Outline of "Social Difference as a Political Resource"

(Chapter 3 of Iris Marion Young's Inclusion and Democracy, Oxford University Press, 2000)

After you have read this outline, click here (or at end of outline) to go Young's own text.

Note: This chapter draws on the work of various philosophers and social theorists, some of whom we studied in detail (e.g., Charles Taylor) and some of whom we just didn't have time to read even though they are very important (e.g., John Rawls and Jurgen Habermas). The chapter is long but once you get into it I think you will find it's rather elegantly written. For our purposes, sections 3, 4, and 5 (pp. 92-108) seem most relevant but you may find other parts of the chapter useful for your term paper. Prof. David Ingram of the Loyola philosophy department made an outline of the chapter for his own use which he has offered to share with us. It's provided below with a few modifications by Tom Wren. As you can see, the outline is more detailed at the beginning, which is good since after you get into the chapter too much detail would be distracting. Also, although I hope you don't skip sections 1-2, if time does not allow you to read those sections you should at least look at the outline before you plunge into section 3.

0. Opening Remarks (81)

Critics wrongly charge that the politics of difference reduces to a self-interested form of "Me First" identity politics because the politics of difference (allegedly)

Chapter 3 is a sustained argument against these charges.

1. Critique of a Politics of Difference (83)

Young discusses the following three criticisms of the politics of difference:

Young counters: Only a politics of difference provides possibility for achieving objective, public discussion of real differences, rooted in structural inequalities and (sometimes) cultural conflicts involving identity politics and misrecognition of others.

2. Social Difference is not Identity

Main argument: A true politics of difference does not take the form of a politics of group identity, which is a conceptually flawed notion, since members of groups do not share essential, distinguishing characteristics in common. Hence, a politics of difference does not play off one group's insular identity-based interests against similar identity-based interests of other groups. Although a kind of non-essentializing "identity politics" is possible (involving the repudiation of negative stereotypes, the creation of solidarity through exchange of common narratives, and the struggle to maintain contain control over one's culture as exemplified in the struggle of indigenous peoples), most politics of difference is really about rectifying structural (not cultural) injustices.

Sub-arguments: Social differences are about structural positions, not identities. Members classified as belonging to a group do not all identify with one another or the group. If they do identify with the group, it is often for many different reasons; and members typically identify with many different groups, in sometimes conflicting ways (as do the offspring of mixed black/white ancestry).

Social groups, as distinct from voluntary associations, are formed by structural relations that precede the birth of their individual members, constrain their life options independently of their members' free choice, and position their members in relationships of hierarchy/dominance with respect to members of other groups. Cultural relations are but one -- and seldom the most important -- type of structural relation, and are typically interwoven with more significant economic and political relations.

3. Structural Difference and Inequality (92)

Definition of social structure (as distinct from culture): "... a multidimensional space of differentiated social positions...." (Blau, 94)

Definition of structural social group: ". . . a group of persons who are similarly positioned in interactive and institutional relations that condition their opportunities and life prospects . . ." (Young, 97).

Note: Although Young distinguishes them conceptually, structural social groups can overlap with cultural groups (as in the case of indigenous peoples). However, not all cultural group differences imply structural group differences (witness the structural parity of religious groups in the US over the last 30 years). Furthermore, many structural differences have no corresponding cultural differences (witness the structural disadvantages born of disability -- the notable exception being Deaf Culture).

Examples of structural differences: the gendered division of labor (93); wage labor/capital structure (95), racial segregation (96)

4. Social Groups and Personal Identity (98)

Persons have identities, not groups. Persons make their own identities, but not under conditions they choose. Social positioning, however, does not determine a person's identity, since persons occupy multiple social positions vis-a-vis gender, sexual orientation, class, race, (dis)ability, age, etc. There is no such thing as an "'authentic" identity that a person must or should share with members of some group to which s/he identifies or is classified as belonging to.

5. What is and is not Identity Politics (102)

Identity Politics: Combating negative stereotypes and striving for a sense of political purpose and solidarity; less clearly, the recovery and preservation of one's culture except when such recovery and preservation is thwarted because of social intolerance and political oppression, lack of access to educational curricula that portray the culture in question in positive and meaningful ways, and lack of access to media and other institutional resources necessary for maintaining it.

HOWEVER: contrary to critics of the politics of difference, most political conflicts between groups revolve around questions of justice that DO NOT MAINLY involve cultural misrecognition. Claims to cultural recognition, when they are made, are often aimed at rectifying injustices in the distribution of resources and in power sharing -- typically addressing structural inequalities.

6. Communication across Difference in Public Judgment (108)

Difference, Civility, and Political Co-operation (108)

Difference and the Public (111)

Difference, Knowledge, and Objectivity (112)

From Obstacle to Resource (115)

Now that you have read the outline, please click here to go to the full text of "Social Difference as a Political Resource."