SPSSI-EASP Small Group Meeting Printer Friendly Page
Forgotten Alternatives: Denaturalizing Conditions of Injustice and Exclusion
17-19 March 2010
Graduate Center, City University of New York
Co-organizers: Michelle Fine, Susan Opotow, Xenia Chryssochoou, and Dario Spini
In March 2010, twenty five scholars from Europe, North America, and Africa assembled in New York City to participate in a three day Small Group Meeting on Forgotten Alternatives: Denaturalizing Conditions of Injustice and Exclusion. Co-organized by Michelle Fine, Susan Opotow, Xenia Chryssochoou, and Dario Spini and co-sponsored by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues and the European Association of Social Psychology, this Small Group Meeting included researchers engaged in historic and contemporary social psychological research on manifestations and contestations of marginality, exclusion, and difference. In response to an open Call in Fall 2009, we received applications from junior and senior scholars with well developed theoretical orientations, who craft careful empirical studies, and have committed their scholarship to applied, real-world issues - some designed to foster societal change.
The meeting’s participants took up three perspectives on the questions of injustice and exclusion. Some examined how conditions of exclusion are naturalized. Others investigated how more inclusionary possibilities are ignored, repressed, or forgotten. A third set of scholars advanced conceptual and methodological approaches by which psychological research can interrupt, reveal, and re-imagine more just and inclusionary societal arrangements. Because social psychologists address these issues in a variety of methodologically interesting ways, we saw this Small Group Meeting as an opportunity to help scholars identify and better understand conditions giving rise to social injustice, identifying theoretical and methodological approaches that can foster greater between-group equality, and identifying collaborative partnerships to forge new work.
Overview and Rationale
This meeting occurred at a crucial time when global movements, migrations, and violent conflicts are prominent and when histories of discrimination and community are being erased and revised across the Americas and Europe. Injustice is pervasive. Sometimes it is recognized, but it can also be hidden, normalized, and/or institutionalized. Whether manifest or invisible, injustice, operationalized in disparities of opportunities and outcomes, life chances, access to resources, and/or participation in decision making, occurs at all levels of analysis and in a wide range of social issues throughout the world, is related to sexuality, immigration, race/ethnicity, religion, and other social categorizations.
We organized around two premises. First, it is important to resist essentializing and/or naturalizing social categories and intergroup relations that have legitimized injustice. And second, without a vision of what moral inclusion could look like, we risk reproducing exclusion as though it were inevitable.
Theoretical, Methodological and Contextual Diversity
With a remarkable and international group of scholars, the conference was organized around theoretical panels, provocative keynotes, and cultural events. The panels were designed to incite conversation around keynotes of justice work. Each panel integrated scholars by expertise and geography. Unified by the question, "Where is injustice and exclusion?” each panel offered answers to this question in history, ideology, science, bodies, and intergroup relations.
Papers were received by the organizers and circulated weeks before the conference. Participants were asked to design a conference presentation that reviewed main points of their argument and then connect their work with the scholarship of other members of their panel. An hour-long plenary discussion after each panel critically discussed connections among theory, methods, and practice from the multiple perspectives in the room.
The papers relied upon a variety of methodological approaches to the study of justice and exclusion, from archival work to participatory designs, participant observation and laboratory experiments. While there were papers on social representations in history texts, museums, magazines, science and the law, there were also experimental and ethnographic analyses of intergroup dynamics, stereotype threat, and moral exclusion. Using historical data on 19th and 20th century racism in America, Susan Opotow described ‘forgotten alternatives’ as an analytic tool that can provoke rethinking a status quo that normalizes injustice. Chiara Volpato presented images of Jews and Blacks from the Nazi era in Italy. Aida Hurtado examined how bodies of women of color are represented in US and international magazines and Sara McClelland examined representations of young sexuality and desire embedded in scientific measures. Broadening our understandings of selves in social and political contexts, Glenn Adams presented his research on intentional social worlds, while Kevin Durrheim presented interview and participant observation material to challenge traditional notions of how racism circulates in social interactions. Liz Cole is working with legal documents to track the parallel arguments against racial miscegenation and same sex marriage as forms of scientized essentialism. Peter Hegarty provided a critical historical analysis of scientific representations of intelligence during the 20th century.
Theoretically we engaged, challenged, and extended a variety of theoretical traditions. There were papers that extended Moscovici’s work on social representations, including Xenia Chryssochoou who took up the question of immigration in Greece with a blend of social representation and intergroup theory. Tajfel’s work on social identity was pushed forward when Dario Spini offered a theoretically provocative reversal of the traditional argument that ethnic identities produce conflict and war by arguing that conflict and war provoke polarized ethnic identities. Goffman’s theory of stigma was challenged by Akemi Nishida’s exploration of disabled disability rights activists who reject the stigma that infects ableism.
A set of papers took on dominant social institutions as reproductive sites for injustice, including Amy Smith’s work on the courts and the death penalty; Michelle Fine on public schools and prisons; Jean Claude Croizet’s investigation of IQ testing.
Another set of papers expanded our imaginations for activism. Again relying upon diverse methods, Davide Morselli offered up experiments to study obedience and disobedience as social change strategies; Maddy Fox explored participatory action research and performance as a way to study how bystanders can become allies in social movements; Bernd Simon presented evidence on how people develop politicized collective identities, and Ronni Greenwood presented interviews with White allies in a racial conflict buried in USA history.
A number of participants introduced sets of ideas that have remained outside the canon of psychology, arguing for their significance to the field. Colin Leach spoke on questions of morality, suggesting the need for a social psychology of context and semiotics. Sunil Bhatia proposed post-colonial theory to achieve a critical analysis of nation, belonging, and diaspora, stretching and revising our notions of self, culture, and nature.
Of particular interest to many of the participants were questions of identity and intergroup relations as manifest in attitudes toward, exclusion of, and integration of immigrants and other “out groups” in societies accustomed to homogeneity. Tilemachos Iatridis addressed the paradoxical effect of making minority status salient while Thierry Devos, relying on a set of IAT studies, spoke on the systematic exclusion of ethnic minority from the national identity in the U.S. The same afternoon Julia Chaitin tracked this question in Israel, offering powerful reflections on her work with Israeli and Palestinian women, working collaboratively toward peace, elaborating the elements of contact that enable justice among differences. And Phil Hammack challenged traditional conceptions of contact, drawing on his ethnographic work with Palestinian and Jewish Israeli youth at a summer camp in the US.
Seasoning Psychology: Interdisciplinary Perspectives that Provoke a Sense of Injustice
While our conversations within psychology were rich and varied, we punctuated our meeting with four speakers from outside the field, asking each to discuss how their work takes up questions of method, provocation, and injustice. These experts in law, media studies, and higher education administration allowed us to consider the praxis of moral exclusion and (in)justice in the enactment of victims’ and prisoners’ rights, in archival film on prison and prison resistance movements in the USA, and in the joys and challenges of being a public university president in times of crisis, an economic downturn, and assaults on freedom of speech.
Susan Herman, Professor of Criminal Justice and Human Services at Pace University and author of Parallel Justice for Victims of Crime (2010), spoke as a lawyer and as a scholar of victims’ rights. She described justice for victims as intimately interwoven with justice for prisoners. One of the few intellectuals and advocates who works across systems, with an interest in what she calls parallel justice, Herman encouraged us to think about justice across silos and systems, rather than within the categories of victims and perpetrators.
Chris Hill, media curator and author of Surveying the First Decade: Video Art and Alternative Media in the U.S., 1968-1980 (2008), helped us imagine how film and historic media can be used to invite audiences into forgotten alternatives, recall buried voices, and incite new understandings of the cumulative impact of social injustice, in this case mass incarceration in the United States of America.
Two prominent public university presidents, Jeremy Travis of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Bill Kelly of the Graduate Center, joined us to discuss the role of public intellectuals and public institutions in times of crisis. Both spoke eloquently and passionately about the joys and struggles of being president of leading public institutions in times of social crisis, when the voices of intellectuals, of dissent, and of possibility need to be circulating within the university and in the public sphere.
To change pace and to infuse art and culture into our thinking, we attended a performance of Fela!, a Broadway show that integrates history, dance, performance, and social movements, as we learned the braided political history of Nigeria, civil rights, and music through the Afrobeat rhythms, perspective, and life of Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Our meeting ended with a glorious bike ride for the international troupe of brave souls willing to don helmets and pedal through New York City’s boroughs with Michelle Fine’s brother, Richard Fine – another way to re-view the forgotten alternatives of NY – beyond the narrow gaze of midtown Manhattan.
We have begun follow up with plans for panels at upcoming SPSSI and EASP conferences, and have started discussing the publication of conference proceedings in an edited volume or in the Journal of Social Issues. Some participants hope to develop exchange programs at their universities so that doctoral students and post-docs can continue discussing and researching topics connected with forgotten alternatives.
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