Ghetto-isation

This is one of the more amusing of words I have heard in recent times.

What is Ghettoisation? Let me start by giving a little etymological depiction of this word.

Ghetto has been understood historically as a location of a settlement where a minority inhabits. This term has recieved notoreity in two strikingly different contexts:

1. Many parts of Europe during the 20thC with a Jewish population contained Ghettos. In Venice and Germany, they were places where the stigmatised and hated minority lived together, often in poor housing conditions. Later on, during the Nazi era, the Ghetto or (Judengasse) became places of residence before being forcibly relocated to concentration camps.

2. Ghetto by another contrast has been taken up to be acknowledge a similar meaning to the European context during the 19th-20thC, but a term of not so much distraught connotations. The Ghettos of Compton in California, for instance, is a place of economic degredation and social injustice, but also a term which just forms part of the furniture of one’s lexicon, without any explicit meaning; alas, the connotation of fear and death is not necessarily attached to the later, African-American vernacular of the term. This term has a very strong affinity with Black and Minority culture. (cf. Ali G’s “Staines’ Massive”)

Digression:

A similar word which would have no immediate or implicit connotation similar to Ghetto would be nigga (variant of nigger; percieved as a ‘non-offensive’ equivalent, but I’ll leave that for another day as to whether it actually is different [given its lack of phonetic difference]).

From etymology to definition

I point out these initial uses of the word to highlight the notion of ghetto-isation. Some people have often noted that the increased academic studies and specialisations into identity politics establishes its own subject suis generis, in such a way that it isolates other cognate fields in the academy. African-American studies is a prime suspect of this, and Feminist and Gender studies is another candidate.

Two questions

Let me pose two questions before continuing:

1. Are these ‘Ghetto’ subjects genuinely interdisciplinary?
2. Should these ‘Ghetto’ subjects be genuinely interdisciplinary?
3. Should these subjects be excluding?

Now lets hold on to these questions before continuing.

Definition

Some allege that these subjects have become isolated to the point of being so obscure and inaccessible that they may even lack sufficient academic credence. The study of gender has led to developments such as queer theory; I must admit I know almost nothing about this subject matter, although from what I understand about the notion of queer (in the sexual sense, not in the normal sense that I use it in – as strange and ontologically unviable) is that it refuses a strict category.

Someone who is queer does not have to be gay, they don’t even need to be bisexual; for matters of completeness I suppose they would also say you don’t have to be straight. Queerness is a hard thing to define. But I think that is the very concept of queerness, that it refuses to be defined. Some people would shut off right now and dislike such a conceptual scheme, seeing it as frivolous or obscure and the very kind of thing that is hated about continental philosophy and critical theory-types.

I think the notion of queer is an ‘I don’t care what you think’ sexuality. Forget about labels, I’ll do what I want. Michael told me that he once knew someone involved in the queer intellectual scene, and they were a sorry sight to be seen. No offence to their present sexualities, but that they lacked intellectual rigour and not only were dogmatic, but they were also very misinformed. I remain agnostic as to whether this is true of queer theory genera, they would not represent a school of thought.

Similar charges of demonisation are often made in these identity politik discourses. The white man (and you have to stress the ‘H’ when you say it) is the enemy of Afro-Americans (well, obviously this will see some changes come Obama next week), in charge of the world, the man is keeping them down. Identity discourses are often conflict discourses, and Marxism is never too far away either.

It is heterosexuality and patriarchy that keeps women down. It is homophobia that demonises the gays. It is the heritage of colonial European culture that has destroyed all of the world and it is truly evil.

The scope of identity studies

Identity studies of the kind espoused by feminists, queers and ethnicity studies, can involve many kinds of discourses:

1. Philosophy
2. Political Science
3. Social Policy
4. Sociology
5. Human Geography
6. Biology & Psychology
7. Theology
8. Cultural Studies/Musicology

According to my knowledge, these identity discourses hardly acknowledge all of these, or overemphasise some of these. A further point I want to stress is that, being philosophical about feminism requires one to know a little bit about philosophy in general; namely, having a background in ethics, maybe political philosophy, epistemology and even the history of philosophy; without having to demonise the subject in general.

If one is interested in a feminist ethic, for instance, surely we should see Kantianism, Utilitarianism, Virtue Theory and other such doctrines and notions as either relevant, in terms of it being incorporated or framing our subject matter or approach, or as rejecting it. I once came across a student who claimed to be doing feminist deontological ethics and wrote against Kant, but she hardly even read any works by Kant at all but merely stated as a strawman a doctrine that was allegedly ‘Kant’s view’.

Notably there are black and feminist theologians; for reasons of obviousness it would be difficult for any gay theologies to be established. I have some sympathy for this and would hope that some more dialogue and interest is invested in the notion of religiousity/spirituality and sexual difference. Especially if we are to think that Salvation is for all.

With political science and social policy, some very practical concerns can be handled. Within Sociology, there are occupied places within the studies of ethnicity and gender without having any explicity affiliation; one doesn’t have to be a feminist, or a female to be a sociologist of gender [and here is where I whisper ‘but it helps’].

Relating identity politics to natural sciences, is more indicative of the general dislike of natural science explanations for social phenomena; so we normally see that people dismiss psychological or biological explanations for things like educational achievement differences in ethnic or gender stratifications (and they are reasonable explanations to be fair), but to be dismissive of the subject in general almost seems to dismiss anything within it as relevant.

Cultural studies and musicology; the former is a safe haven for many forms of bullshit known to man. Cultural studies, without, say, the expert study of theatre, literature or music, is a philistine pursuit. A study of black popular music can be very well complimented witha musicological analysis, it is to the peril of anyone who calls themselves a cultural studies expert to ignore the proper studies of music.

Ghettoisation for some spells out isolation, excluding, an us-against them mentality. I would, in principle be open minded about these subjects, so long as those three questions I put up are addressed.

Sinistre*

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