Voice from the margins: aboriginal voices being heard in political forums that count

"The marginality... [of aboriginal peoples in Canada] is changing. Excluded from the Meech Lake round of talks on constitutional reform, which they later helped defeat in 1990, the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapirisat, the associations of Métis and of non-status Indians are active participants in the present round of constitutional negotiations whose goal is nothing less than the preservation of the integrity of the Canadian nation. Aboriginal issues, in particular the inherent right to self-government, are a central part of the discussions and are being formally recognized for the first time. This has been as a result of native leaders insisting that their voices and concerns be heard in the political forums that count." Nemiroff, D. "Modernism, Nationalism and Beyond: a Critical History of Exhibitions of First Nations Art" Land, Spirit, Power pp.19-20.

Public policy and participatory democracy: the expert as facilitator of public education

Like Ulrich Beck's Risk Society, Fischer in (1995) "Evaluating Public Policy" describes how citizens' reactions to environmental risks affect public policy. Fischer promotes a participatory democracy in which the expert becomes a 'facilitator' of 'public education'. Opponents have to at least agree on which questions they disagree. "In times of ideological clashes, however - and some environmental issues Fischer mentions like nature's intrinsic value and animal rights (p.166) or the appropriate level of riskiness for the fulfillment of the good life (p.177) - it is easier to agree on some brute data than on basic moral claims." p.75 in journal review. (Reviewed by Hubertus Buchstein, review of Fischer Frank, "Evaluating Public Policy." in Policy Sciences vol. 29. no.1. February 1996.

Knowledge: the expanded audience

Most academics are involved in knowledge sharing. However within academic settings knowledge acquisition on its own can be symbolic capital. Unfortunately as the numbers of disciplines have increased since the 1970s, boundary wars have erupted with borders guarded by discipline-specific jargon and teminologies. Interested members of the public, or even other academics, are often excluded from intelligent discussions by a wall of words. This "expanded audience" is referred to in Ulrich Beck's influential and thought-provoking social analysis, Risk Society.

RISK SOCIETY: Public skepticism. Need for accessible discourse

The modernist view, based on an assumption of realism in science had created a system in which scientists working in an exclusive, inaccessible environment seemed to be immune to public skepticism. However public skepticism increased with public awareness as risks spread around the globe. Lay people, often those most directly affected by the pollution of modern technology, search for ways to protect themselves. No longer confident in technical experts they become experts in compiling their own dossiers. Animal rights groups, anti-GM groups, anti-WTO groups...

Two types of activists: Strident demonstrators and insider reformers

Gitlin, Todd. (2000) "Public demonstrations are messy, but they work". For the Washington Post. 20/04/00. Telegraph Journal. Protestors focus energy so insiders can effectuate political change. Todd Gitlin, a professor of culture at New York University, describes, "Major political change usually requires social commotion whose energy must be contained and focused. That's why successful protest movements take two types of activists working (whether they know it or not) in tandem." Gitlin reveals that there are underlying familiar and effective patterns to protests such as the 1960s civil rights movement and the 2000 Washington protests against the World Bank and the IMF.

The two types of activists are the moralistic (often younger) outsiders and the reform-minded insiders. Outsiders motivated by a sense of moral injustice use civil disobedience to confront and obstruct those who wield power. Insiders are the professionals, academics and lawyers who are able to argue and negotiate change from within. Todd feels these passionate outsiders can successfully open public debate and revamp and even expand public agendas. This can energize insider reformers, provide them with a larger, more attentive audience and improve their ability to argue and negotiate change. Outsiders can "....precipitate public debates that have been suppressed by establishments or pursued only by experts in closed rooms where inertia and groupthink overwhelm dissent." Loud demonstrations may polarize opinions but they also awaken the apathetic.

The positive role of Protestors

Demonstrators: reckless but an enduring element of democracy The strident voices of demonstrators, the outsiders, clamouring against the vices of the powerful may seem to oversimplify and distort complex issues in an almost reckless fashion. Demonstrators may be polycentic, fluid and untidy. Some are sentimental radicals. However the issues they raise will endure. Desparate poverty contrasts with world affluence. Uncontrolled development is destroying the planet. They are calling for justice in a period of globalization.

Seeking solutions for a just, sustainable globalization

While globalization cannot be stopped, solutions for a just, sustainable globalization can be sought. The former chief economist of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, declared, " Tremendous power has flowed to the people entrusted to bring the gospel of the market to the far corners of the globe... the culture of international economic policy in the world's most powerful democracy is not democratic." Stiglitz, Joseph. (2000) New Republic. April.

How the Inuit become the 'Enemy' of Animal Rights' Groups:

According to Wenzel, there is a "... contradictory relationship between Inuit and a southern, liberal environmental and "rights"-oriented movement." The latter use a number of arguments for including the Inuit with the 'enemy': change, complicity and sameness ... Rights groups accuse Inuit of complicity with government and industry, the enemy, because there were Inuit representatives in the delegation sent to influence European opinion.


© Maureen Flynn-Burhoe 2000. Last updated web design (not content) February 2002.
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