The Problems with Inclusion and Diversity

From Racheal Rieder’s “Strategies of Containment” in the minnesota review n.s. 61-62 (2004):

“Inclusion” is such a dangerous word, and I would encourage you to generate alternatives to it: resistance, dissent. . . . The communities that I move through—gay or queer communities, communities of people with disabilities, and others—are constantly hearing, these days, about inclusion: neoliberal and corporate boosters have figured out that “including” us is a way to contain us, to dilute our critiques, to transform us into window dressing or entertainment in the world of “happy family multiculturalism” that corporate elites have planned for the future. (Letter to Students)

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In classrooms, public spaces, and residential halls, voices, identities, questions and dissent are ignored, explained away, or dismissed as “youthful idealism.” In the case of the PSU, questions that undergraduate students posed to the university administration about working conditions on campus were ignored, put off, or violently eviscerated by smooth rhetoric of experienced administrators. When inclusion failed to work as a strategy of containment, the state was called in.

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Second, they were a threat because of what they said. They introduced an economic argument into university space. By protesting the contingent, replaceable, low-paid status of adjunct faculty and service workers, the students challenged the university’s separation of diversity from economic policies. As Lisa Duggan suggests in Twilight of Equality, diversity is designed to give the appearance of a new freedom and tolerance, but disguises the economic objectives of neoliberalism, which is the upward mobility of capital. Neoliberalism promotes tolerance and inclusion, emphasizing identity politics or rights-based groups that engage language of equality through reform rather than more radical critiques which argue for downward redistribution of “money, political power, cultural capital, pleasure, and freedom” (xviii).

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These events signal a new phase in the university that is part of wider neoliberal moment to achieve upward redistribution of capital by imposing a shared identity, and by bringing the force of the state to control bodies and voices that will not be subject to this shared identity. What kind of political movement can be constructed as an alternative to the authorized notion of diversity?

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