28 February 2017

The Haliburton School

“THIS FIRST QUESTION IMMEDIATELY leads to a second, which concerns the “neutrality” of the public space and the presence at its heart of marks of identity, and thus marks of social, cultural, and more fundamentally anthropological difference. Here again, allegedly self-evident and natural thresholds turn out upon examination to be wholly conventional, which also means shot through with strategies and norms, with relations of forces among groups, subjectivities, and powers, dictating the very meaning of the categories “public” and “private.” This is why we should not be surprised by the rise of discussions about the length (and very existence) of beards, nor by the comparison of the problems of propriety raised by the veil and the thong, nor by proposals to reestablish uniforms, nostalgically evoking the republican school of the nineteenth century and classic utopian models for representing the citizen—the unity of the two coming from the fact that the school has always furnished the privileged place for implementing utopias of citizenship. And we should not be surprised that, in the sudden emergence of trouble in the relations between representation and publicity, religion (belief, communitarianism, subjectivation) and sexuality (the ultimate but “obscene” anchoring point of controls and the school (particularly the public school, detached from the family and reattached to the state, above parties and governments) is essentially a place of transition between the space of private existence and the existence of public space—but one legally situated within the public space itself. This imposes contradictory imperatives between which it must negotiate. The school must be a closed space, but one in which information and representatives from the outside circulate. The school must prepare (and thus anticipate, simulate) the relativization of social belonging, beliefs, and ideologies in order to facilitate individuals’ entrance into the political sphere, citizenship; it thus has to virtually detach individuals from their primary identities (which is in fact a very violent process—a sort of dismemberment, a separation from their identities, that then ideally allows them to reclaim these identities, but from the distance implied by the primacy of the second, common political identity). But the school must also give individuals the means to represent their ideologies and belongings in political life, though without itself being political, that is, without speaking the language of politics except indirectly and metaphorically (through history, literature, philosophy). Holding these contradictory imperatives together, and a fortiori “holding them together in an egalitarian way, would evidently require highly favorable circumstances. It can be expected that practice approaches them only very incompletely, or attains them only at the price of successive conflicts (which it is just what is happening at the moment). What is demanded of the school is not that it simply be “neutral” like the state, but that it carry out a neutralization or constitute an additional neutrality between two non-neutral spaces—what we call “private” and “public”—in a way that avoids confusing them.”
—Étienne Balibar “Equaliberty: Political Essays

No comments: