Internal Exclusion…

Iris Young makes the simple but critical point that for the marginalized admission into democratic institutions provides no guarantee of inclusion into democratic processes. Indeed, such admittance may signal a deeper and more insidious form of domination.

Though formally included in a forum or process, people may find that their claims are not taken seriously and may believe that they are not treated with equal respect. The dominant mood may find their ideas or modes of expression silly or simple, and not worthy of consideration. They may find that their experiences as relevant to the issues under discussion are so different from others’ in the public that their views are discounted. I call these familiar experiences internal exclusion, because they concern ways that people lack effective opportunity to influence the thinking of others even when they have access to fora and procedures of decision-making.

Iris Young, Inclusion and Democracy, p. 55.

Internal exclusion is chronically under-appreciated and Young claims that the fault  for this rests in part on the theoretic privileging of rational, dispassionate argumentation, convergences of understanding, and isolated centres of deliberation. Once we admit the problem, Young contends, we can expand our conception of communication to include all the supporting practices and locations of mutual acknowledgement (what Young calls ‘greeting’), rhetorical appeals aimed at understanding, and narrative. In the end, the difference that is permitted to express itself in the public sphere represents not an obstacle but a democratic resource for promoting justice.

If I could add anything to Young’s profoundly insightful points, it would be to caution against the assumption that admitting a greater diversity of communicative practices necessarily leads to a more inclusive public life. It seems reasonable to suggest that a greater diversity of modes of communication would engender a greater diversity of meanings, but only if we follow a semantic interpretation of linguistic communication according to which the meaning of an utterance is located in the utterance itself. Yet as Young has made clear in her arguments for the necessity of ‘greeting’ and ‘care for bodies’ in productive deliberation, the meaning of speech is generated by much more than its set of symbols and representations.

I would go so far as to propose that we abandon altogether any model of communicative meaning which subordinates ‘care for bodies’ to argument, offering instead that the meaning of utterances, including rhetoric and narrative, are  derivative of the immediate pragmatic, affective and embodied context. The meaning of a word is not located in the word itself (semantics), or even in the word given a certain context (pragmatics), but rather, in the context within which are words are uttered. Argument, then, plays a supporting role in articulating the meanings already present and unfolding within bodily interactions. On this account, internal exclusion works by allowing marginalized groups to say whatever they want while removing the conditions that render those utterances meaningful. Accordingly, deepening democracy requires that we attend to the contexts which occur beyond and before discourse.