Young, Iris Marion. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University, 1990. Print.
In this annotation, I focus on one chapter from Young’s book: “The Ideal of Impartiality and the Civic Public.” In this chapter, Young draws from Adorno and Derrida in her deconstruction of the “logic of identity,” which she defines as “an urge to think things together, to reduce them to unity” (98). The “logic of identity” is problematic because it “denies or represses difference,” “turns the merely different into the absolute other,” and “generates dichotomy instead of unity” (98). She explores a false dichotomy which pertains to morality: universal (impartial)/ particular (partial) in which universal or impartial morals are privileged. Young deconstructs the ideal of moral impartiality, which she contends “generates a dichotomy between universal and particular, public and private, reason and passion” (97). She argues that the notion of universal, impartial morals is a utopian impossibility: “[i]t is impossible to adopt an unsituated moral point of view, and if a point of view is situated, then it cannot be universal, it cannot stand apart from and understand all points of view” (104). In fact, this touted practice of impartiality actually “masks the ways in which the particular perspectives of dominant groups claim universality, and helps justify hierarchical decisionmaking structures” (99).
Young refers to this notion of impartiality/ objectivity as “the view from nowhere,” which is a dangerous concept. While this dominant view gazes at and controls subjects, it is free from anyone’s gaze and has, in essence, unrestricted power. It purports universality, but it practices a very partial, oppressive viewpoint. Characterizing this view from nowhere, Young asserts that “[m]oral reason that seeks impartiality tries to reduce the plurality of moral subjects and situations to a unity by demanding that moral judgment be detached, dispassionate, and universal” (102). The real danger of the ideal of impartiality is that it “serves ideological functions. It masks the ways in which the particular perspectives of dominant groups claim universality, and helps justify hierarchical decisionmaking structures” and, thus, is in opposition to participatory democracy (97).
In this chapter, Young also approaches the public/ private binary, as it refers to traditional gender roles. She contends that the public sphere—the privileged sphere—has historically (and contemporarily) been associated with men, work, and reason; while, the private, domestic sphere has been associated with women, domesticity, and bodily desire. Young points out that this binary becomes particularly problematic when those of the private sphere, i.e. women, are secluded from public parity and, thus, public decisions. She contends that these dichotomies were created purposefully, explaining that “[m]odern political theorists and politicians proclaimed the impartiality and generality of the public and at the same time quite consciously found it fitting that some persons namely women, nonwhites and sometimes those without property should be excluded from participation in that public” (109). Young, does envision a well-working society which privileges multiple, partial perspectives and does not attempt to universalize differences. She asserts that “[i]nstead of a fictional contract, we require real participatory structures in which actual people, with their geographical, ethnic, gender, and occupational differences, assert their perspectives on social issues within institutions that encourage the representation of their distinct voices” (116).
A quote from this chapter that is particularly intriguing for me is: “the ideal of impartiality serves ideological functions. It masks the ways in which the particular perspectives of dominant groups claim universality, and helps justify hierarchical decisionmaking structures” and, thus, is in opposition to participatory democracy (97). Young’s conception of impartiality can be applied to educational literacy standards. In the US, literacy standards operate under the assumption that “standard” written English is impartial, moral, and unbiased. However, the assumption of impartiality, as Young asserts, represents the partiality of—and helps justify—“hierarchical decisionmaking structures.” Language is perhaps the most prominent marker of race and class; thus, embedded in these ostensibly impartial standards are assumptions about race, class, and gender. So, students who grow up submerged in the dominant linguistic code enter the classroom “prepared,” while the rest of the students are not. The worst part is that those othered students, as well as their parents, are then blamed for their seeming lack of preparedness. They are marked as lacking necessary skills to survive in a competitive educational atmosphere, and they must be fixed, i.e. their difference must be “denied or repressed” (Young 98).
Young’s argument can also be applied to accountability standards, which force students to demonstrate mastery over the aforementioned literacy standards through standardized testing. In their chapter of the book Defending Public Schools, David Hursh and Camille Martina contend that “[a]ccountability […] is about authority—who has it, who does not, and how it is exercised. […] The hegemony of accountability derives from the use of standardization to promote the interests of corporate-political elites, although often under the guise of the public good” (100). Impartiality is about power. The “corporate-political elites” are far from working for “the public good”; they are instead working in their own interests. As Young says, impartiality serves ideological functions. In his essay, “Ideological State Apparatuses,” Louis Althusser explains how ideology functions in education: he contends that in a capitalist society the educational Ideological State Apparatus (ISA)—the dominant ISA—enforces rules which create a “reproduction of labour power” but also “a reproduction of [the working class’s] submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers” (132). Thus, the notion of impartiality, as Young describes it, enacts linguistic violence on these students whose language marks them as “other” to the dominant standards.