The refusal of stigma

Image: Marcio Costa


The strategy of particularism, a place of speech and depoliticization

For some decades now, we have been witnessing the advance of a set of guidelines generically called oppression, “minority” or, more recently, identity guidelines. Its advance is marked by a certain tension with the left outside the State and by dialogues and negotiations with progressive governments and private companies, in order to obtain specific public policies for the social segments they seek to represent.

In this process, a long debate between activism and intellectuality has been developing around the relationship between two elements: specificity, or particularity, which marks the oppressed subject in the flesh, making him different, the other and the subordinate; and the critique of universality, which molds the notion of citizenship based on freedom and equality, constituting the foundation of the legal/political organization of the modern State. This debate gains practical importance when it is understood that it serves as a basis or parameter for the problem of political representation and concrete public policies for oppressed groups.

In the theoretical field, post-modern and, above all, post-structuralist currents organized the philosophical and political bases for the great leap. Instead of fighting for women's rights, what it means to be a woman was questioned and, before fighting for gay rights, the categories that define sexuality itself were questioned. This critical process became known as deconstructionism, since the factor that organized all the controversies was the deconstruction of the universal subject produced by modernity. Such a subject has often been called, among activists and intellectuals linked to deconstructionism, “man, cisgender, heterosexual, white, Christian and middle class”, or, among conservative segments, “good citizen”. The central issue in the deconstructionist debate has been to break the discursive hegemony that attributes a monolithic voice to the universal subject and, thus, give visibility and voice to different and multiple subaltern subjects. The practical effect sought by this proposal is to subvert naturalized discourses that shape hierarchical social relations in which some are privileged and others are relegated to the margins. The most important element is to reveal that behind these naturalized relations there is a myriad of power relations that produce as their final effect what we take as natural, true and obvious.

The problem is that, when trying to deconstruct the modern subject in the cultural and discursive terrain, a fragmenting tendency gained strength in the fight against subordination, which returned to identity as a point of support, flirting with an essentialist conception of difference. In fact, identities negotiated with the political order established through small compromises in exchange for visibility and representativeness, often without real substantive gains. This modus operandi gradually neutralized its subversive potential and assimilated its tactics through identity politics. In short, the conception of oppression and resistance that guides some of these sectors tends towards depoliticization from its roots, and this is due to a few reasons:

1- It takes the subaltern subject for its particularity or specificity, tending to identify it with the marker that differentiates it. The problem with this is the risk of identity essentialism, which ignores the social relations that hide behind oppression, as Haider (2019) had already warned. From a political point of view, space is opened for a liberal or liberalizing representation strategy, in which diversity must occupy positions of power in the State and in the public sphere simply because it is diversity (and this extends to the private sector). The act of giving visibility to the particular in the universal would be enough to break the relationship of subalternity and oppression, that is, it is about particularism, or especifismo, as a strategy in itself. From this derives the idea of ​​conquering the “place of speech” as a method of resistance.

2- By being limited to particularism, both in the conception of the oppressed subject (who is oppressed due to some particularity) and in that of political action (representation of the particular as a form of resistance), this conception of oppression does not and cannot aim for the universal. This is due to the paradox of the particularity/universality binarism, in which the possibility of becoming a new/other universal would mean losing the element that differentiates it, which is the same thing that legitimizes and confers the place of speech. In addition, overflowing from the particular to the universal implies becoming what is being fought, in addition to producing new oppressed people (it is a centrifugal tendency that, in so-called identity groups, generates internal fragmentation – and huge, unpronounceable acronyms, such as in the case of the LGBTQI+ movement – ​​internal conflicts and trivialization of serious accusations that attest to the loss of the census of proportion that differentiates enemies from allies). Thus, the struggle to transcend one's own condition of being oppressed would lead to the elimination of the main political foundation that makes this same struggle possible. In summary, even if it participates in the spaces of universality of politics, in the public sphere, its insertion in the All must be like part, and how simple part must keep. Particularism/especifism is elevated to the status of a permanent strategy.

By elevating particularism to the condition of strategy, a serious problem is created. What determines the person's condition as oppressed, and which consequently gives legitimacy to the struggle for their place of speech, also determines the limits of speech itself. That is, to fall back on the problem of the tendency to empty representation. Since one cannot debate universality, the mere particularity that marks the oppressed subject is enough to guarantee and legitimize representativeness. It is the victory of “small politics”, as Antonio Gramsci pointed out. The objective of reaching a new universality means leaving the condition of being oppressed, losing the particularity that determines difference and, thus, losing one's own place of speech. In this case, the place of speech has become a type of bureaucratic privilege, and its distinctive feature is a necessary depoliticization and the reduction of debate to the immediate and the particular.

How to get out of this paradox? From the debate of “big politics”. However, this no longer means recognizing the oppressed subject for the particularity that marks him, that is, for what he “is”, but rather, it means recognizing the oppressed subject also for what he is. want to be. This implies a change in the very conception of the subject.

Thus, the problem of the program, universality, or even broader political projects to deal with oppression can be brought into question. Taking it as the social relationship that it is, it only exists as a point of connection between parts of a whole. Recognizing that oppression is a socially determined phenomenon, that is, that it does not happen in and of itself, means refusing that it is moved by some diffuse, abstract, impersonal power without a locus or social base that sustains it (foucauldian style). . In this way, thinking about a political project necessarily implies thinking about a new universality where the mechanisms of power that produce and maintain oppression are overcome.

If we recognize the possibility and the need to place the problem of action to combat oppression within the framework of great politics, then we have to return to the starting point. Who is the subordinate subject? Now, he is the one marked by his oppressor and defined within the relationship of oppression, based on any particularity that serves to generate and maintain inequality. But he is not just that. He is also defined by what he wants to be, what he refuses to be and what he strives for. The project that he embraces and builds collectively or simply what he wants to become. He is the become in the practical action of social struggle. Being what was imposed on him, he is also the size of your dreams. Therefore, the oppressed subject is not a constant, something static, nor does he have an essence that determines the oppression he suffers from himself.

Recognizing the oppressed subject from this double perspective means inevitably opening a crack in the idea of ​​a place of speech and in liberal forms of representativeness. It means saying that not only does who occupies the place of speech matter (and of course it does), but what is said from that place also matters. And what is said, mainly because it concerns the public sphere, is said from a political project. There is no such thing as disinterested speech, and the interest held in speech may not be the same as that of the speaker or the person being represented. Therefore, and this is the most important point, in the debate about the place of speech and representativeness, the specificity that marks the oppressed must share a place with the political project of overcoming oppression.

Once this is done, space is opened for the recognition of contradictions within the subordinate group, and of this with those who want to speak on its behalf. One can also recognize other forms of antagonism and social subordination that cross the group to be represented, and one must not forget the possibility of passing. The problem and suffering of an oppressed person is not the only one that he suffers nor the only one that designates him, especially in capitalist societies as unequal as the Brazilian one. And this can be perceived in two ways: as a weakening of the agenda and political agenda of the subaltern group, or as an expansion of the agenda and even its release from the stigma of particularity. In any case, this opens up spaces for the oppressed to think about their reality not from the immediate, from their specificity, but from the whole, the universality in which they are inscribed. It opens up the possibility for the debate of ideas and the dispute of worldviews, and this debate cannot be owned by the speaker nor exclusivity of who he represents, since it is a problem of universal projects, it is the subject of debate of all subordinates.

*Douglas Alves is professor of political science at the Federal University of Fronteira Sul (UFFS).



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