Affirmative Action Revisited: Race-related Discourses and Policies in Contemporary Brazil

Programme

14 December 2015

09.00      Welcome

Jørn Boisen, Head of the Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies

9.15        Harmonizing discourses in the affirmative action context

Angela Randolpho Paiva (Catholic University of Rio)
Followed by a Q&A Discussion

10.15       Coffee

10.30      Semi-hidden harmonizing discourse strategies -
               Ideology and (Affirmative) Action

Sandi Michele de Oliveira (University of Copenhagen)
Followed by a Q&A Discussion

11.30       Lunch

12.30      Narratives of collisions: Analyzing the implementation processes of
               Affirmative Action through managers at Public Universities in Brazil

Sonia Maria Giacomini (Catholic University of Rio)
Followed by a Q&A Discussion

13.30 Coffee

13.45      (Re)visiting Affirmative Action in public universities in Brazil:
               The implementation process in the perspective of the management

Liliana Cabral Bastos (Catholic University of Rio)
Followed by a Q&A Discussion

14.45 Coffee

15.00      “Buscar soluções mais brasileiras”: Rhetoric strategies against
               ethnic quota in Brazilian Higher Education

Georg Wink (University of Copenhagen)
Followed by a Q&A Discussion

16.00 End of first day

15 December 2015

09.00      The Legend of the Enchanted Modernity: Racial injustice and
               modernization in Brazil

Marcelo Paixão (University of Texas, Austin)
Followed by a Q&A Discussion

10.00 Coffee

10.15      Protection without Redistribution? Conceptual Limitations of Policies
               Meant to Reduce Inequalities Concerning Race and Gender in Brazil

Sérgio Costa (Freie University Berlin)
Followed by a Q&A Discussion

11.15 Coffee

11.30      Harmonizing discourses and empty signifiers: Analyzing the
               Brazilian meta-narrative of “Racial Democracy”

Kaspar Villadsen (Copenhagen Business School)
Followed by a Q&A Discussion

12.30 Lunch

13.30      Closed Working Session

15.00 End of symposium

Abstracts

(as pdf)

Harmonizing discourses in the affirmative action context
Angela Randolpho Paiva (Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro)

Since 2002 we have witnessed great changes in the access to higher education in Brazil. The affirmative action debate began in the 1990s and the discussion of quotas for blacks became the subject of intensive debate in the discursive public sphere. The present analysis will tackle this moment emphasizing the difficulty of accepting the idea of affirmative action in public universities in two ways: a) the formation of a narrative based on a new frame whose basis was the evident racial inequality in the educational system; and b) the outcomes of the consensus reached in more than 70% of Brazilian public universities (state and federal) between 2002 and 2012. To do so, it will be initially analyzed which concepts hold heuristic values to understand such changes; then it will be emphasized the frame built among scholars and social movement activists in a moment that new arguments to promote the idea of AA in higher education were building; and finally how the policies conceived reflect the harmonizing discourses present in a social context that has always been described as paradoxical, ambiguous or ambivalent. And race relations in Brazil are perhaps the best example of this cultural background. The research project mapping the AA policies that were conceived until 2012 will be the reference in pinpointing the changes.

Semi-hidden harmonizing discourse strategies - Ideology and (Affirmative) Action
Sandi Michele de Oliveira (University of Copenhagen)

The interviews made within the scope of the project "Monitoring and accompaniment of policies of Affirmative Action at public universities in Brazil" (Paiva & Almeida 2010) are centered both on the process of developing the AA program at the university and the tensions and challenges encountered. Two interviews were conducted at UFSCAR, two days apart in April 2011.  With the exception to references to the same people and the institution, a casual reader of the two transcripts would likely not immediately realize that the two interviewees represented the same university, as one immediately delves into the conflicts while the engages in discursive strategies that serve to greatly minimize the force of the conflicts without denying their existence, thus the use of the label “semi-hidden.” It is the second interviewee who will be the prime focus of this presentation, the first one mentioned for contrastive purposes, as needed.

In addition to minimizing the force of the conflicts, the second interviewee provides interesting data as he considers that a successful AA program will necessitate changes to the “institutional mentality” of the university, citing, yet contesting, Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ call for a “pluriversidade”.

These, and other, ideological concerns will be explored through the lens of van Dijk’s tripartite approach to ideological analysis (society – social cognition – discourse; e.g., 1993, 2006).  Critical discourse analysis requires that the objects of analysis be placed within the wider socio-historical-cultural context, which involves going beyond the text which is the prime object of analysis.  For that reason, other texts on the process and results of AA at UFSCAR will be examined.

Narratives of collisions: Analyzing the implementation processes of Affirmative Action through managers at Public Universities in Brazil
Sonia Maria Giacomini (Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro)

My proposed reflections are presented in the form of a short anthropological comment on the reports and statements by the faculty and management of Brazilian universities related to the implementation processes of Affirmative Action in their respective institutions between the years 2010 and 2011. The material to be analyzed consists of around 10 recorded interviews which were conducted within the research project "Monitoring and accompaniment of policies of Affirmative Action at public universities in Brazil" (Paiva & Almeida 2010), coordinated by Angela R. Paiva, whose objective was to register the statements about the implementation process, given by the managers in charge of these policies.

In the pursuit of the same goals that orientated these interviews, i.e. to get to know the perceptions of the management, I analyze the following aspects:

1) The implementation of Affirmative Action as a process experienced and narrated by the interviewees, thus conferring meaning to the context. One of Goffman’s central notions, the definition of situation, is brought into the analyses, as it is fundamental to the understanding of the way people guide their actions in daily life (see Gastaldo 2008: 150).

2) The problematization of the process with regard to the definition of its origin, constitutive stages and the time and space order, duration, definition of goals and objectives, identification of the principal protagonists and assistants, expected and unexpected  results of the action taken.

3) The interviewee is considered in Goffman's sense of a member of a team which in his understanding is not simply a group of individuals who act together simultaneously, but refers to a form of social organization with evident sociological implications:

Individuals may be bound together formally or informally into an action group in order to further like or collective ends by any means available to them. In so far as they co-operate in maintaining a given impression, using this device as a means of achieving their ends, they constitute what has been called a team” (Goffman 1959:84).

This perspective highlights the option we have, depending on the formulation of the narrative, to focus on questions related to face-to-face communication and the problematization of co-presence of an action group, inseparable from an audience with which a mutually dependent relationship is maintained;

4) The examination of emotional language used by the individual to narrate his experience, particularly fruitful for the understanding of participation in an interaction (as stressed by Rosaldo 1980). In this sense, by considering the “discourses on emotion” and “emotional discourses” more as social practices which involve their own constitution of emotions than as the mere expression of internal states of humor, we can take into account “the close involvement of emotion talk with issues of sociability and power – in short, with the politics of everyday life” (see Lila Abu-Lughod & Catherine A. Lutz 1990: 2).

5) The comparative internal perspective of the different narratives, thus capturing the perceptions of change in relation to Affirmative Action and various related aspects, as well as the ways how those changes were experienced by the actors during the process.

(Re)visiting Affirmative Action in public universities in Brazil: The implementation process in the perspective of the management
Liliana Cabral Bastos (Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro)

In my contribution I examine interviews produced within the research project "Monitoring and accompaniment of policies of Affirmative Action at public universities in Brazil", coordinated by Ângela Randolfo Paiva (see Paiva & Almeida 2010). The interviews in question were conducted with managers and faculty with the intention to understand their perceptions about the implementation process of Affirmative Action policies. Moving in the same direction, I will revisit some of these interviews, this time with the objective to observe 1) how these managers localize themselves within the process in terms of identity, difference and agency, as well as to what extent they construct a sense of collective identity to move their action; and 2) how each interviewed manager organizes (based on parameters of time and space) the implementation process of Affirmative Action.

In this approach the interviews are considered a social encounter (Goffman 1964), in which the interviewers and interviewees interact and hereby construct the meaning of the utterances. The statements of the managers, as they emerge from the interviews, are understood as accounts in the sense of a “linguistic device employed whenever an action is subjected to a valuative enquiry" (Scott & Lyman 1968: 46). Through this approach and by analyzing the narrative practices of the managers we expect to contribute to the deepening of our understanding of who these agents are and how they perceive themselves within the social movement in which they act.

“Buscar soluções mais brasileiras”: Rhetoric strategies against ethnic quota in Brazilian Higher Education
Georg Wink (University of Copenhagen)

Since 1996 Brazil has been a stage for a growing public debate about policies of ethnic affirmative action which have displayed a tendency towards increasingly antagonist positions after the implementation of first ethnic quota programs at public universities in 2001. The arguments invoked by the opponents of quota in several scientific publications, the mass media and even in manifestos have been subject of study in several research projects (e.g., Feres 2010, Feres & Campos 2013). In their analysis these scholars concluded that the cogency of most of the arguments had to be refuted, due to logical inconsistency, theoretical and methodological flaws or simply the provisional lack of empirical evidence. However, the reasoning appears to hold up almost unaffected, if not in the academic debate, at least in public opinion.

This being the case, the hypothesis for my contribution is that the persuasive power of these arguments against quota stems above all from the well-considered and systematic use of specific rhetoric strategies, based on time-proven classical speech figures, which suggest evidence and logic where speculation and heuristic actually rule. Using methods of Critical Discourse Analysis (Wodak et al. 2009) I will analyze a representative corpus of prominent public discourses against quota: the manifestos “Todos têm direitos iguais na República Democrática” from 2006, “Cento e treze cidadãos contra as leis raciais” from 2008, as well as selected passages from the edited volume Divisões perigosas (Fry et al. 2007), the Claim of Non-Compliance with a Fundamental Precept (ADPF 186) from 2009 and the stenographic records of the corresponding Public Hearing at the Federal Supreme Court in 2010. Through my analysis I will demonstrate that the rhetoric strategies applied in these texts broadly mirror the proposition of a “Rhetoric of Reaction” (Hirschman 1991) and draw heavily not only on the myth of “racial democracy”, but also on a long-standing national master-narrative of Brazilian exceptionalism, which engenders “harmonizing” effects in the sense of conflict-suppression and depoliticization by the veiling of antagonism and the deferring of policy action.

The Legend of the Enchanted Modernity: Racial injustice and modernization in Brazil
Marcelo Paixão (University of Texas, Austin)

The modern imagination of Brazil is imbued with the idea that the country hosts a racial democracy. This understanding has deeper roots in the Brazilian history. Yet, after decades of hegemony, the racial democracy narrative finally seems to be old fashioned. We analyze the Brazilian national discourse that, maybe, can help us to understand the other side of the racial democracy. In other word, we would like to analyze the very status of the human race in this national narrative and how this understanding is joined to the problem of the social inequality and racial hierarchy at this country.

Protection without Redistribution? Conceptual Limitations of Policies Meant to Reduce Inequalities Concerning Race and Gender in Brazil
Sérgio Costa (Freie University Berlin)

Social asymmetries between persons classified as blacks and whites, women and men, and indigenous and non-indigenous constitute typical cases of categorical or horizontal inequalities in Latin America. They are persistent throughout history, encompassing all social spheres (income, life conditions, political opportunities, etc.). These are also ascribed inequalities which cannot be substantially reversed by individual performances. In the last two decades, almost all Latin American countries have implemented legal measures and policies to mitigate categorical or horizontal inequalities: from anti-discriminatory measures to affirmative action and quota policies. Although symbolically relevant, these measures have hitherto produced very limited effects in terms of mitigating social inequalities. The present paper seeks to explain why these policies have been ineffective by positing the following hypothesis: Existing legal framework and policies are focused only on one of the multiple mechanisms of reproduction of inequalities, namely exclusion. The paper is comprised of three sections. The first section summarizes the state of the art in the inequalities debate, describing the relational character of inequalitises as well as five main mechanisms in the reproduction of inequality: opportunity hoarding, distanciation, hierarchisation, exclusion, and exploration. The second section offers both an overview of relevant measures adopted in different Latin American countries, and a more detailed description of Brazilian programs to combat race and gender-related inequalities. In its third and concluding section, the paper examines some common conceptual limits in all analyzed policies. In short, these measures neither target whites, men, and non-indigenous as privileged groups; nor take into consideration the intersectional character of categorical inequalities; nor do they address opportunity hoarding, distanciation, hierarquisation, and exploration as crucial mechanisms of the reproduction of inequalities.

Harmonizing discourses and empty signifiers: Analyzing the Brazilian meta-narrative of “Racial Democracy”
Kaspar Villadsen (Copenhagen Business School)

By the term 'harmonizing discourse' we mean forms of writing and talking that have the effect of subduing, suspending or annulling social conflict. Conflict may include oppositional material interests held by social groups, unequal or hierarchical relations between individuals, and marginalization or stigmatization of particular individuals and the struggles around such processes. Harmonizing discourse has as its function to render it more difficult to articulate existing or potential conflicts like those just mentioned. We wish to speak of several ways that harmonizing discourse may operate, and in our elaboration of this perspective we will not restrict ourselves to one particular theory or theoretical 'school'. Moreover, it is not the case that harmonizing discourse can only be found in explicit political texts or statements. It is rather a perspective that can be applied to a variety of texts, talk, and utterances, including, for instance, reform programs, committee reports, legal documents or social scientific results.
A key entry point to analyze harmonizing discourse is to look for the production of discursive order in which all parties take their natural places in a harmonious whole. Multiculturalist discourse might very well be a case in point, since it often relies upon the premise that there are irreducible differences that can co-exist harmoniously if only the right political measures are put in place. A 'hegemonic' articulation depends upon a rallying of diverse identities to a reconciliatory representation of social positions. In this process of contingent, partial fixation, one particular signifier assumes the function of unifying representation. Laclau (2000: 70-71) defines 'the empty signifier' as a discursive element which achieves its unifying function by cancelling out its specific content hereby allowing diverse actors and groups to immediately identify with it. Examples could be 'the orange revolution', 'Obama for change' or, 'Brazil, the country of the future'.  These are empty signifiers in the sense that they do not represent any particular content (nothing is actually said about what the specifically the 'orange revolution' will bring, who will be in charge after the revolution, what 'change' is actually about or what 'the country of the future' will exactly be.

The signifying content of such signifiers depends not on any non-discursive substance but on its position within a chain of signifiers which endeavor to suture the empty signifier, fixating its meaning (Laclau, 2000: 71).This means that maintaining its privileged function requires that the signifier's impossibility as a particular representing the universal is not effectively exposed. As soon as an empty signifier becomes filled with specific content, it risks losing its function of unifying, 'harmonizing' representation. We do not assume that such harmonizing discursive moves can only be studied on the level of general political discourse. It is equally possible to look for harmonizing effects in micro-level discourse, such as in interviews or in interpersonal communication. In this study, we shall investigate the evolving Brazilian discourse on 'Racial Democracy' from the perspective of hegemonizing moves and the notion of the empty signifier. We shall pay attention to the emergence of empty signifiers and how they come under pressure when actors attempt to fill them with particular meaning at specific historical moments.