The colonial roots of the modernist framework of free speech is embedded in hegemonic constructions of civility.
Inherent historically in the idea of free speech is the marking of communicative space, shaped in the ambits of colonial power.
Free speech and colonialism are co-constitutive.
The freedom to speak historically belonged to the White colonial master, even as the colonized were systematically and often violently erased from the spaces and sites of articulation. Marked as the “other” of civility, the colonized belonged outside the public sphere, outside the domains of civil society.
White colonial societies reproduced the image of the primitive savage to erase colonized voices even as they celebrated emancipatory ideas of free speech.
The freedom of speech thus was a privilege of White colonialists while colonized savages, the other of modernity, were systematically erased from spaces of participation. As colonized voices started emerging in resistance, the colonialists reproduced laws of sedition that marked the colonized as terrorist, as threat to the security of the colonial occupation. This communicative inversion is fundamental to the modernist production of free speech.
The White colonial history of free speech continues to play out in contemporary contexts of settler colonialism and indigenous resistance to settler colonialism.
While indigenous resistance that fundamentally resists ongoing forms of colonial occupation continue to be marked as criminal, White colonialists deploy the trope of free speech to denigrate indigenous culture, language, and ways of life. Inherent in the deployment of free speech is the play of power.
This interplay of free speech and White settler colonialism is in display in the recent unfolding of the free speech debate at Massey University.
When the Massey University Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas cancelled a speaking event by the opposition politician Don Brash citing concerns over security, the University came under attack for the apparent violation of the principle of free speech.
In her response, Professor Thomas reiterated the security concerns for the University, and also noted:
“Mr Brash’s leadership of Hobson’s Pledge and views he and its supporters espoused in relation to Māori wards on councils was clearly of concern to many staff, particularly Māori staff…In my opinion, the views expressed by members of Hobson’s Pledge come dangerously close to hate speech. They are certainly not conducive with the university’s strategy of recognising the values of a Tiriti o Waitangi-led organisation.”
Subsequently, internal emails secured through the Official Information Act by blogger David Farrar seem to suggest that Thomas didn’t want “a Te Tiriti led university be seen to be endorsing racist behaviours.”
Social media responses in the White mainstream reiterate the free speech rhetoric to demand the resignation of the Vice Chancellor.
Many academics, once again mostly White, and ensconced in White colonial privilege, are upset about this violation of free speech.
Essential to this culture of White colonial performance of free speech is the erasure of questions of power and colonialism.
That the freedom of White colonialists to reproduce settler colonial depictions of indigenous people as backward is fundamentally a form of violence that violates the basic right to dignity of colonized peoples offers a very different anchor to the free speech conversation.
The privilege to speak freely is precisely the trope through which White settler colonialists continue to assert their racist power of erasure.
As inequalities have grown globally, global elites (the 1%) and their academic mouthpieces respond to the growing public anger about inequalities by issuing calls for societal transformation.
They inform us, inequalities are rising and that’s a problem (just as they profit from these inequalities).
The urgent need for transformation in the individual mindset is the call of the hour.
They appeal to our consience, suggesting a much needed transformation in our beliefs and attitudes is needed to address global inequality.
Appeals for addressing inequality are rife with narratives of kindness, heartfulness, caring, and compassion.
Elite media are rife with stories of inequality, often hidden behind a paywall. They document different aspects of inequalities and then present expert voices pontificating on the trends in inequalities.
Elites urge “greater attention needs to be paid to inequality.”
Now that elites have declared inequality is a trend for concern, academic mouthpieces jump onto the bandwagon. New talks, discussion forums, exhibitions, and closed door meetings are organized on solving the problem of inequality. Academics looking for funding are given a new problem to work on.
The sort of transformation urged by these elites however is very much a perpetuation of the neoliberal status quo, urging for greater empathy toward the underserved segments of society. It is the responsibility of the individual to feel empathy, to develop a heart, and to rise up to the challenges of giving to the needy.
The solution to inequality therefore is the cultivation of heart among the bourgeoisie and the power elite.
Elite audiences are urged to respond with feelings.
The often-used missionary rhetoric of “lifting the burden of the soul” is scripted into the empathy narrative.
Images, stories, voices are catalyzed by the elite to generate empathy.
An entire array of market-based tools then are promoted by the inequality industry in solving the problem of inequality, all directed toward cultivating individual empathy.
As a “communicative inversion” (Dutta, 2016), the seduction of empathy keeps intact the neoliberal status quo while at the same time offering a narrative of transformation.
While individual behaviors are targeted, the overarching structures are kept intact. This is the fundamental paradox of the inequality industry.
The feel good talk perpetuated by the industry calling for urgent societal response leaves intact the fundamental inequalities in distribution of power, opportunities for impacting policy, voice, and material distribution of resources.
That the vast concentration of resources in the hands of the power elite is the fundamental problem underlying global inequalities is inverted, instead presenting the 1% as the panacea to the problem of inequality.
CARE is delighted to share our upcoming collaborations with activists-in-residence.
In the month of October, we will be welcoming two activists who will collaborate with the Center on re-imagining academic-activist linkages and the fake news challenge to democracy.
During their time with CARE, the activists-in-residence will deliver a public talk, conduct a workshop on a method of social change communication, and collaborate with the CARE team on developing a white paper.
The activist-in-residence program at CARE brings in an activist to spend a few months (between 1 and 6 months) in conversation with a specific project or a series of projects at CARE, resulting in publications of white papers, policy briefs, media interventions, and advocacy strategies. In addition, the activist-in-residence offers workshops and interaction sessions on communication strategies for creating social justice anchors. The community of activists-in-residence return for dialogues on sustainable strategies for structural transformation, methods of community organizing, and tactics of communication interventions that resist structures.
Drawing on CARE projects across Asia-Pacific and the US, the activist-in-residence program seeks to create an infrastructure for global networks of transformative politics.
Please watch this space for more information and further updates.
Starting June 13, 2018, the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) moved to Massey University in New Zealand. Working across collaborations on the three campuses of Massey, CARE looks forward to extending its ongoing work on imagining health, wellbeing and social justice to the flows and movements across the Asia-Pacific. Particularly salient in the next phase of CARE is the exploration of the ways in which creating infrastructures for communication and voice at the margins in the global South offer discursive and material resources for disrupting the local-regional-global threats to human health, wellbeing, and ecosystems.
Theorizing local-global linkages
The ongoing work of CARE with migrant workers, indigenous communities, refugees, farmers, laborers, and communities living in poverty across Asia and the US will join in solidarity with upcoming projects at the Center that seek to theorize marginalization and social change in/from the Pacific. In this next stage of CARE, particularly salient will be the building of academic-activist collaborative research platforms that seek to intervene into the various contexts of local-regional-global marginalization to co-create anchors for local-global social justice. The Center’s objective of theorizing culturally situated communicative processes of structural transformation will seek new contextual anchors that support the development of globally relevant lessons for communication and social change.
Ongoing CARE Interventions in Asia and the U.S.
The various forms of community-grounded and community-led CARE interventions in Asia and the U.S. will continue to be sustained by our global networks of advisory group members, community activists, community peer leaders, community researchers, and community advocates. Community-wide meetings, workshops, and grassroots democracy initiatives will serve as the anchors for the various social justice research projects and advocacy interventions in the communities where CARE has been working over the last several years. Whereas many of these projects are over two decades old, others have been created over the past two-three years. The sustainability of these projects draws from the hard work, continued involvement, and strategies of creative resistance that are envisioned by community members. That human rights form the foundations of health is a theme that will continue to be put forth across these projects, with project advocacy and activist interventions seeking to build communicative infrastructures for the voices of the margins.
Activist-academia Research Platforms for Advocacy
With over 30 projects that span seven countries, in its next phase, the academic-activist-community platforms of CARE will serve as the bases for research platforms for advocacy in the Asia-pacific and globally. CARE’s innovations with activist-in-residence programs, activist-academic roundtables and workshops, and academia-activism dialogues serve as the bases for the next stage of activism-driven research platforms across the Asia and Pacific. Specifically drawing on our ongoing research on sex work and poverty, the Center will begin with building activist-academia research platforms in these two areas.
In upcoming projects, CARE will seek academic-activist-community partnerships that offer insights into the communicative processes of marginalization that threaten human health, the specific pathways through which communicative inequalities constitute health inequalities, and the role of communication as a transformative tool for addressing structural inequalities. The goal of theorizing communicative processes around marginalization is ultimately to contribute to activist practices that intervene into social injustices globally.
NCA Opening Session: Putting Bodies on the Line and Words into Action – Celebrating the Joys of, Challenges in, and Opportunities for Civic Engagement
Professor Mohan J Dutta has received the 2015 International Communication Association (ICA) Applied/Public Policy Research Award. This award honors a scholar or group of researchers who have produced a systematic body of research in communication studying a particular applied or policy problem for the betterment of society. The award is a recognition of Prof. Dutta’s decade-long collaborations with marginalized communities in developing the culture-centered approach as a framework for addressing needs voiced by members of marginalized communities, for developing participatory processes for structural transformation through grassroots-driven advocacy, for fostering communication infrastructures for listening to community voices, and for co-constructing knowledge claims from the global margins. Under the umbrella of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) that he directs at NUS, Dutta has developed partnerships with communities that work toward addressing locally articulated and contextually constituted solutions such as building cultural resources of health and wellbeing, building healthcare services, building locally-based agricultural systems rooted in indigenous knowledge, developing culturally-centered communication campaigns, and creating policy advocacy tools that center the voices of marginalized community members in policy spaces.
Our director, Prof Mohan Dutta, has written an op-ed piece featured on The Straits Times which talks about what inspired him to attain this spirit of always questioning and going back to the evidence, however incomplete or uncertain. He feels that the language of science is being used to shut out conversations or to push notions of development rather than creating a space to question any assumptions and beliefs on the basis of evidence.
“To question means to hold our existing values and beliefs to scrutiny. The spirit of scienceis also public, subjecting scientific claims to public deliberation and examination. Thus, transparency and debate are two key elements of the scientific process.”
Follow the article through this link.
Influencers. A new community of people on social media that has taken the online world by storm and creating a whole new phenomenon, especially with the recent online spat between Xiaxue and Gushcloud. In this article, Prof Mohan gives his opinion on this concept and how it has changed the current digital climate. Follow the link below to read more on this story.