I included On Being Included in my spring reading list thinking that it was going to do something much different than it did. I didn’t anticipate the degree to which Ahmed’s empirical (if qualitative) research would be foregrounded. More significantly, although I knew she was focusing on the process of institutional change and institutional use of diversity language, I assumed at some point she would address the individual felt experience of “being included” or not. There is discussion of diversity practitioners as individuals, some of whom certainly would seem to be part of the “diverse” bodies the institution thinks of itself as including, but there never seems to be any discussion of how they themselves experience fitting into these diversity mandates that it is their job to create and apply. If there is to be any object of Ahmed’s study that she depicts being shifted in and out of the institution’s sphere of inclusion, it is the document.

This isn’t a criticism, per se. I want to read about how it feels to be missed by the interpellation of institutional diversity, but Ahmed gives us a still very useful of how texts succeed or fail to act as a force that intervenes with the momentum of institutional habit. It is not clear what it means for diversity workers to successfully subvert the academy, but I think this is to avoid getting mired down by the impossibility of consensus on any particular acts. Ahmed seems to recognize a vacillation between the organization as constituted by documents, and the organization as having a will and a history of its own that makes it capable of blocking, ignoring, or undercutting documents it generates.

Race equality policies as documents are part of an ‘‘inter-documental’’ university: some documents are copies of other documents. Not only that: documents are supposed to exist within a family of documents, with each one referring to others. Documents can also acquire authority as derivative of other documents: ‘‘There is a statement at the beginning of the charter, which says this text is from various other university documents and it’s a way of bringing together statements of principle in a way in which people can use. So in a sense it is a derivative document.’’(89)

U of C’s statement explicitly cites (and derives authority from) business strategy documents as well as legal constraints. It says pretty much all of what Ahmed would lead me to expect, but I also noticed that it contains statements that reference the historical direction of both Calgary/Canada as a geopolitical region and the University itself. The effect is ‘we will become more diverse and we need to want to become more diverse because over time our staff have become more diverse (even before the institution of this statement of commitment).’ Diversity is constructed such that it can have no force other than that which is already the habit of the institution.

However, Ahmed also recognizes a certain amount of variance in how fully integrated these documents become:

“How documents are written affects how they might be taken up. If the document becomes the responsibility of an individual within the organization, then that organization can authorize the document, give it a signature, and refuse responsibility for it at the same time.” (91)

Ahmed is most explicitly writing about the kind of situation where marginalized individuals within an institution are made responsible for addressing inequalities; where this amounts to the labour of creating texts without the power to make changes that could actually limit or undo systemic inequalities. I think it might be interesting to think more broadly about what it means to have texts that ostensibly belong to a particular network of texts while being excluded from their power structure in some ways. How does something belong to a network of texts (or an archive) ironically? Are we not sometimes lead to see something as having a connection of failed connection?

Being a huge nerd, I’ve been thinking about how this might have a close analogue in the interaction of popular authors with the continuing fandom around their texts. Specifically, J.K. Rowling and her series of announcements about the identities of various characters in the Harry Potter series comes to mind. There has been a fair amount of criticisms of Rowling’s particular brand of diversity in recent years (I find Rachel Rostad’s slam poem quite effective). However, while there is a lot to be said about the way she depicts witches and wizards of colour like Cho Chang and Dean Thomas, I want to account for the place that announcements about Dumbledore’s sexuality and Anthony Goldstein’s Jewishness occupy in the Harry Potter canon. Michelle Smith gives a good overview of how those situations have come about, and the reaction to them, although her invocation of Barthes seems somewhat facile in a media climate where authorial statements like this might circulate on a level that rivals the novels themselves. We don’t need access to Rowling’s mind to acknowledge that a tweet about intent can become part of a network of texts that includes more than just 7 novels and 8 films.

What would it mean to say that Rowling’s announcements constitute a “non-performative” utterance in the way that Sara Ahmed describes diversity statements? Certainly they are both statements about diversity. Institutional diversity statements substitute a declaration of intent for actual anti-oppressive practice in real spaces while still sometimes empowering diversity workers to use their authority to generate future actions; post facto declarations like Rowlings’ seem to occupy an uncertain position where they might serve as an unsatisfying substitute for all the various goals of diversity in media but they might also empower certain types of more radical actions. The authority of these (empty) authorial statements on diversity might serve as ammunition for individual actors within a shift in literary subcultures where, despite moments of backlash, it is becoming both an expectation and a reality that minority groups who have not traditionally had equal access to these spaces are an increasing percentage of fans and creators.

If these authors help construct the discourse of diversity through which new community members are ‘invited’ in, it seems important that we pay attention to how they are defining diversity. Who is being excluded, and what power structures remain in place?


Further examples of creator diversity statements:

rowling jewish wizard
J.K. Rowling’s tween about Jewish wizards at Hogwarts [https://twitter.com/jk_rowling/status/544946669448867841]
Image of title of AfterEllen article on subtextual queer romance in Adventure Time [http://www.afterellen.com/tv/224572-oh-my-glob-adventure-times-olivia-olson-confirms-marceline-and-princess-bubblegum-dated]
Image from Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar's Reddit AMA
Image from Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar’s Reddit AMA, commenting on character gender identity. [http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/2e4gmx/i_am_rebecca_sugar_creator_of_steven_universe_and/cjw4rfj]

Tagged: admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>