In this podcast recorded earlier in August, our regular blogger Mairead Enright conducts a wide-ranging interview with Seyla Benhabib; the Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Political Philosophy at Yale University. We apologise for the poor quality of the sound in places – the interview was recorded over a bad line. You may need to turn your volume up higher than usual.
In the interview, Mairead first asks Prof. Benhabib whether her idea of ‘disaggregated citizenship’ accurately describes global transformations in states’ relationship to migrants and whether she is still hopeful that citizenship can be rethought among cosmopolitan lines. Prof. Benhabib discusses the idea at length, using the case of the EU and insists that the evidence points to a long-term trend in Europe and the United States toward the uncoupling of the entitlements of citizenship from ethnic belonging.
In the next section, Professor Benhabib discusses the position of undocumented workers in the United States. She argues that government must turn its attention to the position of the country’s 11 million undocumented workers, by granting a mass amnesty and says that President Obama has not been forceful enough in this regard. She notes that global capitalism benefits from the presence of undocumented workers, who provide a cheap labour force, so that there is a certain hypocrisy in demands for tighter controls on immigration to the United States. Prof. Benhabib argues that the punishment of individual migrants at the border tells us something about the state’s incapacity to deal with the pressures of immigration; vulnerable individuals become ‘symbolic prey’ for the state.
Next Prof. Benhabib discusses the niqab ban in France. She notes that ‘security’ justifications for the ban point towards a criminalization of ‘the other’, which detracts from the nature of women’s attire as an expression of religious belonging. She rejects both this criminalization and the aestheticization of the issue (whereby the burqa becomes ‘like’ the bikini’). The way forward, she insists, is to come to grips with the very real issues of women’s agency and equality. But she argues that this work cannot be done by the state.
In the next section, Professor Benhabib explains her work on ‘democratic iteration’ and ‘jurisgenerative politics’, applying the ideas to the campaign for same-sex marriage in the United States, which she argues is an effort to expand the meaning of equality through struggle. She says, however, that she does not expect the U.S. Supreme Court extend marriage rights to gay couples.
Finally Professor Benhabib discusses the difficulties of doing jurisgenerative politics at the present time. She warns against the cynicism of the moment which threatens to paralyze progressive politics. She also discusses the challenges which the global economic crisis poses for the politics of human rights. She wonders whether political theory has paid enough attention to economic justice in the past and argues that we need to pay more attention to it now, especially in the interests of vulnerable migrants who are being punished for a collapse they did not cause.