Through 2020 and 2021 I have had the chance to work on several disability-led programmes. This work usually brings me into contact with fascinating ideas, innovative thinkers and critical artistic and reflective practices. Working with 17 Institute of Critical Studies in Mexico City to co-curate a seminar programme in partnership with UNAM and British Council Mexico was an eye opening and mind expanding experience because of their proposed key concept: interpellation.
What I find useful about this concept is that it challenges the concept of inclusion. At the time of writing, inclusion is pretty much the most used term in the arts, the public sector and most business sectors, to explain the practice of diversifying audience, customers, workforce and leadership. It is used in relation to increasing ethnic diversity, particularly those from the Global Ethnic Majority, supporting disabled people into employment, creating ‘inclusive environments’ for queer, trans people, those from working class backgrounds, migrants and refugees, older people, children and young people… pretty much anyone that is not default man, and increasingly, white, cis, straight, non-disabled female leaders.
Why does inclusion need to be challenged? Well, for many, inclusion speaks to something that feels more like assimilation. So, we all exist in a social structure in which we have claimed identities and performed behaviours that are part of that identity. I identify as a working class, disabled, woman and there are dominant assumptions written into the fabric of our world that inform how I behave that identity.
When we talk about inclusion, it can feel that this term is interchangeable with the notion of widening access. Opening up routes for ‘othered’ people into a pre-existing context. There is an inherent power dynamic and hierarchy. Someone, usually an organisation, must do the including, and in doing so most likely dictates the terms of this inclusion. This can lead to a risk of those being “included” actually being changed, harmed or assimilated in the process. Interpellation as a concept invites us to consider that dynamic - what happens after inclusion?
This political term can be initially explained much better by academic Dr Chris McGee at Longwood University;
The term interpellation was an idea introduced by Louis Althusser (1918-1990) to explain the way in which ideas get into our heads and have an effect on our lives, so much so that cultural ideas have such a hold on us that we believe they are our own. Interpellation is a process, a process in which we encounter our culture’s values and internalize them.
Interpellation encourages us to think about power, dominance and transformation in relation to inclusion and to widen the landscape of change. If we can accept that we will always internalise the context we are in to some degree, then the problem lies with the unexamined assumptions and attitudes that make up our everyday existence. And we replicate these in our organisations too, and these attitudes tell us how to behave. They tell disabled people we don’t fit. They tell Black and Brown people they don’t fit. They tell poor people they don’t fit. They tell older people and kids they don’t fit. They tell queer and trans people they don’t fit.
They tell people at intersections of several of these identities that they really don’t fit.
So taking an interpellation perspective on something means being critical about the codes, rituals, behaviours, values and ideas that exist in your organisation, or project, or community. It’s not enough to include, we have to allow the context, the structure, the dynamic to be changed, for the interpellation we experience every second to enable us to thrive, not to be limited.
So what does this mean for you?
Ask yourself, what is the dominant culture of your work or organisation? Who sets that culture, and who or what is dictating the terms of your inclusion into it? How are you going to be critical of the landscapes, structures and power dynamics that shape this?
And if you’ve answered that, ask yourself what assumptions have you made that lie underneath?
Based in Glasgow, Kim Simpson is a disabled spoonie, independent producer, curator and strategist. She works in the 'connective tissue' of arts and culture. As a creative collaborator, Kim is concerned with making links, sharing knowledge, strengthening relationships and systems while bringing her passion for people, equality, ideas and change to a global world and interconnected time. Recent work includes senior roles with Take Me Somewhere, Made in Scotland Festival Brussels, Tramways Unlimited Festival and curation of seminar sessions and series in anti-ableism with partners in Mexico, Germany and USA. She is a Clore Fellow, an Action Learning Facilitator and RD1st Coach.