Re: [xmca] Allan Luke on Race and Language as Capital

From: Paul Dillon <phd_crit_think who-is-at>
Date: Sat Dec 06 2008 - 10:30:33 PST

Andy, Jay,

I find it timely that the question about "what is
human" should surface here at the very time I've decided to come off an
extended break from xmca participation. 

I've recently 
re-read Ilyenkov's article " the universal"  in which he discusses a
French "sci-fi" novel where that very question provides the basic theme
of the novel.  I'm attaching the article.

I guess the important
point is that the question (or any other such essentialist question)
can never be answered from the perspective of formal logic, ie, the
attempt to create a universal category on the basis of shared traits, 
Ilyenkov points to  the political role of such essentialist thinking,
implicit in Jay's post, that Andy raised in his reply.

"All attempts to find
 this common and essential feature whereby one

could unmistakably tell a man from an animal, from a non-human,

stumble over and over again into the age-old logical problem. The

common feature could be abstracted from ?all? the individuals of the

given race when and if the set that constitutes the genus has been

well-defined. But this is impossible unless there is a general criterion

available beforehand for identifying such a set, i.e., the very

common feature sought-for. Indeed, hot water is easy to tell from

cold. But what about warm water? One stone does not make a heap, and

neither do two. How many stones will be then required for a heap?

Where is the frontier beyond which a balding man becomes bald? And is

there any clear-cut frontier at all? Or, on the contrary, is any

frontier, any certitude merely an
 imaginary line to be drawn solely for

the purpose of an artificial classification? Where then is it to be

drawn? ?It will run where the powers-to-be would choose to draw it,

note the novel's characters ruefully. Indeed, the subjectively

idealistic theories of thought delegate this kind of decision-making to

the powers-to-be. So, the voice of the powers becomes the criterion of

truth, and their will, the universal will behind which title [of the novel] one can

clearly discern unmasked arbitrariness and even individual self-seeking

interest." (Ilyenkov: The Universal)

Ilyenkov shows that we require dialectical, not formalist, concepts to transcend the problem.

Paul Dillon

--- On Thu, 12/4/08, Andy Blunden <> wrote:
From: Andy Blunden <>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Allan Luke on Race and Language as Capital
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
Date: Thursday, December 4, 2008, 5:04 PM


I hope you'll excuse me if I have misunderstood you. I am never sure with
this posthumanist stuff how much is said in irony, but I will just presume it is
said in all seriousness, and you will forgive me if my comments are misdirected.

I think the problem with the category of human is not with the
"human", but with the category, viz., the non-dialectical use of
categories which, in my view, marks poststructuralism and posthumanism.

If the same method by which the concept of "human" is deconstructed
and denounced as an instrument of domination were to be applied to *any*
thought, the result would be the same, and human life would regress to something
less than human, if you'll pardon the expression.


Jay Lemke wrote:
> Going back over some recent posts, I found I'd missed this one from
> I think we all feel inspired by the impulse towards altruism in Luke and
on xmca, including anti-racism, and generally efforts to get past the pervasive
ideologies of our places and times that seem to make some kinds of people count
for more than others, or justify denying them opportunities and even life.
> But I also read sci-fi and watch Trek and a lot of the popular culture
media that present this issue of what it means to be human ... or unfortunately,
I think, its ideological version: who counts as human.
> And the choices offered to us seem too often to be only (a) some more than
others, (b) some do and some don't, or (c) all do equally.
> All of these presuppose that it makes sense to have a category of human in
the first place, and/or for it to be possible to say what the criteria are for
membership. Once we accept that, then it is always possible for someone to
propose, or insist, on their criteria ... even if those criteria are as
liberally broad and inclusive as possible.
> It is the very possibility of defining the category that I think is
dangerous, and does not really make sense.
> And is not equivalent to the traditional humanist meaning of "what is
it to be human?". Because this humanist question is, I think, more or less
Romantic in its intent (even if we can say Socrates/Plato began with a version
of it). It is to ask us to value and inquire into the oddity, the perversity,
the painful and joyful madness of being "truly human". Which does not
mean by category, or by degree, but in terms of a phenomenology of experience.
It is asking what it feels like to be human.
> Racism, and scientific or moral homo sapiens universalism, belong instead
to the categorial ways of looking at human-ness. Simplistic, reductionist,
inevitably normalizing, and always potentially oppressive.
> There is no human race. There is no white or black race. There is no male
or female gender. There is no straight or gay orientation. There are no
Americans or Chinese. There are no Christians or Muslims. There is no English
Language or Spanish Language. There is no working class or ruling class. These
are all dangerous fictions.
> There is human diversity, and diversity of belief, and physiology, and
ways of speaking and desiring. Definable at best by thousands of gradable
features that can and do combine in almost all possible ways, except insofar as
the Category Police try to force some combinations to dominate over all others.
And some features to matter more than others.
> Racism, sexism, homophobia, cultural, linguistic, or religious intolerance
are all forms of our cowardice in the face of the complexity of real human
diversity. And so, I think, also is liberal humanist universalism.
> JAY.
> Steve Gabosch wrote:
>> MIke, your comments about "essentialized racism" got me
thinking about what is racism, and what is meant by "human race."
>> I like to listen to audiobooks while driving and exercising, and
happen to be currently listening to an old "hard" sci fi classic from
1940, Slan, by AE van Vogt. I loved that book as a teenager. A new
"race" of super-smart human telepaths emerges out of the gene pool,
and centuries-long wars, prejudices and misunderstandings ensue. At the root of
this book is that age-old question, asked so often on Star Trek and in much of
the science fiction genre: what does it mean to be human?
>> In terms of "racism," that same age-old question is turned
inside out and put divisively: who truly "belongs" to the human race,
and who doesn't? Who are the full, legitimate citizens, who are the
>> Racism in this sense is asking who has the right to be considered
fully human, who doesn't; who has the right to impose such discriminations,
and who the obligation to submit to them. The answers I believe in are rooted
in humanism: everyone is fully human, no one is not; no one has the right to
impose otherwise, and no one should have to submit to that. And the
revolutionary in me believes no one **should** submit to that.
>> A phrase like "human race" seems natural enough at first
glance, but it contains within it the implication that there are other,
not-so-human kinds of races, whatever they might be. In doing so, it offers a
choice. On one hand, there is racism - discriminating membership status in
terms of a "human" race. Ultimately, it implies, if not openly
advocates, eradicating what is not fully human. On the other hand, there is
humanism, the belief in unconditional human solidarity. It does not merely
imply, but openly states its intention to eradicate racism.
>> From the humanist perspective, as I see it, it is not just that there
is only "one" human race. There is no "race" at all. There
is one and only one "humanity" - be it telepathic, non-telepathic,
racist, humanist, and otherwise.
>> This is my way of putting it, anyway. Others have perhaps better ways
of expressing such sentiments. I very much see a thorough-going humanist,
anti-racist spirit in Allan Luke's paper, and throughout the xmca and
iscar-etc. world, always a cause of inspiration for me.
>> - Steve
>> On Nov 9, 2008, at 9:21 AM, Mike Cole wrote:
>>> Thanks for your summary and comments, Steve. I have been finding
>>> article difficult to grasp as a whole, perhaps because I am
>>> schooled i Bourdieu and his relationship to other contemporary
thinkers and
>>> Marx. If we could get a joint reading of "Forms of
Capital" perhaps it would
>>> help. The use of many hypenated ""-capital that are in
the discussions I
>>> participate in often confuse me as to their (often implicit)
causal claims.
>>> Two, perhaps, useful small comments.
>>> One, I strongly recognized Allan's comment that the use of
colour is "not
>>> the exclusive domain of any particular dominant class or colour of
>>> patriarch, followed by listing of various forms of domination that
>>> among other ways,
>>> ""not just white upon black and brown, but yellow upon
white, black upon
>>> black."
>>> In the Liberia of the 1970's, and I suspect now, color was not
>>> characteristic upon which racism was organized. I was classified
along with
>>> President Tubman using the same term, an amalgam of
"civilized, rich,
>>> powerful, to be feared, etc."
>>> and people from Monrovia spoke of the people among whom I worked
>>> aborigines. I have seen similar phenomena in Japan vis a vis
Koreans and
>>> from Allan's broad experience, he must have seen every
possible combination
>>> of distinction used as a form of essentialized racism.
>>> Second, re school practices that offer solutions. Little to argue
with there
>>> other than the manifest inability to get such an ensemble of
>>> instituted. I can add on practice, however, at an explicitly
>>> school my kids attended. It
>>> was manifested in a producation of the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy
gets blown
>>> out of Kansas a white girl and appears again in Oz as a black
girl, but her
>>> identity has manifestly/symbolically not changed: an explicit,
>>> institutionalize rejection of skin color as a phenotypic marker of
>>> distinction that makes a difference.
>>> Apropos of the enormous challenges remaining after the election
>>> Michael's comments earlier today, a story in the NY Times
today about the
>>> southern state of Alabama explains that many democrats could not
>>> themselves to vote for Obama, although rejecting Bush, as a result
of which
>>> a pretty nasty law forbidding adoption of children by non-married
>>> passed. A great deal has remained the same (ditto here in
>>> including the very important illusion that assembly line workers
at Ford
>>> are, and are supposed to be, part of the middle class.
>>> I hope others will help enlighten me and others concerning the
>>> issues
>>> raised by Allan and your commentary. If you could get folks to
follow you
>>> and lead a discussion of forms of capital, that would be great.
>>> mike
>>> On Sat, Nov 8, 2008 at 9:27 PM, Steve Gabosch
<> wrote:
>>>> I've been reading over and thinking about Allan Luke's
paper, Race and
>>>> Language as Capital in School: A Sociological Template for
>>>> Education Reform, which is posted on the lchc site here:
>>>> I heard Allan speak at an AERA conference a few years ago. He
gave an
>>>> impressive talk and was well-received. Wikipedia has a little
article on
>>>> him here:
>>>> Luke's paper discusses how to view, critique and
synthesize a variety of
>>>> existing strategies to end racial and linguistic
discrimination in the
>>>> school systems, using Bourdieu's concepts of habitus,
capital, and field.
>>>> First, a little on the theory behind the paper. My take on
>>>> analytical framework goes in two directions.
>>>> On one hand, I like aspects of the way Luke uses the concepts
of habitus
>>>> and capital to describe issues of racial and linguistic
discrimination, and
>>>> strategies to overcome it in the school setting. He uses
these concepts in
>>>> ways that reveal **descriptive** and **analytical* power when
looking at
>>>> the the individual and intersubjective levels of racism and
>>>> repression, and they prove useful to him when he generalizes
about different
>>>> strategies to overcome discrimination, oppression and cultural
repression in
>>>> the classroom.
>>>> On the other hand, I see problems with the concepts of habitus
and capital
>>>> to the extent they are used as more than just metaphors and
are mistaken for
>>>> having sociological **explanatory** power. I suppose this is
a kind of "the
>>>> emperor has no clothes" kind of perspective on my part,
but I'll take the
>>>> risk and be blunt: Bourdieu's theory of social and
cultural capital strikes
>>>> me as little more than offering new terms and metaphors to
describe things,
>>>> but not explain them. In other words, while his theory about
"capital" adds
>>>> some new ideas on how to do the "what does it look
like" side of analysis
>>>> and description, it adds little or nothing on the "why
does this or that
>>>> happen" side.
>>>> Perhaps Luke's paper and his use of the concept of
cultural and social
>>>> capital could spark a discussion of Bourdieu's article
"Forms of Capital"
>>>> sometime. I have some thoughts on something I think I see
Bourdieu doing.
>>>> I see him **compressing** together different levels of
reality, such as the
>>>> socio-economic, the socio-cultural, and
cultural-psychological, thereby
>>>> losing a handle on the generative/emergent cause and effect
>>>> between these different integrative levels. These levels
operate under
>>>> different developmental dynamics and time frames - while at
the very same
>>>> time, they interpenetrate and inter-transform one another.
Both of these
>>>> aspects are vital for theorizing, describing, analyzing and
intervening in
>>>> any aspect of social reality.
>>>> What I see Bourdieu as doing has similarities to, but is
different from,
>>>> reductionism. I call it "compressionism." In some
ways, according to a
>>>> view I am developing, compressionism is the opposite of
reductionism. Both
>>>> reductionism and compressionism can offer interesting insights
and metaphors
>>>> in the short term, but both can also quickly become one-sided
>>>> obfuscatory if used mechanically and exclusively. These two
approaches tend
>>>> to overstate one aspect or the other of the complex
relationship between
>>>> integrative levels. The solution must be to see and
understand both
>>>> aspects, and all sides of the thing being investigated.
Compressionism and
>>>> reductionism (and lots of methodological -isms -
>>>> functionalism, relativism, etc.) can be used as helpful tools
for thinking
>>>> and asking questions - but are not so helpful, in my opinion,
when used as
>>>> methods to draw conclusions with.
>>>> Bourdieu's "Forms of Capital" can be found at:
>>>> Now to some commentary on the content of the paper.
>>>> Luke's articulate and potent discussion of discrimination
and oppression
>>>> regarding racism and linguistic repression creates the
impression that an
>>>> explanation is being advanced. But on closer examination, I
don't see an
>>>> explanation in this paper. Just a description. And a solid,
outspoken one,
>>>> may I add, which I appreciate. This is perfectly okay -
science is about
>>>> both explanation and description.
>>>> Luke applies his descriptive framework to various strategies
that are being
>>>> tried in various schools to overcome aspects of
discrimination. He analyzes
>>>> each approach in terms of habitus, which I found interesting.
>>>> descriptive power leads to sharper analysis, which leads to
>>>> questions, which leads to deeper explanations, so this is a
good road.
>>>> Generally speaking, the concepts of habitus and what could be
>>>> metaphorically called "personal capital" seem to
help fill a need in our
>>>> language to point to and describe, in precise terms, an
>>>> accumulated and practiced cultural and historical connections.
 I am
>>>> thinking that once we get clearer on the explanatory
limitations of these
>>>> concepts, we can better harness their descriptive strengths.
Luke offers
>>>> examples of how to effectively use these descriptive strengths
in his paper.
>>>> I'll finish up my little commentary on Luke's paper by
quoting snippets
>>>> from his summary of suggested solutions. Luke is offering
some interesting
>>>> ideas for synthesizing a variety of approaches into something
he calls a
>>>> "whole-school" approach. Many ideas I have heard on
xmca, at AERA
>>>> conferences, etc. are contained in this summary.
>>>> a) ... recognise and evaluate the cultural capital that
students bring to
>>>> school.
>>>> b) Change the lingua franca of the school field: depending
upon community
>>>> and student aspirations, it would provide a balanced program
of English as a
>>>> Second Language and/or bilingual program ...
>>>> c) Change the regulative rules of interaction in the school
field: ...
>>>> complement and reflect student cultural and community
practices of exchange
>>>> and gifting, paralinguistics and gesture and turn-taking.
>>>> d) Revise the curriculum ...
>>>> e) ... engage students with a broad analysis of how social
>>>> discriminate, their rules of exchange, and who they
historically have
>>>> included and excluded.
>>>> f) Remake teacher habitus ...
>>>> - Steve
>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>> xmca mailing list
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
>> _______________________________________________
>> xmca mailing list

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Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:

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