rights and a little bit from the media and race class I am taking this semester.

Until reading Razack's article “The Camp” I had never considered the idea that there are modern day “concentration camps” and I had never extrapolated on the narrow conception I have of what a concentration camp is. My idea goes little beyond the Nazi and Japanese internment camps during World Wars I and II. Razack's referal to Giorgio Agamben's suggestion that “a concentration camp is created every time a structure gives rise to a place where the rule of law does not operate.” When the law gives way to a system that excuses the suspension of the rule of law under arbitrary circumstances we arrive at the situation many people are living in in our post-911 society. Agamben goes on to assert that “bodies become camps when they are cast into a state of indeterminacy that is simultaneously inside and outside the law,” and in this way we see that individuals can be lost in a lawless system such as this in the name of law and security.

The impact of racial profiling and legislation that excuses racial practices not only leads to the abhorrent civil rights violations that Razack speaks of in her article but it also lends to the acceptance of more subtle (yet equally race-based) segregation and segmentation of people for social, business and other non-security based purposes. That is to say, the racial ideology that is so accepted when excused as a “necessary security measure” bleeds down into other tiers of society such as business and, more specifically the media, as the attainment of a truly egalitarian society is so obviously far down the priorities list that it is sacrificed for just about everything else. When I say media I am more so referring to the valuation of consumers in the eyes of potential advertisers based on racial characteristics then the media messages themselves. The difference between racist practices in consumer society and racism in security and intelligence lies in the high profile nature of national security racial profiling in the news compared to the more subtle and highly undetected racism that is unfortunately inherent in the media business. Similar to the way racial profiling works in security by working with homogeneous and highly discriminatory assumptions about groups of people, audience valuation by potential advertisers employs similar homogeneous attitude toward the social situations of race groups. To clarify, audience valuation is simply the value placed on certain audience segments who are potential markets and consumers of marketed products. So to say that the process of determining the value of a specific audience group is often times racist is to say that advertisers and media-investors place a lower or higher value on audiences of certain racial backgrounds.

This seems somewhat irrelevant to Razacks discussion of “concentration camps” and exceptions but being most interested in media concerns I can't help but draw connections between what is being “let slide” on a security and intelligence front and what is being passed as legitimate in the media world. The common ground between the two issues lays in the ease to which society trusts those in power and freely gives up their own (hopefully) noble convictions about race in the face of meager “necessity.” This submission to acts that we all know are unjust and discriminatory is what continuously allows and excuses the horrible human rights violations that Razack refers to and allows for (through media) a continued hegemonic ideology based in legitimized racism whether that racism be legitimized in the name of security or in the name of savvy capitalism.

Hegemony: Reflection 3

My struggle with Gramsci was painful to say the least but understanding such an important notion as hegemony which seems to sneak into every one of my classes, is invaluable. Pulling from the Simon reading for a little clarity I worked my way through Gramsci and came up with this...

As a Communications student hegemony is a concept I have grappled with since my first introduction to the core theories of the discipline. As a fairly new academic discipline many of the communication theories I study borrow from and are comprised of ideas taken from sociology, linguistics, political science and psychology. So needless to say, I knew at some point I would have to struggle with the concept of hegemony in a different context, there is no escaping it (no pun intended). This is a preemptive reflection of sorts as we have yet to discuss Gramsci in class but I am hoping after two and a half years of this I should be able to reflect on hegemony without the aid of class prompts.
In Simon's outline of Gramsci's work he defines hegemony as “a relation, not of domination by means of force, but of consent by means of political and ideological leadership. It is the organization of consent.”
1 Gramsci, I learned, is a Marxist philosopher which affects the way I understand his specific definition of hegemony compared to others I have studied. His Marxist affiliation simply means that Gramsci was most likely referring specifically to the ideological and discursive power over the proletariat held by the bourgeoisie class. However, this distinction is moot as one can easily extrapolate on all Marxist theories to render them applicable to modern day circumstance. Modern day circumstance is what I am most concerned with in this reflection. I would like to go as far as to argue that the distinction between hegemony and domination by means of force in Gramscian theory is almost unnecessary in the modern North American political realm. Domination through manipulation of discursive practices, ideology and societal values is the only domination I argue, going on within our economically based system of legislature, elite governance, and politics which is, of course, our current ruling class or bourgeoisie equivalent. The relevance of dominance by force within day to day governance in North America (Canada specifically) has declined with the on set of popular media and the ever-growing influence of other (not so) subtle persuasive mediums. I argue that hegemony is the only form of domination at work within Canadian society and I further argue that the need for domination by force has diminished entirely because of the astonishing success of more subtle and “consent” driven modes of persuasion referred to when using the term hegemony. That is not to say that military and more blatant forms of control – such as policing and the criminal justice system – do not exist and are not necessary in modern Western society but the prevalence and undeniably crucial role of more subtle forms of control, I argue, are the forces truly shaping ideology and discourse within North American society today.
Simon further illuminates the notion of hegemony by saying that “hegemony is a relation between classes and other social forces. A hegemonic class, or part of a class, is one which gains the consent of other classes... through maintaining a system of alliances by means of political and ideological struggle.”
2 Simon discusses the Marxist view that hegemony is used to oppress certain classes and can in turn be used in a revolutionary context to uplift these oppressed classes. I think what is important to highlight here is that when Gramsci is referring to the oppressive classes he is referring to those in power, those who hold property rights and the rights to production. Hegemony, as I argued above, is the highly persuasive force that it is partly because of the ease of dissemination of ideas through various mass media outlets. The nature of hegemony today barring that, makes me question whether hegemony can be used as a revolutionary tool when a major medium for the dissemination of discourse and dominant ideology (the major components of hegemony) is held in the hands of and controlled by the oppressive class. For this reason I question Gramsci's preoccupation with hegemony as he was a Marxist philosopher, unless I am simply misinterpreting what he is saying and in actuality he is just concerned with the negative effects of hegemony as it relates to the oppressive control of the proletariat classes.

1&2 Simon, Roger. “Gramsci's Political Thought: An Introduction.” Lawrence and Wishart, London. 1991.

New Colonialism?

Through-out the course we have applied many ideas and theories about power systems to the world stage -- Haiti to be specific. We spent an entire class examining the history of Haiti's international relations that resulted in the disadvantaged and tragic socio-economic situation they found themselves in even before the earthquake. The race for colonies, the slave trade, Haiti's groundbreaking slave revolt and the millions of dollars they paid in retribution to France as a result all contributed to the devastating conditions faced by Haitians today. Now there is talk that the United State's involvement in aid efforts and direct investments is a way of securing a political position of power in the country, something Haiti could never benefit from in the long run.
A short video clip from Al Jazeera news examines what Haitian's think of the UN and the US' forceful tactics ...


Reflection 2

This is my worst one in my opinion... a little embarrassing.
Thinking back I think I woke up early the morning it was due and spit some unintelligable-ness onto paper. I encourage you to skip it haha

I am stance-less. I am full of opinions, yet stance-less. (Is that possible?) When reading Paulo Friere I agreed with most things he said. Does that make me pro-Frierian education despite the fact that the education system- what Friere would refer to as “banking” style education- has far from failed me? In the eyes of mainstream society I am an education success story. A teachers-pet for most of elementary school followed by the standard four year stint in high-school in which I achieved a decent average, caused few problems on school grounds (aside from a few uniform infractions) and was a favored student by most teachers despite my ever-apparent adolescent attitude problem. Granted, I maintained this admirable grade average with little to no effort on my part and my laziness and lack of developed study skills because of my coasting through high-school has left me somewhat disadvantaged in a University setting despite my still decent CGPA. Reading Friere has caused me to question my 16(ish) years of education. Was I too willing of a “receptacle?” Did I let the information seep in without criticism then throw up all of these “deposits” back onto paper with little effort and then all too willingly basked in the glory of being an above-average student in the eyes of my teachers and my parents?
I have been stewing with Friere's ideas of education and wondering what that could have meant for my own school experience. As much as I have fond memories of high-school as I had endless time for my social obligations unlike some of my peers who used their recreational time to study just to stay on the passing side of the grade curve, I don't doubt now that I could have benefited from being challenged. If there was more room for dialogue between myself and my teachers as Friere proposes, perhaps they would have realized that I was not being pushed to my full potential and not being challenged at nearly a level that would make schooling a justifiable use of my time. Yes, I enjoyed the ease at which I completed the tasks that were delegated to me, and yes, I enjoyed feeling smarter then a lot of my classmates but at this point in my academic career I am wishing I had room or reason back then to develop the study skills that I know now are necessary for my further success.
However, I argue that the way this “knowledge” is disseminated to children is appropriate given the insurmountable task that is given to educators. Elementary school for the most part is simply a vehicle of socialization. Children learn to stand in line, learn to wait their turn, learn to respect authority and for a lot of children it is their first experience with sharing. Friere argues that the way school is carried out on a day to day basis is not conducive to the learning needs of all children. Sure maybe some children are more patient then others, and some kids have longer attention spans, and some students need more physical activity to break up the day, but it is unreasonable (although appealing) to think that one teacher can create a learning plan that teaches children such necessary life skills that will be perfectly effective for every child. This is simply in my opinion an unreasonable notion. It is an unfortunate yet indisputable truth that some children will succeed within this school system and some will not. But it is also an unfortunate and yet indisputable truth that not everyone needs to get the high marks that come with success in this setting that are necessary for higher education. Not everyone is meant to go onto higher education.
In this way, I agree with some aspects of what Friere is saying about the nature of the education system and concede his points about a more dialogical learning style but unfortunately due to the underfunding that is epidemic in almost all publicly funded schools coupled with the ratio of students to teachers this is likely not going to change anytime soon. It is unfortunate but as long as there is a class system within society (which will likely be forever) there will always be children who are placed at an advantage within social systems (such as school) and kids who are disadvantaged in it. And I can not bring myself as a University student, to complain too heavily about a system that has done nothing but keep me easily a few steps ahead in the game to that of my less academic-ly inclined peers. Perhaps excelling at raising my hand and standing in a straight line is the early indicator of scholarly success?

Hey... I warned you.

"Homeless Body" Reflection

This is the first reflection I wrote for Power and Stratification pertaining to Kawash's "The Homeless Body" -- a link to the article is at the bottom of my reflection.

The opening paragraph of the assigned reading by Kawash "Homeless Body" was particularly striking as it is so true. The way Kawash talked about the "uniform response" to homeless people in everyday situations by those of us who comprise the "public" is something that I am familiar with but have never thought about as it is, like Kawash said, such a normal response. Something that she only lightly alluded to was the backward idea that homeless people do exude a kind of power over us. This power is in the form of fear. Fear is one of the most powerful forces in our society today. It can cause individuals to act impulsively and stereotypically, it can cause us to act irrationally, it can cause us to act against our own better judgment. Although this is certainly not the idea behind her article, what Kawash's writing really got me thinking about was the way fear of homeless people, this fear being the last bit of power (albeit unwarranted and unwanted), forces us to try to take this power from them by exclusion and containment as Kawash wrote extensively about. This power over us is real if not somewhat ridiculous. Although virtually every store that I shop at is at the Rideau Centre and although I live in Centretown, I find myself traveling twenty minutes out of my way to shop at Bayshore Mall. As a young female I feel frightened by the homeless population around the Rideau Centre. This argument was easily justified in my head until I read this article. I grew up in a suburban community of Toronto where there are no street dwellers and very little need to enter the city. I have never had a bad experience with a homeless individual aside from the odd overly aggressive panhandler. So why then I asked myself do I avoid downtown like the plague? After reading "Homeless Body" I realize even with having spent the first eighteen years of life well removed from homeless people and the issues/concerns that go along with them there is an intrinsic, society-wide fear of the homeless due in large part I believe to our unfamiliarity with them. I think if I was more exposed to them throughout my life I would be less apprehensive about them in general. Fear of the unknown and unfamiliar is common and understandable. However, my fear of homeless individuals due to this unfamiliarity is in large part being exasperated by the systems of exclusion and containment. Kawash wrote about the idea that "if homelessness can not be eliminated, then at least it can be shrunk down.. and isolated so the public need not feel the pressure of its presence” (p.330) but at least in my experience (or lack of) the pressure felt by their presence would have been alleviated I think, if I had more experience with their presence overall.

Homelessness is a problem that probably won't be solved in my lifetime but there should be efforts put forth to enable a peaceful and respectful living situation in which the homeless population and the general public can both utilize public space equally. Containment and exclusion is thus not the answer. Containment simply exasperates the negative situation homeless people already find themselves in and breeds the stereotypes that the general public hold regarding street dwellers. To do this, the idea of the“proper” use of public space needs to be reevaluated and the term “public” in general needs to be expanded to include those who do not necessarily fit into the usual typology. By excluding homeless people from the “general public” as Kawash discussed simply strips more power from them to the point that they do not even have power over their own bodies. Thus rendering it harder and harder for them to ever reenter mainstream society. This power over homeless people is exerted through public policies that deem it necessary. Discourse surrounding the “problem of homelessness” regards homeless individuals as people who need to be guided, paints them as the lawless vermin of society who must be separated from functioning society yet controlled by them in every aspect of life. This discourse is what leads to such stereotypes that I have succumb to and this discourse is what needs to be changed first and foremost so that we can discuss homelessness humanely and in an educated manner.

A Little Delayed...

Welcome to the beginnings of my "Power and Stratification" blog. Due to some technical difficulties and (a lot of) procrastination this blog is certainly in the earlier stages of creation compared to all of the other ones -- not surprisingly. However, I am looking forward to finally posting some of my reflections and getting into the blogging spirit with this being my first ever blog.
So check back?

Something to consider...

In the shadow of our recent Olympic hockey wins (something I am in no way disputing or complaining about...) I think it's important to consider the underlying systems of power that continue to dominate gender systems within competing countries and how these systems can render a team comparatively "under-competitive" on the world scene.
Stumbled across this article on the Toronto-based examiner website and it really opened my eyes...