Half-Positions and Social Contestation: On the Dynamics of Exclusionary Integration
Critical social theory has typically sought to explain the crisis-tendencies of capitalism and the social pathologies that are intrinsic to the institutions of modernity. This paper contributes to this dimension of critical theory through clarifying how structural changes are generating experiences of social subordination and marginality. It revises Habermas’s conception of system integration and social integration in order to explain the emergence of new forms of injustice and social conflict. These ensue, I argue, from the fracturing of the capitalist welfare state’s channels of integration and the creation of a significant category of individuals occupying ‘half-positions’. Half-positions are most commonly those of either citizens without work or workers without citizenship, although there are other variations of exclusion, marginality and inequality owing to substantive factors, like regional development and deindustrialisation. My analysis suggests that half-positions exemplify the misalignments and contradictions that have developed between the state and the market under the conditions of globalisation. Yet, half-positions are experienced by the agents occupying them as a type of exclusionary integration, because race and ethnicity are regularly salient to half-positions. Significantly, while this analysis is grounded in the extant critical theory notions of social pathology and injustice, for instance, drawing on Habermas’s notion of the colonisation of the lifeworld and Nancy Fraser’s addition of the category of ‘representation’ to those of recognition and redistribution, I argue that certain theoretical innovations are necessary to understand the sources and implications of the resulting conflicts. I argue that tendencies towards social disintegration condition the ways in which half-positions are mobilised in acts of resistance and that these conflicts often manifest themselves at a level below that of the discursive format of the public sphere. Specifically, these discontents reflect the uncertainty that has developed amongst those in half-positions concerning whether their legitimate expectations to equal treatment and respect will be met. In order to demonstrate these claims, the 2005 French riots are analysed as an example of the conflicts emanating from half-positions. The dynamic of exclusionary integration associated with half-positions is shown to involve an ‘accumulation of damages’ (Offe), ‘negative discrimination’ (Castel) and ‘hidden injuries’ (Sennett and Cobb; Cowlishaw). In recent critical theory, recognition and redistribution have been the dominant images of demands for justice. Whilst the 2005 French riots undoubtedly involve such demands, I argue that a close analysis show that rioters’ claims to justice were predominantly those of demands for retribution.