A case against the ideal of universal citizenship and just science

Iris Young, in her chapter, “Polity and Group Difference”, from her book Throwing Like a Girl, examines society’s baseline assumption that “modern political thought generally,” assumes that the universality of, “citizenship status transcends particularity and difference” (Young, 1990, 114). Given that modern society has (over time) awarded full citizenship status (here read as equal political and civil rights) to all groups, why do we still see inequality and consequently oppression (ibid. 114)? Young postulates that this inequality still exists due to the irreconcilability of the specificity of groups trying to align with established assimilated norms of citizenship. And, unless you are a member of the group which created the assimilated norms, you cannot, metaphorically speaking, cross the river. To cross over suggests different types of groups (women, blacks, American Indians, Hispanic, elderly) must change holistically to create the homogeneity (historically – white bourgeoisie male) required for assimilation. And how does this idea of citizenship and assimilated norms impact science and the development of new knowledge? In Flint, we can see that the maldistribution of clean water was exacerbated by an extreme injustice of misrecognition – particularly among the poor and minority population of the city. These people should be heard by those in power (government) and those with authority to influence government decisions (scientists/engineers). They can and should identify data and create knowledge which has a direct impact on mitigating any negative risk brought upon them. In her essay, “The Five Faces of Oppression”, Young says that, “social justice requires not the melting away of differences, but institutions that promote reproduction of and respect for group difference without oppression” (Young, 1998, 94).  So what are these institutions and how can they help bring participatory parity? As a STS community we need to ask ourselves, how should scientists and engineers engage effectively with a community such as Flint? How can they educate and inform a community and what (metrics) would we use to know if that community was indeed informed? What is the approach for these two entities (science and society) to achieving a shared understanding.

Young, Iris. (1990). Polity and Group Difference: A critique of the Ideal of Universal Citizenship. (I. Young). Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays in Feminist Philosophy and Social Theory. (pp.114-137). Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Young, Iris. (1998). Five Faces of Oppression. In A.E. Cud and R.O. Andreasen, eds., Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

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2 Replies to “A case against the ideal of universal citizenship and just science”

  1. Young raises some very good points. American’s like to say we are the melting pot, but in reality we are the WASP molders. Give us your tired, your poor and hungry and we will turn them into white Anglo-Saxon protestants (at least in civic ideology). That process worked for many immigrants in the 20th century, which is why it still has traction in the 21st century. The GOP makes it one of their major political planks in their platform every four years. But, Young reminds us that the process also leaves most behind. It strips us of our native culture, except for that one heritage day a year. And, more to the point, less diversity means less effective decision making. Maybe a good case in point is the failed GOP Obama-care repeal and replace. It was mostly done behind closed doors with little input. That’s not how the original ACA was passed and it had just as many hurdles then. But, it also had a diversity of opinions that went into the final draft. What is the power of diversity? It’s the advantage of having a point of view different from the elite male WASP. Trumpcare seems all elite male WASP. American exceptionalism and the belief in dominating nature creates bad health and science policy and it’s also a bad way to do science.

  2. Great!

    One of the questions that came up for me while reading your post is: “Is there a role STS scholars can play to promote participatory parity in science-making and the development of science-based public policy?” I wonder what you think about this. I would love to hear your (and others’) thoughts.

    I am also interested in asking questions about how scientists and engineers (perhaps STS scholars too!) can become “educable” by members of the public. I realize that experts’ concerns often center on how professionals can educate “the public,” but I feel that the opposite (i.e., how “the public” can educate professionals) is an equally important, if not more challenging, question. What might be the social implications of routinely asking only the former question and not the latter? What would need to change in dominant professional mindsets to routinely ask both questions together? What might be the social/institutional implications of doing that?

    The quote you highlight from Young (“social justice requires not the melting away of differences, but institutions that promote reproduction of and respect for group difference without oppression”) is one I find very powerful. Thanks for bringing it into your posting. Lots of work ahead of us to get to this ideal!

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