Stephane Beaud Sociologist, professor at Sciences-Po Lille (1) Gerard Noiriel Historian, emeritus director of studies at EHESS (1) Magali BessonePhilosopher Researcher in political science, Julien talpinco-director of GIS Democracy and Participation
Class, gender, race: shouldn’t the fights converge instead of prioritizing them, or even opposing them?
Stéphane Beaud and Gérard Noiriel The whole difficulty of the exercise aimed at answering this question is that it closely mixes two registers: the “political” and the “scientific”. On the one hand, the necessities of the political struggle mean that activists and elected officials of the left today tend to ask themselves practical questions, inherent in the political field, in particular to understand why, in this camp, the “fights” are raging around. of the class-race-gender triptych. Given the strength of the mobilizations around issues of race (struggles against racial discrimination, Adama committee, etc.) and gender (MeToo movement), the political agenda on the agenda for the “forces of progress ”, historically opposed to the capitalist mode of production, will be centered on this politically urgent question:“ How to get out of this trap (of division) which only weakens our struggles? On the other hand, social science researchers by definition pose other types of questions. Their main stake is that of problematization, that is to say the need to reformulate in scientific terms questions that arise in the social and political world. They do so by relying on the tradition of the “social sciences”, in particular that, solid, of historical and ethnological research, affecting several countries or geographical areas. In this context, the scientific question posed by the current class-gender-race debate is, in our view, that of the historical constitution of the identities of individuals. Social science researchers will in their respective work adjust their categories of analysis on a case-by-case basis, favoring those which appear to them to be the most relevant according to the social and historical configurations studied.Magali Bessone “I always tell you the same thing because it’s always the same thing; if it wasn’t always the same thing, I wouldn’t always tell you the same thing “ : these words of Pierrot at the beginning of act II of Dom juan of Molière come to the mind of anyone who has to explain their use of the concepts of gender or race, without quotes, since what is designated is the social relation, to identify certain mechanisms of inequality which cannot be taken into account. the exclusive use of the concept of class. It is both dumbfounding and boring that such a simple process meets such strong and continuous opposition. Feminist and anti-racist analyzes and strategies do not claim to eliminate socio-economic class relations in the description and evaluation of the social world; it is a question of building a more complex, more detailed, more operational explanatory matrix to identify the multiple factors of inequalities, to understand their relationships and co-constructions, and, ultimately, to help eliminate them, so that our real world is more compliant. to the ideal of “freedom, equality, fraternity” for all that we proclaim. As such, it is important to be able to say, for example, that patriarchy, the socio-political system which organizes oppression on the grounds of gender, has an economic basis, the domestic mode of production, which itself involves class and race in the performance and delegation of certain tasks, as Caroline Ibos showed in Who will look after our children?(Flammarion, 2012). Or that the emergence of capitalism, a socio-economic system that organizes oppression on the grounds of class, is closely linked to slavery, “Economic category of the highest importance”, according to Karl Marx (Misery of philosophy) . In its colonial form, which we inherit, it has also been a system of hierarchization and racial oppression based on the violent exploitation of the wombs of women. Could it be possible that, like Charlotte, to whom Pierrot addresses, those who consider class as a category? sufficient of social justice – which amounts to making certain effects of injustice invisible – deliberately evade their own ambiguity?Julien talpin The opposition between race and class does not make sense. And she is sterile. “Origin-related discrimination”, as the Defender of Rights calls it, or ethno-racial discrimination have very concrete effects, including on what is generally understood by class relations, especially in the workspace. One cannot understand, for example, why some undocumented workers are paid less than other workers. The chibanis of the SNCF, whose case ended up in court, had a derogatory status, linked to their status as foreigners, but also, as shown by the work that has been devoted to this story, due to discrimination racial. Racial issues like gender issues have a very direct impact on the possibilities of social advancement, on professional opportunities, without ever being exclusive, of course. There is no need neither from a political point of view nor from a scientific point of view to prioritize. This is not what will really allow us to better understand the processes of domination. All the work of social sciences shows it: to understand the processes of domination, the class alone is not enough. There is hardly any debate about the field of social sciences. The debate arises when we want to prioritize. What is important is to understand the articulations, the specific experiences of domination, useful from an analytical but also political point of view. This is the whole point of the notion of intersectionality.
Are anti-racist and feminist struggles as well as research on minority categories really supplanting the class? How did we get them to oppose?
Stéphane Beaud and Gérard Noiriel In France today, the worsening of social and spatial segregation, the negative discrimination affecting a not insignificant fraction of the children of postcolonial immigration as well as the difficulties by the left parties to take charge politically these problems have contributed well logically to promote analyzes and struggles based on the criterion of race. But the primacy accorded to this category of analysis in a growing number of research works has gradually appeared to us to have an increasing cost for sociological analysis. Exit the other components of the social identity of individuals, forgotten social class, minimized the question of social conditions of existence, obscured the accumulation of inequalities of all kinds caused in the regime of shareholder capitalism by the distribution more and more violently inegalitarianism of what was once called “surplus value”, a movement which closely matches the structural weakening of the popular classes. It remains that it seems rather incongruous to reproach us for obscuring the race for the benefit of the class. Indeed, a large part of our respective work – in particular Chocolate and the France of the Belhoumi– precisely focused on this “class-race” interlacing. A single example, the book Chocolate(2), from material that is partly archival but also nourished by the reading of the great black American novelists (Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, etc.), explores, throughout the life of this clown son of Cuban slaves, the way in which his various identities – “black”, “farm worker” then “artist”, “husband”, “father”, “stateless in France”, etc. – were built and intertwined.
Julien talpin I don’t think there is opposition. Minority, feminist and anti-racist movements are reinventing class mobilizations. Take, for example, some of the social or class struggles of recent years: the mobilization of McDonald’s employees, that of chambermaids and hotel staff. These popular classes are often women, black, Arab, from immigrant backgrounds. The treatment they undergo and their working conditions are not the only fact of their condition of exploited employees. We are here in the presence of social struggles led by actresses and minority actors. We cannot understand either the dominations they experience or the conditions of their domination by taking into account only the class factor, even though it obviously matters. In recent years, we have rather witnessed a convergence of struggles than an opposition. Between the yellow vests, the Adama committee, the climate movement as well as in the fight against police violence.
How to get out of this trap which only weakens our knowledge and our struggles?
Magali Bessone One of two things: either we are really concerned with struggling together to transform the world – and the task of researchers is to produce a lucid diagnosis of the dynamics of exploitation and domination through objectification, conceptual precision, investigation and measurement. In which case, why would feminist, anti-racist, decolonial or intersectional studies constitute, in principle, an obstacle? In the same way as studies on the working-class world or on the bourgeoisie, they participate in this diagnosis by pooling questions and knowledge on different subjects and complementary. Either we consider that class is the determining category capable of understanding and encompassing all social inequalities, when race or gender designate particularisms. But we thus condemn ourselves to singularly impoverish the description and the intelligence of the mechanisms that we propose to reveal, we caricature, we exclude, we play one cleavage against another. However, as evidenced by the popular success of the recent series Lupine, which highlights the diversity and fluidity of social relations of crossed domination, we are ready: contrary to the reluctance of certain university analyzes, it is time to dare to bet for the construction of transversal coalitions (3).
Julien talpin It is a fact that the left is weakened, but we cannot say that the left parties have weakened because they have invested too much in gender or identity issues. It is to have turned away from the social question which has cost them dearly. Nothing prevents us from jointly defending policies of racial, sexual and social equality. It emanates from my field of investigation in working-class neighborhoods a strong demand on economic and social questions on the part of the inhabitants, who are often tired of being referred to their origins or to Islam. They frequently have the feeling that these identity controversies that are imposed on them, on the veil, halal, etc., help to mask the real social problems of inequalities and discrimination. It is not the anti-racist movements that divert social questions, but much more polemicists like Eric Zemmour or the government who focus the public debate on identity questions. Defending anti-discrimination policies, far from racializing the social issue, could, conversely, help de-racialize it. In all cases, the stake is equality, in all its forms. This could perhaps constitute an agenda for the forces of the left. Rather than making the racial issue invisible to focus on social issues, why not try (a little) to resolve the first one and (finally) move on?