Neither Embedded Nor Embodied: Critical Pragmatism and Identity Politics
Robert B. Beauregard
In the United States talk about how we want to live, what our institutions are obliged to do, and how we expect others to behave is infused with the social and political weight of multiculturalism. We are urged to consider the cultural biases of literary canons, encouraged to take the point of view of Native Americans when considering the westward march of "civilization's" frontier, compelled to take race into account when accepting students into college, and asked to commemorate publicly the personal tragedies that constitute our history. Our public talk is organized on the premise that it is legitimate for groups (and the individuals who comprise them) to make claims based on their differences. My interest is with how planners respond to these politicized differences. Public planning is meant to be democratic, thereby requiring the support of public institutions and citizens, and to serve "public" ends; that is, concerns that all or most groups have in common. Consequently, planners must consider both the differences and commonalities among groups. They can neither avoid multiculturalism ( Qadeer 1997; Sandercock 1998) nor elude the identity politics that it has spawned.
More specifically, I am concerned with how one particular strand of planning theory, what is called critical pragmatism, handles the claims of a "strict" politics of identity. My argument is that critical pragmatism is silent about important tensions that emanate from multiculturalism. The democratic deliberations at the core of critical pragmatism rely excessively on the inherent enlightenment of reasonable individuals, the promise of an egalitarian proceduralism, and an assumption of shared values (either as precondition or consequence). These attributes rub against multicultural inclinations. The purpose of this chapter is thus to consider the issues that identity politics poses for critical pragmatism.
I begin with an overview of critical pragmatism as it has been developed by its planning proponents, turn to a brief discussion of multiculturalism and its related