From a national “performative hierarchization” towards a transnational “transformative hierarchization”

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From a national “performative hierarchization” towards a transnational “transformative hierarchization”

  • February 24, 2022
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By Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD

“I would like to emphasise again that Ukraine is not just a neighbouring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space. These are our comrades, those dearest to us – not only colleagues, friends and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties….”                                                                                                                                                    President Vladimir Putin in speech to Russians and to the World, February 22nd 2022

Today, I am moving additional U.S. forces and equipment already stationed in Europe…None of us, none of us, should be fooled. None of us will be fooled. There is no justification.”                                                                                                                                                                            President Joe Biden in speech to Americans and to the World, February 22nd 2022

“We will defend our land with or without the support of partners. Whether they give us hundreds of modern weapons or five thousand helmets. We appreciate any help, but everyone should understand that these are not charitable contributions that Ukraine should ask for. These are not noble gestures for which Ukraine should bow low. This is your contribution to the security of Europe and the world where Ukraine has been a reliable shield for eight years”                                                                                                                                                                    President Volodymyr Zelensky in Speech to Ukrainians, to NATO and to the World, February 18th 2022

“Our world is facing the biggest global peace and security crisis in recent years”                                                                                                                      UN Secretary-General António Guterres in speech to the World, February 22nd 2022

“If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to reach far, go together”

“Do whatever that pleases you, as long as it does not displease others”.                                                                                                                                          African traditional sayings for transformative hierarchization and solidarity 

Abstract

Societies dialectically engage processes of hierarchization. While dominant nations often pursue and sustain performative national and transnational hierarchization, most vulnerable and dominated nations resist, and  preferably prevent, national and transnational regressive hierarchization.

Meanwhile, in the prevention of conflicts, replacing it with co-existence and eventual harmony within, among and beyond societies, the pursuing of national and transnational transformative hierarchization so far provides not just stability but also potential sustainability- letting nations and societies comparing and competing with each other and with others- without necessarily oppressing and subordinating others.

So far, at the national level, the Danes and other Scandinavians, transitionally transformed hierarchization with careful societal negotiations and balancing. Nations within the EU had also partially and collectively introduced regionally functioning transnational and supranational encounters and connections.         

 

Introduction[i]

Humans (probably all forms of life or non-life) almost inevitably, interact, react and relate to each other through some form of structure or hierarchy. Such relationships also exist between parents-children; teachers-students; elders-youngsters; managers and employees; the haves and have nots; leaders and followers/supporters, larger-stronger nations and smaller-weaker nations etc. Such relational hierarchy then evolves into dynamics of socio-political appropriations. [ii]

In this regard, people often interchangeably congregate under two main forms of hierarchization. The first a “performative hierarchization”, a top-down hierarchization process in which the privileged claim, and under certain circumstances maintain, the existence of vertical power-centred asymmetric relationships. Such privileged groups project self-proclaimed independence with the insistence of others, mainly the presumed subordinates, depending on the privileged constituents. In addition, the privileged expect and predict an absolute linear development in which the stated hierarchization, as well as the progressively identified organizational march, represents an end in itself.

The second a “transformative hierarchization” – a comparatively flexible process linking and balancing the top with the bottom. The privileged involving such processes seek the potentiality and the horizontalization of hierarchies. For them hierarchization constitute a purposeful means to an end. Through transformative hierarchization, the better offs serve people by improving, empowering and balancing social lives. Such constituents also prefer focusing on consultations, interdependence, mutuality as well as opportunities of co-creation and co-development

In general, people pursuing “transformative hierarchization” reflect and distribute roles and responsibilities. For instance, Gandhi, Martin L. King and Nelson Mandela, powerful charismatic leaders with strong social movements who had the option of pursuing narrow “performative hierarchization”. Instead, these leaders favoured “transformative hierarchization”, from their otherwise revered top political and cultural positions, taking responsibilities and capabilities towards the excluded seriously.[iii]

Performative hierarchization is neither unique nor a recent invention. Through modernity and subsequent transformations- with modern infrastructure, schools and institutions, ordinary people, such as farmers and other rural people (earlier scattered, unknown to each other and even not speaking the same dialect and language) has been transformed to becoming a particularly designated nation[iv]. Gradually people adopted- more or less- to the livelihoods of nationalized urbanized citizenships. New forms of commonalities and solidarities under national platforms emerged.  Eventually, people became modern as well as nationalists. Then the new nationalists, mainly through coloniality and capitalism, expanded impacting other societies, making them also to become nationalists on their own terms.[v]

Dominant nationalists then classified inhabitants of other societies as oppositional to their nationals. The privileged superior nationals accessed protection and social goods, while others suffered from violent exclusion and lack of privileges. Furthermore, the dominant nationals divided the underprivileged into those imitating and collaborating with them and thereby deserving recognition and rewards, and those resisting the domination and thereby deserving persecution and punishment. In the end, the rigid national and transnational performative hierarchization failed following the underprivileged eventually and partially mobilizing in reclaiming their dignity.[vi]

Critical social movements as well as transnational communities resist and respond to the idea of power for power’s sake, hereunder the extensive non-human centric mechanizations/modernization/modernity of societies.[vii] Modernity, on the other, transforms societies mainly through “performative hierarchization” by insisting on standardization, competitions, testing and indexing.[viii] In the process, such structural priorities create socio-political anomie,[ix] alienation,[x] strangeness,[xi] widespread inequalities and exclusions among societies.

Problem solving approach to performative hierarchization       

If people want to pursue a sincere and balanced shift from overemphasis in performative hierarchization towards transformative hierarchization, people might firstly imagine and create alternative better futures. With such prospective imagination, people start dealing with existing problems and the concrete challenges, including the predicaments of diverse transnational societies, communities and networks, confront. Such challenges, occurring often simultaneously, also include climate change, security problems, extremism and poverty.

Among societies, controversies and disagreements exist on the conception and understanding of such problems and how societies eventually resolve such challenges of ownership, participation as well as belonging. Repetitive propositions on “who rules/owns the world?”- implies asymmetries between the transnational corporate possessions often dispossessing and displacing subordinate civic transnational networks .

Secondly, people combine initially stated visionary imaginations with concrete practical activities, encounters and connections. Herewith societies establish links and balances between theoretical approaches with concrete practical experiences. Thirdly, with transformative hierarchization societies reject the often-persisting idea of “there are no alternatives” herewith the amplification of ideas of monopolizing force, economy, cultures with the proclamation of “the end justifies the means” .

Fourthly, people seek critical knowledge for the positive transformation of societies. Not the monopolized form of knowledge and education with embedded tests and exams in which Foucault once referred to serving as “the organization of hierarchies in the society” . Such critically empowering horizontal oriented practical education include the methods of the Danish Folk high schools. Such Folk schools teach students explorations- going out in the field- acquiring education emphasizing dignified lives and not promoting punishments and subordinations. Such education aims at serving rather than severing.

Fifthly, societies pursue counternarratives departing from multiple perspectives-with stories stressing dignity, coexistence and co-development . This requires willingness of asking deep questions combined with seeking and identifying commonalties. This also includes practicing deep genuine listening. In African traditions listening is said to be older than the speech or speaking . People start and train listening before they are born. Then as they grow they gradually learn expressing through speech. Deep listening with fundamental deep concerns- need to focus on vulnerabilities and cultural democracy. Some thinkers go even further by calling for complete “cultural disarmament”[x]. On his part, Gramsci once blamed the persistence of exclusive cultural for the lack of “organic intellectuals” and the proliferation of professional bureaucratic intellectuals- that often maintain rather than question hegemonies . Organic intellectuals focus on the voice of the “subaltern” as well as that of creative civic imagination.

Socio-political indexes and performative hierarchization

Most societies, through modern and sophisticated structures, often entertain and operate from a perspective of performative hierarchies. Some prefer differentiating performative hierarchies externally while simultaneously practicing transformative hierarchies internally.  Nations do this by favouring particular constituents over others. For instance, regional organizations, such as the EU and NATO, stress unity and transformative hierarchization within among their allies – while encouraging and practicing performative hierarchization in relation to other regions and nations.[xii]

One of the main processes of performative hierarchization is the presentation of global hierarchies in the form of indexes and algorithms. Such indexes structure and analyse how societies presumably perform- often using mathematics and measurements- to justify the existence of varieties of performative hierarchies. The process might alter the social fabric and reinforce societal stereo-types further disadvantaging those at the bottom of hierarchization- maintaining imbalanced social and political hierarchies.[xiii]

The persistence of the structures of elitist and hegemonic hierarchies contribute to such institutionalization and structuring of societies. Ironically, the process of performative hierarchization from the top is institutionally maintained and sustained through those presumably suffering from such hierarchization. People internalize such dominating hierarchies- eventually making such measurements as their own.[xiv]

Almost annually numerous public and non-public institutions publish numerous indexes in variety of social issues. One such index is the “Social Justice Index” – in which often Scandinavian societies, including Denmark, and other western countries occupy at the top of the hierarchy. Many Asian, African and Latin American countries fall somewhere at the lower middle or at the bottom of such indexes.

From the general overview these indexes and rankings seem routine and standard- but such indexing of “performative hierarchizations” have serious consequences for most people in the world. For instance, nations and states respond in adjusting to the index. Many others balance their activities with such prevailing performative hierarchies. For example, in a recent speech referring to the rise of China as a global power, the Chinese president contends that the world (meaning the currently dominant world- the North) can no longer categorize the Chinese people as inferior. The prove is that, he adds, “when the Chinese youth travel to the outside world, they no longer, as they did in the past, need to look down and consider themselves as inferior”. Currently, he suggests, most contemporary Chinese feel equal- if not superior.[xv] This appears a progress to reclaim own self-perception and self-description.  Critics nonetheless point that it is not because the Chinese suddenly acquired, maintained and advanced traditional identities. The progress mainly happened due to the Chinese adopting and internalizing existing dominant global structures.[xvi]

In a more practical way, people adjust to these structures- Africans and Asians for example have lesser accommodation and accessibility to the transnational world- in contrast to societies that perform better in these indexes promoting partial transnational positive image, accusations and accessibilities. The higher in the ranking the better the treatment at the transnational and global world.[xvii] The challenge is who defines the basic concepts applied in such indexes and where it is particularly produced and sustained? what about those belonging to multiple nations and locations- those who identify with multiple societies at the top, at the middle and at the bottom simultaneously?

Danish approaches to the diversification of hierarchies

The Danish society, similar to other modern societies, historically experienced different forms of performative hierarchization. Such experiences propagated suffering, conflicts and defeats within the Danish society and beyond.[xviii] Eventually with the introduction of consensus oriented, a more inclusive social democratic society; the establishment of Folk high schools by thinkers such as Grundvigt and Christian Kold; with subsequent mobilizations of productive social cooperatives.[xix] the Danish society gradually nurtured transformative hierarchization” – creating more horizontal, dialogic and inclusive society.[xx]

Socio-political developments since 2001 disrupted such historic pattern. Danish politicians strategically reintroduced a partial performative hierarchization, emphasizing new forms of nationhood and popular mobilization.[xxi] Since then, most politicians shuttled between performative and transformative hierarchizations. In their repetitive proclamations, politicians, more or less directly, suggested ideas that a transformative hierarchization applies to the natives- the so-called “deserving folk”, while performative hierarchization concerns the presumed “non-deserving folk”- so-called strangers/outsiders- recent migrants, refugees etc.[xxii]

In response, transnational communities, suffering from such performative hierarchization, together with diverse committed civic networks, mobilized countering such asymmetric structures of classifications and practices.[xxiii] In the current context, therefore, reasonable constituents seek renewed forms of transformative hierarchization in the Danish society. This include a reflexive and non-ultimate socio-political engagements departing from and building on much more diverse, complex transnationally interconnected society- not just in terms of economy, trade and diplomacy etc. but also in genuine transnational social and cultural transformations. Inhabitants of major metropoles such as Copenhagen and Aarhus already partially practice such inclusive transformative hierarchizations.[xxiv]

A recent Danish case, however, illustrates the dilemmas of combining performative hierarchization with transformative hierarchization. Conservative politicians seek opportunities of exercising control over transnational minorities. So far, one of the most controversial cases  involved a young Iraqi couple, probably close relatives, who married before they fled their homeland. The couple, a young man of late 20s and a young girl of around 17, ended up in Denmark where they seek asylum. For one way or the other, the Danish minister responsible for migration and foreigners discovered the existence of the couple with, in a Danish context, an unusual marriage relationship.[xxv]

With a prominent minister in an already tense Danish migration policy atmosphere, the minister decides to forcefully separate the married couple- together with other similar cases in the country. Officials from the bureaucracy notified the minister that such action violates the Danish law as well as the international law.[xxvi]

The Minister hesitated but eventually ignored the advice. It took months before the decision was reversed. Meanwhile the couple, together with their communities, supported by journalists, juridical experts and other civic networks, challenged the decision. Opposition parties politicized the issue and eventually created a commission that investigated the action of the minister. The ombudsman declared the case, and the action by the minister, illegal. After long debates and mobilizations, the minister was impeached and subsequently condemned for months of imprisonment.[xxvii]

In this case, national politicians on behalf of their constituencies, with the application of political and bureaucratic mechanisms, pursued instants of social control against marginal minorities with the aim of presumably preventing informal social control. Transnational minorities on behalf of their communities resisted formal social control by mobilizing civic and community resources. Civic groups, journalists and lawyers- and eventually the judiciary- qualified and balanced such controversies.

Conclusion

In the current world, societies and nations constantly engage direct-or occasionally digital- interdependent encounters and connections. Consequently, unlike in the past, pure national performative hierarchization entertained by dominant privileged national and transnational groups and platforms, remains no longer a viable option. Such top-down exclusive performative hierarchization cannot, and will not be able to, solve the complex, interlinked and urgent challenges societies around the world, separately or collectively, confront. Instead, the collective complementation of roles and responsibilities from whatever positions and hierarchies, people and groups occupy in different contexts- could ideally address, if not resolve, prevailing socio-political, structural, natural as well as cultural challenges. Nations and societies can probably seek balancing global transnational transformative hierarchies by imagining, creating and strengthening interlinked processes of transnational interdependencies, collaborations and commonalities focusing on the improvement and sharing of responsibilities and capabilities.

 

 

 

 

[i] Revised version of an online lecture on “Contemporarily Challenges on Nationalism, Transnationalism and Inclusion” given at Raffless University, 2nd February 2022

[ii] Guibemau, M. (2020). Marx and Durkheim on nationalism. In Rethinking Nationalism and Ethnicity (pp. 73-90). Routledge.

[iii] Morselli, D., & Passini, S. (2010). Avoiding crimes of obedience: A comparative study of the autobiographies of MK Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace and Conflict, 16(3), 295-319.

[iv] Weber, E. (1976) Peasants into Frenchmen: the modernization of rural France, 1870-1914. Stanford University Press.

[vi] Bourdieu, P. (1962) The Algerians. Boston: Beacon Press.

[vii] Adler, G. (2019)  Empathy beyond US borders: The challenges of transnational civic engagement. Cambridge University Press.

[viii]  Mielants, E. (2008) The Origins of Capitalism and the” rise of the West”. Temple University Press.

[x]Panikkar, R. (1995). Cultural disarmament: The way to peace. Westminster John Knox Press.

[ix] Serpa, S., & Ferreira, C. M. (2018) Anomie in the sociological perspective of Émile Durkheim. Sociology International Journal, 2(6), 689-691.

[x] Copley, J., & Moraitis, A. (2021) Beyond the mutual constitution of states and markets: On the governance of alienation. New Political Economy, 26(3), 490-508.

[xi] Stoetzle, M. (2020. Strangers who are from here: Georg Simmel. In Beginning classical social theory (pp. 215-228). Manchester University Press.

[xii] Kimball, A. L. (2019) Knocking NATO: Strategic and Institutional Challenges Risk the Future of Europe’s Seven-Decade Long Cold Peace. The School of Public Policy Publications, 12, 36.

[xiii] O’Neil, Cathy (2016) Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. London- Penguin

[xiv] Jenkins, R. (1982) Pierre Bourdieu and the reproduction of determinism. Sociology, 16(2), 270-281.

[xv] https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2021/jul/01/chinese-communisty-party-100th-year-anniversary-live-updates-centeneary-celebrations-xi-jinping-key-speech

[xvi] McNally, C. A. (2012) Sino-capitalism: China’s reemergence and the international political economy. World politics, 64(4), 741-776.

[xvii] https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/henley-index-world-best-passport-2022/index.html

[xviii] Pitman, F. W. (1918) The Danish West Indies under Company Rule (1671-1754).

[xix] Østergård, U. (1992) Peasants and Danes: The Danish national identity and political culture. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 34(1), 3-27.

[xx] Mouritsen, P. (2006) The particular universalism of a Nordic civic nation: common values, state religion and Islam in Danish political culture: Per Mouritsen. In Multiculturalism, Muslims and citizenship (pp. 81-104). Routledge.

[xxi] Skidmore-Hess, D. (2003) The Danish party system and the rise of the right in the 2001 parliamentary election. International Social Science Review, 78(3/4), 89-110.

[xxii] Jørgensen, M. B., & Thomsen, T. L. (2016) Deservingness in the Danish context: Welfare chauvinism in times of crisis. Critical Social Policy, 36(3), 330-351.

[xxiii] García Agustín, Ó., & Jørgensen, M. B. (2021) On transversal solidarity: An approach to migration and multi-scalar solidarities. Critical Sociology, 47(6), 857-873.

[xxiv] Hansen, C. S. (2021) The Making of Place and People in the Danish Metropolis: A Sociohistory of Copenhagen North West. Routledge.

[xxv] https://www.information.dk/mofo/handler-barnebrude-handler-lovbrud-forstaa-stoejberg-sagen

[xxvi] https://www.berlingske.dk/politik/se-hele-tidslinjen-asylpar-blev-adskilt-efter-instruks-fra-stoejberg

[xxvii] https://rigsretten.dk/aktuelt/2021/12/rigsretten-har-afsagt-dom-i-sagen-mod-fhv-minister-inger-stoejberg/