New Publication: Do we need political correctness? A political dispute
Attention: Automatic translation without proofreading. Do not cite this translation!
The journal Außerschulische Bildung published a dispute between Saba-Nur Cheema and me about the current debates on ‘political correctness’ and identity politics.
Below is the full text, as also published on https://fachzeitschrift.adb.de/brauchen-wir-political-correctness/.
Do we need political correctness?
A political dispute
For a conversation on the topics of political correctness, identity politics, the culture of debate, and the role of political education, Saba-Nur Cheema from the Anne Frank Educational Center and Dr. Karsten Schubert from the University of Freiburg came together in a Zoom room in July 2021. The questions were asked by Prof. Dr. Beate Rosenzweig and Petra Barz, both members of the editorial advisory board of “Außerschulische Bildung”. The following text is an edited and shortened version of the conversation.
Why are the debates about political correctness, identity politics and democratic culture of debate so vehement and emotional at the moment?
Saba-Nur Cheema: Yes, why are we actually talking so much about political correctness, about identity politics, about the so-called cancel culture? There are many reasons, but for the last few years we have been experiencing a whole new dynamic in the discussion about racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and other devaluation phenomena in our society. The first change, the first major racism debate I name as such, was after the hashtag #MeTwo - in the wake of Mesut Özil’s photo with Turkish President Erdogan. People spoke out on social media and people were finally talking about experiences of racism in Germany. Since then, we have seen almost daily that even conservative newspapers are talking about these topics, which are otherwise considered rather ur-left topics. The perspective of those affected is increasingly present in the discourse. A big factor is social media, because here the currency is the number of followers and at first you don’t need the big job to have a mouthpiece, to be able to position yourself and say “This doesn’t suit me, I imagine it differently.” I see that as a relevant factor, which is why we sometimes experience very aggressive, at least emotional and passionate debates.
Karsten Schubert: I agree with all of that - so we don’t have an argument yet. But I would categorize it differently again. One important factor is that there is a real progress of socially critical movements. There is a growing thematization of racism and sexism, as well as a new thematization of homophobia and transphobia. These issues have become more present. And with that comes the strong criticism of identity politics in the conservative feuilletons but also by voices that locate themselves in the social center but are actually conservative. This is a defensive struggle that can be interpreted as an indicator that there is this progress that is being resisted. That is to say: progress of the emancipative movement on the one hand, defensive struggle of the conservatives on the other, with the aim of further stabilizing the still very stable, center-right conservative hegemony in Germany with regard to all these issues and defending their own privileges. 1 Another important factor in the discussion about identity politics is an orientation discussion within the social left. This started with the interpretation of the electoral successes of right-wing populists, for example AfD and Trump, in the mid-2010s. It was criticized by Nancy Fraser under the heading of “progressive neoliberalism” that the social left focused too much on identity-political questions of recognition and too little on redistributive politics. It argues that these issues were even at odds with each other. Within both critical scholarship and left politics, there are disputes about the meaning and valuation of identity politics.
The book “Trigger Warning,” co-edited by Saba-Nur Cheema,2 is about identity politics, about defenses, compartmentalization, and alliances, especially on the left. How did this book come about? What was the reason for dealing with this topic?
SNC: There are two things that inspired us. One was the “self-cutting” we observed within the left. So: who is “woke enough?” Who knows the right self-designations and is up to date? Do we say BPoC or just PoC? We have experienced that people do not react constructively to each other or are pointed to something, but that there is almost something like - I don’t want to say Cancel Culture - rigorous invitation and dis-invitation logics and that people much prefer to stay in their own filter bubble. It’s often not possible at all to talk to each other within the left camp. When it comes to the LGBT community or the Black community, Muslim, Jewish, etc., where there are many experiences of discrimination, we have also experienced as an institution how you can’t get anywhere. For example, in the debate about BDS, the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” campaign directed against Israel. Is this now anti-Semitic? And what does it mean when we talk to someone who doesn’t declare BDS to be anti-Semitic at all but who already very clearly has a friend-or-foe thinking? Another question we are grappling with is to what extent the left is to blame for the rise of right-wing populism. This is a thesis that has been discussed, especially in the U.S. context. The theses on this by Mark Lilla, among others in his book “The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics,” are also interesting in this context. The thesis, very roughly formulated: There is far too much focus on the concerns of minorities and, as a result, society as a whole and social interests have been lost from view. Economic issues are no longer taken up; instead, it’s all about so-called minority issues: For example, debates about language - what is the right word for what now? Be it the discussion about the N-word or the Z-word or all-gender toilets. Such issues have moved many within left contexts, people have focused a lot on them, Lilla says, and then - referring to the U.S. - the white majority has been lost or forgotten as a result.
These are also issues we work on in “Trigger Warning.” The term “trigger,” which as a clinical term comes from trauma research, has been used with a politicized intent to give space to the emotions that have been given a role in this political debate. To this day, the dogma holds: affected people are always right because they are hurt. Or: those affected are hurt, and therefore they are always right. I consider that fatal, because it’s simply not true. It has something to do with this good-evil thinking, friend-foe schema, which is expressed within the left, but has also arrived in the breadth of society. There are no more gray areas.
**The argument comes from many critics of identity politics, that we are basically dealing with an either-or perspective: Either you’re affected or you’re not. If you’re not affected, you can’t contribute. Sahra Wagenknecht’s new book argues precisely this thesis, that ultimately these left-liberal discourses of concern lead to division and that the central structural, social and economic discrimination is not addressed.
KS: Here I actually have a different assessment. It is true that I have also experienced problematic ways of applying critical theories in left-activist contexts, and I believe that this is common. But you can’t reduce identity politics to these problems, as so often happens in the discourse.
Three specific points as critical comments on what Saba said: Mark Lilla, whose argument lies between communitarianism and liberalism, says that sectarian and divisive identity politics would corrode democratic discourse or community. And leftist theorists* like Nancy Fraser see struggles for solidarity and justice threatened by identity politics. The basic pattern of argumentation is the same: something is divided by the particular struggles of identity politics - discourse, community, solidarity. I would disagree with this on a number of levels. I consider this underlying logic of universalism and particularism to be an argumentative sleight of hand. Francis Fukuyama, who argues quite similarly to Lilla, uses the word “Leitkultur” in the English essay in German to indicate what is needed and what is endangered by identity politics. The “Leitkultur,” the communitarian of the nation, the universal of democratic discourse, or solidarity - depending on whether one plays this more communitarian, liberal, or critical - is then set as a universal argument against particular discourses. In doing so, it is ignored that what is universally legislated is always already a particular one; that is: a majority society that is characterized by the hegemonic power structures of those who are privileged at the moment. Fukuyama’s use of Leitkultur only makes this logic of universalism particularly clear. Importantly, it is also present in the other critiques of division against identity politics, including those on the left. And so, because the argument of division works so well, criticism of the given conditions is then de-legitimized quite successfully from a particular, or more precisely, a privileged perspective. And I see this discourse structure at work everywhere with Lilla, Fraser & Co. With Wagenknecht and her nationally oriented redistribution politics, one can see where such an argumentation, in which particularistic identity politics is criticized as division, can lead politically.
The second point about all-gender toilets. I have the impression that there is also a reversal here: So who are the ones doing politics with the all-gender toilets? It’s not the left, it’s the right that is scandalizing this issue and using it to catch votes. In that respect, you really have to be very careful how you describe causality here and who you assign blame and responsibility to. The culprit for conservative anti-genderism is not identity politics, but those very conservatives. The background of my argument is that ultimately there is no contradiction at all between a pluralistic identity politics that emphasizes the particularity of different groups on the one hand, and a redistributive politics that deeply intervenes in economic structures on the other. In the accusation that left politics has focused too much on gender toilets instead of addressing redistribution issues, recognition and redistribution are played off against each other. I think this is theoretically wrong and also misses the political reality.
Third, while it is wrong to dogmatically assert “The people affected are always right.” I agree with that. But the debate shows above all how problematic political epistemology is, that is, the linking of cognition and politics. To call that problematic is not simply to say the opposite, that cognition and truth have nothing to do with politics and social position. There is no getting away from saying that social positions and experiences play a very important role in political argumentation, that it is important for democratization processes to include a plurality of voices and experiences in the political conversation, and that there are therefore also good reasons for privileging minoritized perspectives in some way on many issues. I say that from the perspective of political theory. The problem then is that in application, in educational work, this quickly goes wrong and turns into a “positional fundamentalism,” as Paula Villa calls it, that is, this “affected people are always right” dogma. By the way, such a view is not at all covered by standpoint theory, which analyzes the link between social position and cognition. That’s why I’m very interested in this, how to hold on to the reasonable standpoint-theoretic core that social position is important for our possibilities of cognition without getting into these fundamentalist dogmas.
It is also about the questions of the limits of identity politics. When limits of identity politics are discussed, examples come to mind for all of us: Mark Twain should no longer be read in the original, “Pippi Longstocking” should be banned, “Gone with the Wind” is critical. There are student initiatives at universities demanding that Kant and Rousseau no longer be read under any circumstances. Where do you see the limits? What is too much?
SNC: I’ll get to the question in a moment, but I’m concerned once again with the term political correctness. What does that actually mean? What is politically correct? It’s always about the moral level, about being morally correct. And then there’s no longer the competition between all-gender toilets and redistribution. Everyone would say: Everything is totally important, of course. The discourse is perhaps still a bit vague, and terms are used that may not even clarify what exactly is meant by them.
This prevents good social interaction. That may be a steep thesis, but I can prove it more concretely from my experience in educational work: If, for example, a seminar cannot start for three hours because the toilets in the building are separated according to women and men, as is probably the case in 98% of buildings in Germany. If it is then demanded that we can only start when this is changed, but the janitor refuses to do so because the doors have been repainted, that something is hung up … And then there are still some who say: “But I don’t want to go to the same toilet with everyone.” That prevents the concrete work. That’s what interests me most of all. Not just the appropriation from the right.
The more I talk about these experiences, the more I hear, “That happened with us, too!” I remember a conference on anti-Semitism and racism and there was an “old white man” invited as a key note speaker, an expert on these issues. He quoted from Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” Some got up and left because they said, “You can’t be here reading from ‘Mein Kampf,’ and then such crass, racist, anti-Semitic stuff.” That was his mission. We were conference organizers. Educational work or any discussion at all is made impossible in this way. The demand that everything in society should become a safe space is a utopia. That can’t work at all. Nor do I want it to. Here I see highly problematic excesses of the identity-political struggles. But one also has to say which identity politics is “okay” or which demands are essential. Identity politics exists, after all, because the promise of equality, which is established de jure, is not being kept. We are dealing with a great inequality of opportunity. Political participation is different and less possible for people with disabilities, for PoC, for Jews, for Muslims, and so on. So actually it is about structural exclusion or structural racism. But we often get lost in identity politics on the symbolic level. Then it’s about language and what’s hanging on the toilets. Or to come to the question: “We don’t read Kant and Rousseau at the university anymore, because racist words are spoken. That’s when we stand up or write an open letter against the prof.” I wonder if we are really fighting the real problem, the structural discrimination and forms of exclusion, the limited participation in social life with this. I don’t think so.
Looking at the feminist movement of the 1980s/90s shows how important the question of definitional power is. For example, what women defined as rape back then was not punished because there was a male-dominated justice system. It was a total moment of empowerment to say: we define what an assault is. That’s basically transferable. That involves all these moments of questioning, of structural inequality, and enables solidarization. Of course, the question is always: What happens in the next step? Karsten described it as something emancipatory, which is connected with the Cancel Culture, this standing up, first of all saying stop. This is also a training ground for lived solidarity, which questions something on a small scale, which then has the effect of “particular solidarity. Why is there actually something progressive and emancipatory in this?
KS: I have just published an article with a colleague in which we elaborate a concept of constructivist identity politics and thus intervene in this debate that criticizes identity politics as essentialist, on which this accusation of division is then built. 3 Here, we place particular emphasis on emphasizing that identity politics, from a political-theoretical and sociological perspective, is primarily about the processes of constructing identity. That is, it is primarily about a political-cultural, common learning with the goal of understanding one’s own social position as political. This means, first of all, that there is no flat reduction of social position and attitude, because standpoint theories show that a standpoint is not simply given, but is worked out collectively in communities of people concerned. These are not hermetically sealed processes, they take place in a confrontation with the generally shared but not yet realized norms of the democratic, i.e. equality and freedom. And in this respect, identity politics is about starting with the particular, with standpoint-dependent experiences, and then developing common, transformative, and solidary politics in a communication process with reference to universal values. These identity-political communication processes are one of the central sources for a critical and solidary stance - without such reference to the particular experiences of minorities, solidarity remains empty and thinking one-dimensional. From this it is already clear that political education work should have a very decisive part in such processes. It can contribute to the active formation and creation of particular perspectives and their translation into general policies of solidarity. Such a politics of particularity is not subversive of democracy but, on the contrary, is the necessary precondition for further opening and democratizing the current institutions with their processes of exclusion.
I wanted to say something else about the limits of political correctness. I don’t think you can draw a general line. Criticizing specific phenomena is about looking at them closely. I have the impression that there is quite a lot of confusion. I have not yet been convinced that Kant should be dropped from the syllabi. I’m not aware of any discourse-powerful positions that call for that. That there is a debate about structural racism among our Enlightenment thinkers, however, is a useful and important thing. I perceive it all as much more nuanced than is often said, even if sometimes there is such flattening, along the lines of: it’s racist to read Kant in seminary. And when it comes to such flat statements, they are not convincing. Such positions do not prevail. The excitement with which they are spoken about is therefore completely unjustified, and in my estimation part of the conservative defensive struggle that I spoke about at the beginning.
Another interesting thing is the example of the toilets at the workshop. That’s exciting: from the perspective of political education work, which is about a workshop topic like racism, there are now two or three queer activists who just have the single-issue that toilets everywhere need to finally be freed from bisexuality. This political activism is counterproductive to the flow of the event. But inspired by the radical theory of democracy, which describes the further development of social norms not as smooth - you talk about things and then progress already happens - one would have to have an appreciation for the fact that emancipative progress also always has something to do with disruption and protest that shoots beyond the given forms, sometimes even violently. Even if it’s annoying: it’s part of activism to put this issue on the agenda in different places.
SNC: I can’t have that much understanding in practice. It’s impossible for me. To take up the term flattening: Flattening is simply in vogue. We are talking mainly on a symbolic level. After all, it’s easier to demand that only black people be allowed to translate black people and that we need all-gender restrooms. The demands are easy to make, and they sound sympathetic. Incidentally, these are easier for right-wingers to hijack than when we talk about the issue of schools and discrimination, for example: Why do young people with a migration background still not get a recommendation for high school in the fourth grade? Who graduates from high school? Who goes to university? And who doesn’t? It’s also about the glass ceiling for migrants here in Germany. We need to talk about that. It just doesn’t sound that exciting.
I would also like to address the point of “transforming particular interests”. Karsten said that at some point, particular becomes universal. That’s exactly the point. I don’t think that’s happening right now, when I think, for example, of the incident at the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus about two years ago: it’s about a black actor who, during an improvisation rehearsal, was rather blatantly racially insulted, including with the N-word, by a fellow actor. As a result, the actor complained to the chief artistic director. His accusation: “No one approached me and it was simply accepted. Racism is quite normal here in the theater. As a black actor, you’re not safe in the Deutsches Theater.” This was accompanied by other issues: black people only ever play black people, etc. As far as that, everyone would probably say that it’s totally important and right that he problematizes that. But, cue special interests: What is being demanded now is a Black Theater in Düsseldorf, a Safe Space Theater only for Black actors*. I see this as a big problem. It is no longer a matter of regulating the conflict internally differently, of changing the structures and talking about representation in the theater in general, but of establishing a new space. Then tomorrow we’ll have a Muslim theater and at some point a queer theater, and only certain people will be allowed in there. This reminds me of a debate in Frankfurt some time ago: there was a demand from the Muslim side that there should be a swimming pool only for Muslims. Similar problems! We should actually be able to get people to put up with women in burkini jumping into a pool like this - and vice versa: in the same way, Muslim men should be able to put up with seeing women in bikinis here. That’s actually the goal when we talk about a plural society. Instead of saying: We’ll now create a safe space for Muslims and then they’ll be there and the others there. Then there will be no more Muslims in the swimming pool at normal times and no more black actors in the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus.
KS: That’s exciting, and I would actually see many things differently. First, in the evaluation of the phenomena on the ground, and second, with regard to the target perspective. I’m also speaking there as a queer theorist and from a gay perspective. To that extent, my analyses are also informed by this position, but I still speak in a generalized way, as a political theorist. I think that such subcultural sites are quite crucial in breaking through the social normality that always prevails. This leads me back to constructivist identity politics. I believe that such sites of particularity and minority are necessary for corresponding subjectivities that come with a critical view of society as a whole to be formed in the first place. From a queer perspective, the structure of this argument that Saba has made ultimately amounts to the abolition of gayness, lesbianism. It just doesn’t make sense to be absorbed into mainstream society; you need the minoritarian places. In this radical democratic perspective, democratization and transformation are not so much directed at forming a general that is somehow strongly defined in terms of identity (in the sense of: “It would be nicer if we as a society somehow all did everything together”), but rather at making the political institutions and structural discriminations, inclusion and exclusion mechanisms as egalitarian as possible on this formal level - but with a great deal of awareness that one is not prescribing something like a guiding culture, but rather with a genuine appreciation for particularity. And that’s why: With regard to the Black Theater in Düsseldorf, I can imagine - depending on how it is done - that this is a good and important thing. The identity-political places I’m referring to are then also not closed in communication despite the celebration of particularity, but always intersubjectively connectable. They bring from this culture important inputs for the general social discourse.
This raises the thesis that identity politics ultimately have an emancipatory, democratizing effect. But, from a practical political perspective, it is also a matter of influencing majority opinions, of conducting discourse with the so-called normalized majority and not just defining marginality as the central perspective. How can we succeed in initiating democratization through identity politics if, in the end, the debate with majority opinions does not take place in this way? How is it possible to enter into conversation with one another via identity discourses, to form alliances and alliance policies for the dismantling of structural discrimination?
SNC: I didn’t say that the categories all have to go away. I think arguing for individuality in pluralism is more important than arguing for particular interests. But that’s the bottom line. This is not about colorblindness and somehow everything not mattering. The categories are very important, but we have to ask, for what, for what purpose? Also that there should be Safe Spaces: Definitely! But as soon as we get to asking who is actually Black, who is Muslim, etc., that becomes difficult. Who is allowed to go there and who is not? Is it enough if my grandfather was Muslim? Am I then also Muslim or not? According to which definition do we go? I am afraid of such definitions. This is also expressed in this critical whiteness approach. If there are educational programs on this: Who goes in room A and who goes in room B? A concrete example from a workshop: A woman who moved to Germany from Brazil said: “In Brazil I would definitely go to room A with the white people, but here I would actually go to the other room. But I don’t look like that now. What do we do now?” And the workshop leader said, “You’d better go to the room with the white people.” To which she said, “But my experience is zero like the white people’s.” I find that difficult. Where does that lead? This transformation process is characterized by a major problem of mediation, because it is not clear what it is actually about: Why do we need certain protected spaces? Who is actually being protected from what? We have to make it possible to discuss this so that the majority society is taken along. This is the main topic in my training courses, most of whose participants are people from the majority society. There are mainly question marks. It’s a lot about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed, about language bans, about no real things, because the language bans don’t even exist. There will never be a sanction if someone utters the N-word. That happens all the time, too. You only know the violation level: I’m not allowed to say it because it hurts people somehow. But others see it differently. Then there’s always the one black person who thinks the N-word is okay to say after all. In other words, it’s not so easy to hurt people. Actually, we have to get away from this emotional level. We should actually be able to engage in a constructive debate about language. The fact that we don’t use the Z-word is not because Sinti and Roma feel violated, but because there is a context that has something to do with persecution and murder. And in this context, the use of the word is simply problematic. And if I don’t say it, it shows a political, social awareness for a plural society. And it has to do initially or not only with a violation. So I call this a problem of mediation.
We look at the issue, of course, from the perspective of political education. Where are the sites of - ideally - constructive negotiation? If we keep saying that diversity is the new majority, and if we break it up with the privileged majority society and say: The majority is diverse. How do we negotiate there? The phenomenon of victimization is actually a struggle for a lack of resources and for attention. And in this context, it’s interesting how this is taken up in the feuilletons and via social media, which are amplifiers for one’s own stories, but also amplifiers in the sense of empowerment. Where are these places where this constructive argument is possible? What are the methods? What qualifications do we need as political educators? Do we first need mediator training?
KS: I wanted to respond briefly to the previous question and put the assessment into perspective. It sounded as if there was a complete speechlessness. I don’t see it that way. Rather, I see great general progress, great learning processes throughout society. It is important that the various socially critical projects come together and forge alliances. Actually, this is working quite well. There are, after all, great alliances between these emancipatory, identity politics projects. People who have a queer commitment usually also have an antiracist commitment and are for social redistribution, etc. In this respect, I believe that this strong lack of communication and speech does not exist at all.
Another question then is that of political education work in concrete terms. I did queer education events in Berlin about eight years ago. Classic educational work with a peer education approach in schools. And of course you don’t go in there and say, “You can’t insult anyone in a gay-homophobic way,” as, by the way, French colleagues did in similar projects. Then the clever banlieue high school student would immediately say, “But I have freedom of speech!” Of course, educational work does not work as an imperative lecture of prohibitions, but only through a communicative and appreciative approach. But that’s something else again than the debate that takes place on a more discursive level in the public sphere in general, in journalism, in academia, in the media, which I predominantly analyze. In the end, it corresponds to the reality of the political, if there is also a hard-fought battle. Hence my attempt to re-perspectivize such phenomena as “Cancel Culture” as part of such a struggle for democratization and emancipation.
I wanted to say one other thing that I find important after participant observation in leftist projects: I think there is often a misunderstanding there between structural critique and individually moralizing critique. A critique of heteronormativity as a critique of social structures and their relations of privilege does not at all imply an individual moral devaluation of people who live, for example, in very classical, romantic relationships between two people. However, this sometimes gets mixed up when a moral template for individual action is directly derived from a structural critique. However, these processes of structure-related social critique are primarily about raising the level of reflection with respect to norms, structures of privilege, and so on. The concrete actions that follow from this are on a completely different page and cannot be directly derived from it. That often seems to go under the radar.
SNC: I would like to emphasize that there is a tremendous social awareness of these issues. It’s a success that-no matter what-conservative feature articles are talking about and arguing about racism. I have an optimistic view of this debate. On the one hand, you have to deal with the impasses, when things don’t go any further, you tear each other apart and there are mediation problems. On the other hand, I see that these issues are becoming more and more accepted as cross-cutting issues in society and in political education work. I’ll give you three examples: Last year I did a training course on racism with midwives. In addition, we now have a firm agreement with airport employees and with the fire department to work regularly on group-based misanthropy. I mention these groups because we usually do not think of professional groups, but rather of educational places and the relevant (affected) communities. In these professional groups, the cross-section of society is much more likely to be found. And they also wanted to address the issue of racism after the Black Lives Matter protests. It is an issue that (has) moved many. They asked themselves the question: What does racism actually have to do with me?
On the one hand, as you pointed out, there has been an increase in awareness of diversity perspectives and policies, but on the other hand, there are also a number of segments of the population who perceive themselves as marginalized, who feel disconnected from precisely these discourses, who can’t do anything with them, and who propagate defensiveness. This is also a problem for political education. How do we deal with it?
SNC: We have to deal with it. Who do I actually work with? It’s quite diverse. If you look at the election results from Saxony-Anhalt, who the AfD voters were, a large part of them are the under-30s, but then also a high percentage of those who are in a poor economic position. But it’s a very simplistic thesis to say that these are the losers and that’s why they vote right. But it is really striking that 17- to 30-year-olds who have just completed vocational training or schooling, who should ideally be in demand on the labor market, vote right. We still deal with that far too little. What is their motivation for rejecting the changes and pluralization of society? It is too simplistic to say they are all racists. We would have to deal much more with the causes. And when people, some of whom hold right-wing populist positions, sit with me in the seminar, divisive and radicalizing tendencies are not helpful. Isn’t the goal actually to say that we won’t let ourselves be divided, that we can grow together, despite all the problems? That always sounds a bit corny, but it’s the real, the ur-left goal: a just society for all.
KS: The rising trend of right-wing voters is of course a big problem. On the other hand, you have to say that there has been such a basic national conservative base of 10-20% - depending on how you count - for a long time.
I would also like to come back to the strategy discussion of the social left and social democracy - there is also a social science discussion about this: The position à la Fraser and Wagenknecht that the left is falling apart and voters are running away because only progressive neoliberalism is still being done is often articulated. That is a distortion. What is true is that it is due to progressive neoliberalism, but it is not due to the progressive aspect of it, but to neoliberalism. About 20 years ago, the SPD decided to fundamentally abandon left-wing politics and pursue economically liberal policies. In doing so, it pulled the rug out from under its feet. That is the reason why the workers no longer vote for the SPD and not because other emancipative projects are now being included - by the way, only extremely slowly and with a lot of resistance. It has to be said much more clearly that these debates are not or should not be about identity politics etc., but we need a radically different economic policy and a radical redistribution. This is not in contradiction with the identity politics emancipation projects, but actually belongs together. Even more, awareness of the need for more redistribution and solidarity is promoted by identity politics.
Perhaps in a concluding statement: what will happen? Where is it going? Do you have another tip or wish for constructive social debate?
KS: I believe the liberal democratic constitutional state is at risk, and this danger can only be averted if we stop with austerity policies and fight social inequality by radically redistributing wealth. Otherwise, right-wing populist parties will gain more and more support. What is really needed is a strong left-wing policy. It’s a scandal that the issue of wealth inequality is not more prominent in the political discourse, with the blatant debt re-borrowing and Corona aid financing. And again, I don’t see any incompatibility between such left-wing economic policies and the concerns of the different identity politics projects.
SNC: For me, in any case, the social question would be important, to overcome the gap between rich and poor. We have to deal with what impact that has on minoritized groups. Actually, it’s all directly related. I am sure that in 20 years we will be laughing at these conflicts within identity-political contexts. I think there will be some, maybe myself included, who will not only be ashamed, but shake their heads and wonder: did we really discuss this? I’m really sure that’s going to happen. But maybe it’s part of it. In any case, I will see these years - as a caesura, by the way, I see the entry of the AfD into the Bundestag - as a very decisive phase, in which the issues of marginalized, of affected groups were on the top agenda, also in the political program.
**Thank you very much for the exciting conversation!
1 For this and other aspects of the conversation, see the texts, videos and current information at www.karstenschubert.net/tags/political-correctness.
2 Berendsen, Eva/Cheema, Saba-Nur/Mendel, Meron (eds.) (2019): Trigger Warning. Identity politics between foreclosure, alliances, and defense. Berlin: Verbrecher Verlag
3 Schubert, Karsten/Schwiertz, Helge (2021): Constructivist identity politics. Why democracy requires particular positioning. In: Journal of Political Science, pp. 1-30. DOI: 10.1007/s41358-021-00291-2.
About the interview partners
Saba-Nur Cheema is a political scientist, educational director of the Anne Frank Educational Center, and lecturer at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences. Her publications include the volume “Triggerwarnung” mentioned in the interview (see footnote 2), “(K)Eine Glaubensfrage. Religious Diversity in Pedagogical Coexistence. Basic knowledge and practical recommendations for school and extracurricular educational work” (2017). In the interview, she speaks especially from an educational perspective and with her years of experience in political education work. email@example.com
Dr. phil. Karsten Schubert is a research associate and executive assistant at the Chair of Political Theory, Philosophy, and History of Ideas at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg. His work focuses on contemporary critical political theory and social philosophy: radical democracy, legal critique, Michel Foucault, biopolitics, queer and gay theory, and intersectionality. He is currently researching at the intersection of radical democracy and theories of identity politics. Previously, he completed his PhD in philosophy at the University of Leipzig. www.karstenschubert.net firstname.lastname@example.org
About the interviewers
Dr. Beate Rosenzweig, political scientist, is deputy director of the Studienhaus Wiesneck - Institut für Politische Bildung Baden-Württemberg e. V., Buchenbach, and honorary professor at the Seminar for Scientific Politics at the University of Freiburg. She is co-editor of the journal “Außerschulische Bildung”. email@example.com
Petra Barz has been active in political and intercultural youth and adult education since her studies in social pedagogy. After working as an educational consultant and project developer in Hamburg, Marseille, Amsterdam and Paris, she founded the non-profit educational association dock europe e. V. in Hamburg in 2006. Here she works as an educational assistant and consultant on the topics of diversity, discrimination and socio-spatial cooperation, as a coordinator in German-French educational projects and as a moderator of events. She is also a member of the editorial board of the journal “Außerschuische Bildung”. firstname.lastname@example.org
Cite and download
Cheema, Saba-Nur; Schubert, Karsten; Rosenzweig, Beate; Barz, Petra (2021): Brauchen wir Political Correctness? Ein politisches Streitgespräch. In: Außerschulische Bildung – Zeitschrift der politischen Jugend- und Erwachsenenbildung (4), 33–41. https://fachzeitschrift.adb.de/brauchen-wir-political-correctness/
- New Publication: Constructivist Identity Politics. Why Democracy Requires Particular Positioning (Journal of Political Science), 25. October 2021
- The tension between universalism/particularism and reason/power in democracy. New English and German short texts, 22. November 2022
- Fellowship at FRIAS: One year for research on identity politics and elite capture!, 4. October 2022
- New Article in Body Politics: A New Era of Queer Politics? PrEP, Foucauldian Sexual Liberation, and the Overcoming of Homonormativity, 4. May 2022
- New Publication: 'Liberalism and the Construction of Gender (Non-)Normative Bodies and Queer Identities', 22. March 2022
Identity PoliticsPolitical Correctness
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