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Labour market versus cultural changes

Social change: towards political correctness – decreasing exclusion zones in the culture versus areas of exclusion on the labour market (an example: campaign ‘Discrimination against transsexual employees is against the law’ and other social campaigns (that is liberal culture and economic liberalism)

In June 2011 the residents of Warsaw, its left side exactly, had an opportunity to see the posters with a slogan: ‘Discrimination against transsexual employees is against the law’ placed at the bus stops. The poster campaign, made by the Trans-Fuzja Foundation, aims at paying attention to a discrimination against transsexual persons in the place of work. The campaign was financed by the international foundation Mama Cash (http://www.mamacash.org/), the oldest international foundation fighting for the rights of women and minorities.

Polish authors of the campaign describe the problems related to professional life of a transsexual employee on the website (http://transfuzja.org/pl). A sex change is a multistage process, which takes at least two years in Poland. One can easily imagine that the employment status of a transsexual employee or a candidate for an employee is very difficult at that time. According to the European law, dismissal or refusal to employ with regard to gender identity is the act of discrimination – the European Union protects transsexual people against discrimination, referring to them directly in the Directive 2006/54/EC on the equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation. However, the transsexual person is coming across a number of difficulties on the labour market, and their situation puts the employer, co-workers and themselves in front of a number of problematic issues. Employees after sex reassignment surgery are happened to be dismissed. What is more, a transsexual person has difficulties in finding a new job, when looking for it they still have to prove their identity using the other gender’s person ID. This may happen when a transsexual person functions already in accordance with their own ‘I’, that is, with the new sex. Nevertheless, that is before the legal and physical gender change. A person using the ID consistent with the old gender, but looking for their new sex comes across problems on the road to employment.

The above mentioned campaign is a single example of a wide cultural change. Its first signs one should notice in sixties of 20th century, particularly in spectacular revolts in 1968. That time the students from Europe and the United States opposing the then values of the Western World spoke in their name but, what is symptomatic for the cultural change of the second half of 20th century, also in the name of the excluded and the minorities. It seems that these unusually essential directions of changes in the western culture, turning to the ‘minority’ and excluded, changes in the traditional hierarchies of either age or gender or values and morals, had their symbolic beginning in 1968. That time, Europe, the United States and Mexico were hit by waves of rebellion and uprising, originated in the student communities. According to Berman Paul, the American writer and representative of the generation '68, the student enthusiasm ‘was to a great extent the demonstration of being against traditional social inequalities as well as against signs of the inequality which have remained unrecognized so far ‘(Berman 2008, p. 7).

That turning to the minority is today present in the culture of Western World, at least, known as ‘political correctness’ – the standard making people notice the issues of the excluded and minorities as well as no discrimination e.g. against gender, gender identity, sexual orientation. Now, there is a question about the relation between the culture and the organization of the social life as well as with the labour market. Do the cultural changes have a direct effect on the situation of the excluded people? The relation between the culture and the social organization is certainly complex and multifaceted. Political correctness as the effective norm of thinking and linguistic norm is not always connected with the real change of attitudes and awareness of individuals as well as the social situation of excluded persons. Some researchers indicate even the harmfulness of the political correctness which can bring opposite effects to the desired. Slavoj Žižek wrote about politically correct language and replacing the aggressive expressions gradually (sexual, racist) by more ‘correct’ expressions e.g. the cripple – the disabled – differently abled: ‘this replacement potentially increases and broadens that (racist) effect, which is tried to be eliminated, but after all adds the insult. Until the ‘cripple’ contains an indelible trace of aggressiveness, this trace will not only be moved (into a more or less natural way) on every ‘correct’ metaphorical substitute. This change will create even further alternatives for stimulating the primitive aggression with additional irony or patronizing politeness (let us remember ironic use of the word ‘different’ - for example ‘differently smart’ - created by politically correct use of this word) ‘(Zizek 2007).

What is the fine mechanism of the relation between the culture and the social life organization? It seems that the authors of the campaign ‘Discrimination against transsexual employees is against the law’ bring up the visual sphere in order to not only manifest the cultural change, but also to shape this culture, give it a new sense and meanings. What does it mean? In order to explain it, one needs to refer to the concept of ‘culture’ or more narrowly – ‘symbolic culture’, that is everything, which being a human cultural product, is not a material, purely physical culture – language, custom, science, religion, philosophy, law, art (Kmita 1962). The culture is giving the meaning and comprehending it. These ‘meanings’ – representations reflecting the meanings given by people – may be open or implicit, have a scientific or practical character, may be passed on in the colloquial or scientific speech, by means of art or TV series – that all creates the symbolic culture.  Symbolic culture includes, among others, visual culture, thus, the above described campaign as well. Many authors claim that the visual sphere is crucial for the process of cultural construction of the social life in the modern societies of the West (Rose 2010, p. 20). Hence, the social campaign carried out in the visual sphere by means of posters showing two transsexual persons in professional situations, may be not only an example of the cultural change, but also encourage the cultural change by acquainting the receivers with new issues and its visualisation. The authors of the campaign outline the social sphere, more widely than the one already established, set the new social maps, on which they show the points of social reality, which cannot be passed over in the public discourse. The process of the creation of public reality bustles.

Let us return to the question, what influence on the actual situation on the labour market does the cultural change has? There are programs run by public institutions as well as a large number of the third sector organisations. They focus their actions on e.g. disabled people activation on the labour market (actions of the National Disabled Persons Rehabilitation Fund, http://www.pfron.org.pl/portal/pl), professional activation of women. There are various publications devoted to the careers advisory for high risk groups coming off the press (Kukla 2010), special career advisors are trained for work with people of such groups. That all works exactly in the field of the symbolic culture and reflects – at least in the optimistic assumption – the actual situation of the excluded from the labour markets.

Perhaps the most important fact for the above discussed relations between the culture, social organization and labour market still are the economic issues. Firstly, the sphere of the culture remains in relation to the sphere of finances and is not indifferent to all that is financed by public funds. How frequent are the situations, when excluded or the situations of exclusion are not taken into account? No funds are allocated for the public campaigns, visualisation of the problems in the public spheres, education – public funds are allocated for other purposes. It is obvious that the visualised or told – creates the cultural framework of our functioning in the world.

However, even the presence of issues of exclusions in the cultural sphere, although essential, unless it goes along with specific expenses on the action for equality, would not change the reality – it may even be a kind of mystification of the reality. It is possible to say, liberalization of the culture does not relate with the liberal economy which gives birth to the economically excluded. Of course, work in the sphere of the symbolic culture is necessary, which concerns e.g.: law, science or art, which shapes social sensitivity of people forming the social organization. Yet specific funds for the fight against exclusions still are crucial.


Julia Siemińska



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Žižek S. (2007), Groźna poprawność polityczna, http://lewica.pl/?id=12609, data publikacji: 08.07.2007, data pobrania: 31.07.2011.