Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Identity politics no substitute for scholarly truth

Jeremy Sammut

30 September 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

identity politics crowd people multiculturalism 1American novelist Lionel Shriver stirred an international controversy during her recent visit to Australia.

Speaking at the Brisbane writer’s festival, Shriver had the temerity to suggest that novelists should not be constrained by the new rules of the identity politics game. Writers of fiction should be free to explore the experiences of ‘others’, even if they are not members of the same racial, gender or other identity groups.

Shriver’s so-called apologia for ‘cultural appropriation’ is relevant not only to works of imagination but also to the humanities and social sciences.

There is a growing trend for scholarly enquiry into certain subjects to be deemed inappropriate if the researcher lacks ‘lived experience’.

Political criteria also apply, as the social psychologist and critic of the lack of intellectual diversity in the modern academy, Jonathon Haidt, has pointed out.

Activist scholarship committed to fashionable notions of social justice that campaigns for the rights of oppressed racial and gender group is welcome.

But any work that is critical of a particular group, or which make members of the group feel bad about themselves, is unacceptable.

But the real victim of the stultifying culture of political correctness is our ability to accurately, objectively, and effectively describe and address important social problems.

Take the difficult task of overcoming Indigenous disadvantage. Activist-academic accounts perpetually blame every problem in Indigenous communities on the racist legacy of invasion and dispossession.

According to this school, research that explored the links, say, between traditional Aboriginal culture and contemporary Aboriginal men’s violence against Aboriginal women would be condemned as ‘victim blaming’.

We see similar things happening in the debates around Islamaphobia, marriage equality, feminism and gender.

Identity politics — let alone obsessing about the identity of the author — is a poor substitute for focusing on importance of good scholarship that tells the truth about controversial social issues.

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