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  • Inclusion and the Cultivation of Responsiveness
  • Jacob Schiff (bio)

Political inclusion has been the subject of much recent controversy.* Public debates about rogue states, terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism have highlighted controversial questions about the appropriate shape and scope of the global community. The domestic politics of many countries have been galvanized by concerns over illegal immigration. In this paper I articulate and problematize a presupposition that remains untheorized in such conversations: Inclusive politics depends upon the cultivation among members of any community-to-come of a practically meaningful sense of connection to one another. I call that sense of connection “responsiveness.” Responsiveness entails the acknowledgment of practically meaningful connections between our everyday experiences and the often-distant experiences of others.

In the first part of this paper I show how two recent contributions to democratic and cosmopolitan theory presuppose, and fail to problematize, responsiveness. Then I develop that concept in conversation with William Connolly and Patchen Markell. While Connolly intends responsiveness to loosen our judgments of responsibility, I show that it implicates a much broader range of connections to others. And while Markell turns our attention to the problem of acknowledgment,1 the object of Markellian acknowledgment—our ontological condition, especially our finitude—seems too underspecified to have much practical bite. For me, the relevant objects of acknowledgment are the diverse ways in which we are or might be connected to others.

Inclusion presupposes responsiveness, but responsiveness is not just there—it is a sensibility and a practice that must be cultivated. How ought we to cultivate responsiveness? I argue that literary narratives are fruitful sites at which to do so. This argument follows recent suggestions by philosophers, political theorists, and sociologists (like Iris Young, Maria Pia Lara, and Francesca Polletta) about the ethical and political potential of narrative. It is also inspired by literary critics like Wolfgang Iser and Stanley Fish, who have emphasized the transformative experience of reading. But these thinkers have not explained precisely what it is about narratives that might produce particular effects. I identify several features of narrative that recommend it for cultivating responsiveness: Their mimetic character offers opportunities for new encounters and sources of identification with others, while particular literary devices intensify those identifications. In this paper I will illustrate one device—shifting narrative perspectives—in the novel Blindness, by Jose Saramago. Shifting narrative perspectives shake us out of our taken-for-granted spatial, temporal, and political positions, and thereby facilitate our connection to the distant experiences of other human beings as responsiveness demands.

Inclusion and Responsiveness

Inclusion is an important ideal for deliberative democrats and cosmopolitans. For example, in Iris Young’s vision of deliberative democracy citizens come together and make collective decisions through open discussion and the exchange of different viewpoints.2 This vision is based upon four principles: Inclusion, political equality, reasonableness, and publicity.3 Although they are interrelated, inclusion is at the heart of deliberative democracy. “A democratic decision is normatively legitimate only if all those affected by it are included in the process of discussion and decision-making,” where “‘affected’ . . . means at least that decisions and policies significantly condition a person’s options for action.”4

This ideal is compelling, but its realization is threatened in ways that Young does not adequately recognize. She takes it as an article of faith that it will be clear whose options for action are conditioned by a given decision; or that those involved in making such decisions will make concerted, good faith efforts to discover it. Several considerations make this unlikely. One, which Young herself describes, is the existence of “structural inequalities—for example, inequalities of wealth, social and economic power, access to knowledge, status, work expectations”—which “produce or perpetuate institutional conditions which support domination or inhibit self-development.” Such inequality “often operates[s] to exclude or marginalize the voice and influence of some groups while magnifying the influence of others.”5 For Young, the way to generate a more inclusive democracy is to mitigate structural inequalities. But these are so woven into the fabric of our everyday lives that we tend to take them for granted rather than confront them. We certainly should [End Page 63] confront them—but most...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-9731
Print ISSN
1089-0017
Pages
pp. 63-69
Launched on MUSE
2009-08-21
Open Access
No
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