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Who Are Minorities (English)

Who Are Minorities (English)

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Published by Christopher Eby

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Christopher Eby on Dec 25, 2010
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12/26/2010

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Who Are Minorities and How Do We Conceive Them?
By Francois LaruelleMinorities represent a certain type of problem simultaneously insistent or inevitable andnever resolved. For political science, one might say that it is a crux, a theoretical impasse. Thesame goes for political practice. What is behind this difficulty? There are several reasons. First,for a political reason, it became a problem or a question. The problem of Minorities emerged assuch with the history of the great modern States with which it is coextensive and whoseconstitution it accompanies. Perhaps it was a less critical or less obvious problem with the grandEmpires in which Minorities were recognized and sometimes repressed
de facto
. But in the 19
th
 century, with the establishment of the unified and more or less centralized States, they havebecome
a question as such
for political theory, which is simultaneously the sign of theirproblematic character and the beginning of their recognition as such.Afterwards, it was not simply a political problem, but became social. I believe that it isimportant for reflection and theory and completely necessary for philosophy to overcome the
 political limitation of the concept of “Minorities”
to which it is too often restrained. The problemhas developed an incredible extension with the appearance of Minorities of a totally differentstrain from the national and political types. No doubt they are born as political and historicalproblems, but they now undergo new experiences and require more extensive and not simplypolitical definitions.This extension beyond their political origins must therefore be taken into account, even if historians are not in agreement: the new Minorities are social and moral, they are born inside thesocial body which is supposed homogeneous from the outset. They are defined according to age
class (the “youth” or the “third age”); social class (the “fourth world”); not simply according to
political power, but social, religious, cultural behaviors as such according to a power which isnot always political. I realize that this extension can be denied; but, on the one hand, theythemselves lay claim to the status of new Minorities; on the other hand, they offer, so as to bethought, the same theoretical difficulties as political Minorities; lastly, it is difficult to contest thefact that the modern social body is less and less homogenous, increasingly reticent to define itself by the political point of view alone, and increasingly demanding. There is a veritable
continuoussocial production of new minorities
, and it is tied to the emergence of the social beyond thepolitical and to the emergence of the individual and particularity beyond the social. Thetransformation of social relations is accompanied by a continual growth of new claims which areformulated in terms of 
difference
,
identity
, and
right 
: differences of fact; differences of right; but
also right to difference, the famous “right to difference” which is the foundation of all actual
claims of identity. How do we summarily characterize these phenomena, now that the politicalveil has been lifted from their definition? Do they have anything in common, and what comprisesthem as difficult theoretical objects?
 
1. The concept of Minority is unstable, poorly defined, with a tendency to be limitedbecause it seems that new Minorities in turn develop this role (there is no definitive threshold onthe basis of which a minority exists).2. Minorities, whether political or not, are always presented as multiplicities; they areseveral by definition, and are themselves formed from a plurality of individuals as such; this isan important phenomenon if one considers the centralizing and unifying will of modern States.3. They are born and manifest themselves through the mode of claim and struggle, for a
different identity which can be prolonged by violence, indeed terrorism; the “right to difference,”
to autonomy and recognition, if it indeed has a right, must be acquired by an initial violence.4. They always appear somewhat like phenomena of margins or marginality, fringes,periphery, and danger simultaneously
 — 
indeed I say
simultaneously
 — 
internal and external inrelation to the unity of the social body or the centralized political body of the nation.5. Lastly, and this follows from the preceding point, they are regularly the object, due tothe centralized State and its political authorities [
instances
], of a pressure destined to containthem; a pressure which is not always brutal, which can have the form of control and surveillanceor indeed repression, including all their forms: policing, administrative, cultural, linguistic; andwhich, nevertheless, ends in the very negotiated granting of political, cultural, linguistic rights,etc., i.e. a generally
relative
autonomy internal to national unity.This is a short description of a state of affairs that everyone recognizes. But what is of interest here for the philosopher and politician? The interest lies in the fact that, on the one hand,Minorities manifest themselves as an improbable object through the mode of violence andconflict
simultaneously
internal or intestine (civil war at the limit) and external. And alsobecause, on the other hand, there is something unthinkable about them. I mean to stress thattheoretical and political reflection on Minorities is rather impoverished and ill at ease. A recent
“Encyclopedie des Minorities,” published by Caratini (1), defines them in this simultaneously
vague and overly restrictive way: they are a historical subset of a nation which involvescentrifugal-centripetal relations with the State. This definition perhaps does justice to themultiplicity of minoritarian groups, but it summarily describes the mechanism that ties andopposes them to the State. The traditional political and theoretical means of which one makesuse do nothing but vary/refine the first impression: these are the fringes, margins ormarginalities, the subsystems of the State or subsets of the Nation.Ultimately, political philosophy relies on three, and only three, procedures to think them.The first consists in saying that Minorities are modes or
modalities
 — 
 just subsets!
 — 
of acentralized unity, State, or Nation; in other words: external secondary phenomena which do nothave their own autonomy because they refer to the superior, i.e.
indivisible
unity of the Nation or
the State which they suppose in every way. The second consists in speaking of “differences.”
One will then say either that Minorities are differences (of language, culture, sexual orientation,
 
etc.) in the
interior 
of/or
in
a set
 —which returns us to our use of “mode”— 
or, and this is alreadymore interesting, one will say that they are differences identical to the State (and not
under 
it or
in
it); or at least that Minorities are the
universal
in the social body which must be interpreted inturn as minoritarian, or as becoming minoritarian (I will return to this conception).Lastly, the third concept utilized is that of survival or archaism; they have been repressed
on the Nation’s behalf, and must still be repressed yet again
. It will thus be necessary to contain,master, and integrate them
 — 
operate a veritable gestation of Minorities; also their protection
 — 
bya politics simultaneously of resoluteness and juridical and political concessions, by accordingthem a relative, always partial and
specified 
, autonomy. This is due to the fact that Minoritiesremain perceived as a residual phenomenon tied to the history of the Nations and modern Statesin the 19
th
century, representing a permanent danger of reactivating the furnaces of political andsometimes terroristic effervescence; or to the social dysfunctionings which are sensed to beprovisional and amendable. They content themselves with describing what is seen or believed tobe seen immediately; they perceive Minorities in reality from the point of view of the State itself which contains or represses them. In the same way that the State proposes to better integratethem into its unity, these definitions integrate them into political philosophies, which are alwaysunitary schemata, or schemata of unification, identification, and sometimes totalization.Philosophical reflection, above all under this form, flies to the aid of the State and prepares theway for it; it is rarely put to the service of Minorities, despite certain appearances. Yet Minoritieslay claim to their identity while refusing the identification proposed for them by the dominantpowers: this paradox must be explicated.What is it that makes Minorities so difficult to think? The common understanding meansclear and distinct definitions of separated and well identified objects. But, precisely, theMinorities who
claim their “identity” are not easily identifiable as such. They are only
understood through
rapports
,
relations
, and relations of struggle with the State. But what isgenerally most difficult to understand is the war, the relations of force, because it defies thisgeneral tendency to posit properly distinct identities. The political, historical existence of Minorities is inseparable from the struggle for recognition and sometimes for autonomy; andtheir theoretical existence is, on its side, inseparable from contradiction, which is the war inthought. Because they are politically unthinkable, the claim or struggle is their only way of beingheard. Because they al
ways emerge “in rupture,” they are politically unthinkable.
 However, philosophy, more than the discourse of political action, has means of thinkingthem. Political reflection often contents itself to a historical
description
and mentions thestruggle; but it does not understand that the struggle is a mechanism necessary to the emergenceof new Minorities. I will describe the four theoretical schemata, the four operative ways of understanding Minorities and doing justice to them.

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