My Identities article, ‘The capital, state and the production of differentiated social value in Nigeria’, problematises the Nigerian oil-dependent capitalist economy through the perspective of the Black radical tradition. Using Cedric Robinson’s concept of race, I analyse the racialism inherent in the Nigerian capitalist economic relations and the accompanying contradictions. Capitalism is a very powerful historical force that has influenced and still influences diverse social, political and economic landscapes. The state is an agency through which the association of individuals are entrusted with the administration of the affairs of a given society. Both the capital and state are essential agencies in the entrepreneurial model of the capitalist mode of production.
Marxist scholars present capitalism as an unfair system that engages in unequal distribution of the social wealth generated by the society. Marx argues that the capitalist society is divided along class line and the economic factor remains the most decisive determining factor in shaping capitalist dynamics and its contradictions, while culture and other human pre-occupations play a role but not the decisive one. The working class, Marx maintains, is the revolutionary class that will eventually transform the capitalist economy.
The Black radical scholars see capitalism as a racial enterprise and argue that Marx did not identify race as an analytical category. Scholars like W. E. B. Du Bois, C. L. R. James and Richard Wright hold to this contention. In 1983, Cedric Robinson agrees with these scholars but argues that the preceding Black radical scholars understood race from the Eurocentric conceptualisation. Arguably, European scholarly explanations about race resonate only with the 19th and 20th century racialism, where skin colour differences have come to replace the earlier racial ranking order in European societies. Even before the 15th century Europeans’ encounter with ‘people of colour’ (Africa, Asians, Native Americans and the Caribbean), race had been part of European civilisational experience. The ideas of ‘blood difference’, popular myths and legends were used to entrench crippling divisions in the European societies, especially the notion that Western European monarchs and their aristocratic lineages emerged from the ancient bloodline of the Trojan heroes. These, to Robinson represents the actual roots of racialism.
The third world were simply integrated into this racial ranking order in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the process of this integration, Africans were enslaved, and later framed collectively as a homogenous Black group. Racialism is not just that, but also, the waving of a delicate network of social and economic divisions along differences into the entire gamut of the capitalist system itself. On the other hand, Robinson argues that Marx failed to understand that culture and human habits are the real essence of humanity, and therefore, it plays the same role as the economic factor. The capitalist society evolved with substantial racial habits from the preceding feudal society. The proletariat power had been exposed to tremendous limitations with regard to its historical role as a revolutionary agent, because the capitalists have employed race as an instrument to divide the working class. This division as reflected in the historical character of the English working-class with their Irish working colleagues has implications for workers' solidarity.
This logic of division was transported through colonialism to societies outside European civilisation. The colonies were established using these differences as social, economic and political categories. These differences became a significant tool in preventing the colonised people from forging any form of consensus that may threaten either the colonial entity or the post-colonial structures.
In Nigeria, a former British colonial enclave, this division is visibly seen in the post-colonial, oil-driven economy. The host communities to the oil fields are exposed to this capitalist wrath: a complex web of crippling divisions, dispossession of their land and exposure to deleterious pollution. Capitalism by its nature generates contradictions. In the Niger Delta, it gave rise to community-based social movements.
The oil producing communities are subjected to these crippling divisions in two ways: (1) within the entire Nigerian political economy, they are homogenously constructed as minority nationalities; and (2) in the Nigeria Delta region, they are re-constructed into ethnic and dialectical differences. The net effect of this double racialisation is the increase in aggregate returns for capital, both local and global in Nigeria.
Blog post by Buhari Shehu Miapyen, Eastern Mediterranean University, Cyprus
Read the full article:
Shehu Miapyen, Buhari. The capital, state and the production of differentiated social value in Nigeria. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1785182
In January 2020, an agreement was struck between Northern Ireland’s political parties that restored the power-sharing government in Belfast, ending a three-year suspension of the Assembly. This agreement requires the Assembly to ‘place a legal duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate the use of Ulster Scots in the education system’. In light of the problematic potential of Ulster Scots education, serious consideration of Northern Ireland’s current trajectory into ethno-cultural education is as necessary as ever.
The recognition and incorporation of ethnicity into the education system has often been considered a productive, even necessary step in the production of a peaceful society. Teaching children about 'their own' culture is frequently conceptualised as an unquestionably positive, providing ‘ethnic groups’ with ‘the knowledge and means to defend their interests as well as revitalizing and strengthening their own cultures’[i]. In relation to Northern Ireland, some have argued that teaching children to ‘explore their own identities’ is an important prerequisite ‘to exploring that of the other community’[ii], and so a crucial step toward a more integrated society.
In my Identities article, 'Ethnicizing Ulster’s Protestants?: Ulster-Scots education in Northern Ireland', I call this logic into question. Defences of ethnic education in postconflict societies tend to rely on rather problematic notions of ethnicity, treating ethnic 'groups' as social facts rather than socially constructed concepts. On the contrary, such identities are the products of peoplehood-building processes. In the Northern Irish context, two 'cultural identities' have become the politically sanctioned ethnicities marked out for incorporation into the discourse of identity work: Irish, a national identity with its roots in nineteenth-century nationalist revival; and Ulster Scots, a ethno-linguistic movement that developed in the latter years of the Troubles. Since Ulster Scots was first recognised in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in 1998, it has made considerable inroads into Northern Ireland’s civil society, including the education system.
Ulster Scots is often perceived as ‘the cultural wing of loyalism or the ethnic branch of unionism’[iii]. However, drawing on in-depth textual analysis of Ulster Scots teaching materials and interviews with teachers, educationalists and political elites, I contended that Ulster Scots ethnic education in reality took two distinct forms. The first, which I termed the Protestant-community approach, conceptualised Ulster Scots as corresponding to a potentially more socially acceptable term for older identity categories such as Loyalist, Unionist, Protestant or British. The second, the ethno-cultural approach, conceptualised Ulster Scots as an entity discrete from these 'Protestant community' identifiers, an ethnicity separable from Unionist-Loyalist ideologies. In this way, Ulster Scots actually represents a break of sorts with traditional unionist-loyalist ideas rather than an unproblematic reinforcement of them.
Hence, ‘Ulster Scots’ ranges from augmentation to replacement of Unionist-Loyalist conceptions of identity, positing a deeper, more constitutive narrative of ethnic peoplehood. Both Protestant-community and ethno-cultural approaches hold considerable potential to expand the already worryingly adhesive senses of community difference in Northern Ireland. Where unionism is contingent upon the continuation of the union, Britishness upon the perpetuation of senses of national identity, and Protestantism upon the maintenance of religiosity, Ulster Scots is conceptualised as innate and genealogical, and so more profound and permanent. In doing so, Ulster Scots transforms the notional difference between Protestant and Catholic 'communities' in Northern Ireland from a matter of beliefs and cultural practice to the more profound dimension of ancestry and descent.[iv]
[i] Bush, K. D. & Saltarelli, D. 2000. The two faces of education in ethnic conflict: towards a peacebuilding education for children. Research report. Unicef Innocenti Research Centre, pp. 18.
[ii] Kilpatrick, R. & Leitch, R. 2004. Teachers' and Pupils' Educational Experiences and School‐Based Responses to the Conflict in Northern Ireland. Journal of Social Issues, 60(3): 563-586, pp. 582.
[iii] Craith, M. N. 2003. Culture and identity politics in Northern Ireland. Springer, pp. 83.
[iv] For more on this argument, see my book: Gardner, P. 2020. Ethnic Dignity and the Ulster-Scots Movement in Northern Ireland. Palgrave Macmillan.
Blog post by Peter Robert Gardner, University of York, UK
Read the full article: Gardner, Peter Robert. Ethnicizing Ulster’s Protestants?: Ulster-Scots education in Northern Ireland. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2016.1244512
Difference is something that exists in the bodies and culture of ‘others’
Sara Ahmed, 2007
In the wake of the recent intensification of activism and debate on why and how Black Lives Matter it is important to keep interrogating the multifaceted ways in which racism is pervasive within institutional practices – often in not immediately visible ways. In the UK, the current hostile environment (Grierson 2018) is designed to create forms of social disadvantage for migrants, especially those in situations of vulnerability, feeding into an ever expanding and invisibly coercive system of oppression.
Our London-based research explored the kind of support that asylum seeking and migrant women receive by charities, especially around mental health. Compared to statutory services, charities are able to better understand and address the complex intersection of social, political, economic and emotional factors at stake in mental health, as opposed to psychiatric diagnoses which often tend to decontextualise people’s experiences of distress. Third Sector Organisations (TSOs) are well suited to respond to complex needs of asylum seeking and refugee women because the support they provide relies on empathetic understanding for different aspects of these women’s lives – ranging from acknowledging culturally embedded notions and experiences of mental health to being responsive to the structural position they are placed in by the state and society. Both material and emotional support are particularly important for newly arrived migrants, who have weaker social ties in the host country, are often less able to navigate support systems due to language barriers and because they are unfamiliar with or denied access to statutory services.
In this context, our Identities article, 'Diversity as discourse and diversity as practice: critical reflections on migrant women’s experiences of accessing mental health support in London' questions the concept of diversity, and in particular how discourses of diversity that have become prominent in policy and academia compare with the way diversity is practiced in grassroots organisations. Is the term ‘diversity’ useful and who benefits from it? Is there an alignment between the way diversity is talked about and the way it is practiced in the everyday life of people who work in the charity sector? Diversity has become a buzzword and a mantra in recent years, gradually replacing multiculturalism. Several scholars contend that diversity has acquired such currency exactly because of its lack of a political edge. Yet intersectionality, which is a deeply political paradigm born within Black Feminism (Lutz et al. 2011), is informing future developments of the diversity paradigm and is contributing to move it beyond its sole focus on race and ethnicity.
Our study argues that the legacy of previous multiculturalist discourses and systems of classification persists in the way diversity is applied on the ground. Despite the incessant effort by London TSOs to provide integrated services able to address a wide range of service users’ multiple and complex needs, the ongoing institutional emphasis on the maintenance of culture over socio-economic imperatives in addition to cultural and linguistic profiling still leads to the emergence of social hierarchies justified on grounds of cultural difference. Essentialist understandings of culture often held by health professionals can lead them to look for cultural explanations for socio-economic problems and structural barriers. Our work demonstrates that while TSOs are less susceptible to using culture as their primary explanatory lens when working with migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women, they nevertheless draw on the vocabulary of ‘culture’ (and ‘vulnerability’, see Mesarič and Vacchelli 2019) to validate their expertise as uniquely suited to their particular client group, and thus legitimate the need for their services. Alana Lentin (2014) suggests that 'the reference to cultural difference implies a hierarchy in societies that are stratified along ethno-national and often colour-coded lines’ (page 1273).
Sara Ahmed (2007) maintains that diversity affects public feelings, making organisations and institutions feel better for using the signifier of ‘difference’ in certain ways. The use of difference also implies the emotional work of making difference count, as is exemplified by the efforts of TSOs to address mental health needs of migrant populations in an integrated manner, taking on board the complex combination of barriers they experience. In conclusion, (i) tackling structural barriers, (ii) considering power relations inscribed in migrants’ circumstances rather than ascribing specific problems to certain cultural groups, and (iii) assessing the extent to what health practitioners are also embedded in their own cultural horizons and practices could help to break the cycle of colour-blind discrimination in welfare provision and mental health support.
Ahmed, S. 2007. The language of diversity. Ethnic and Racial Studies 30 (2): 235-256.
Grierson, J. 2018. Hostile environment: anatomy of a policy disaster. The Guardian, 27 August.
Lentin, A. 2014. Post-race, post politics: the paradoxical rise of culture after multiculturalism. Ethnic and Racial Studies 37 (8): 1268-1285.
Lutz, H., Herrera Vival, M. T. & Supik, L. eds. 2011. Framing intersectionality. Debates on a multi-faceted concept in gender studies. Farnham (UK) and Burlington (USA): Ashgate.
Mesarič, A. and Vacchelli, E. 2019. Invoking vulnerability: practitioner attitudes to supporting refugee and migrant women in London-based third sector organisations. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.
Blog post by Elena Vacchelli, University of Greenwich, UK and Andreja Mesarič, McPin Foundation, UK
Read the full article: Vacchelli, Elena & Mesarič, Andreja. Diversity as discourse and diversity as practice: critical reflections on migrant women’s experiences of accessing mental health support in London. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1785181