In logic, reductio ad absurdum is a form of argument which attempts either to disprove a statement by showing it inevitably leads to a ridiculous, absurd, or impractical conclusion, or to prove one by showing that if it were not true, the result would be absurd or impossible.
My friends would remember my resolution last year to be a woman punching Nazis with a handbag. In a world shaped by all types of Nazis reducing existence to survivalism – the receiving end of capitalism, in my view – this is more easily said than done. My way seems to be writing. Writing is an activity very different from other modalities of thinking. Writing is supposed to be slightly more meaningful – as it can make visible, hence more possible to work with, the différance. One key attempt at punching Nazis this year was a piece of work for a genuine and much-respected client who I will keep anonymous in the hope that their work will be pioneering successfully a new and much-needed approach and will speak for itself. Grounded in this piece of work, this post is about venturing from critique to praxis and back, towards a proof that theory is not the opposite of practice.
Danuta Danielsson, hitting a neo-Nazi with her handbag. Her mother was a concentration camp survivor. 
‘One common objection to the idea of universality, says Badiou in Theoretical Writings (pp.154-155), ‘is that everything that exists or is represented relates back to particular conditions and interpretations governed by disparate forces or interests’. If that sounds too vague, here is some more detail by Badiou further in the same text:
Thus, for instance, some maintain that it is impossible to attain a universal grasp of difference because of the abyss between the way the latter is grasped, depending on whether one occupies the position of ‘man’ or of ‘woman’. Still others insist that there is no common denominator underlying what various cultural groups choose to call ‘artistic activity’; or that not even a mathematical proposition is intrinsically universal, since its validity is entirely dependent upon the axioms that support it […] What this hermeneutic perspectivalism overlooks is that every universal singularity is presented as the network of consequences entailed by an evental decision. [If] the event is subjectivated on the basis of its statement, whatever consequences come to be invented as a result will be necessary.
Bridging Badiou’s universal (as an implicative structure) and the practicalities of living, this post invites you to become a companion in my ramblings around the possibility of all of us becoming entrepreneurs. But what does this has to do with punching Nazis?
There is a growing disenchantment with the integration project, a trend identified by the ISD (2012) as early as 2012 and I suggest that this is why we are sliding down the road. And, yes, the ISD document is no longer available online, l.a. 2013. To sum it up, the rather progressive regimes of multiculturalism and the likes have been replaced by mere toleration policy frameworks – with a high cost for democracy, diversity, the potential for innovation, enriching growth and so on. This decline is often justified by blaming on multiculturalism the series of Jihadist terrorist attacks and the growing radicalisation. I see nothing wrong with radicalisation, nor with anger in the social and political domains for that matter, and I am not an expert on Jihadist terrorism which I see as a threat largely exaggerated.
I am more concerned, therefore, with the unprecedented rise of the far-right, which is definitely not related to radicalisation and anger. This rise of far-right activation has reached a pick into a stream of domestic white terrorism in the wealthiest countries, including lone terrorism masked as ‘ill mental health’, and an alarming intensification of neo-Nazi activity across Europe and beyond. Believe it or not, the support to Roma and refugees developed under cohesion regimes, may well be the needed solution for us all to grow, to become emancipated and to mobilise us all to boost culture, economy, communities and the society at large.
Far-right feeds of what a 2010 UWE study identified as politics of resentment. The study demonstrates how resentment is mobilised by implicit and explicit blunt manipulation to incite hatred towards, and self-hatred among, the underdog. It is all too easy for the mainstream to see ring-fenced funding as the ‘evil’ in a context in which the 99,9% are strained to a breaking point. The usual survival threats under capitalism are exacerbated in the light of dismantling regimes of welfare (yet to be analysed in a process starting around authors such as Ebbinghous, 2012; Arts and Gelissen, 2010; Brockhoff, Rossignol and Taugourdeau, 2011), unchaining social cohesion (ISD, 2012 email me for the disappearing report above), as well as other inadequate policy-induced responses to the 2008 economic crisis illustrated by the more recent refugee crisis.
All this is too complex, though. It is easier to think that someone else is to blame, without considering that there is no someone else – as there is no other on the first place. The real trouble I see is that, whether by evil intentions or by careless attitude, those in power have allowed ring-fencing support, thus building a stigma to using “support” and on those “using support”. While some have been quick to conclude that the social cohesion projects, especially those linked to employment have failed, it may well be that projects based on identity politics were blocked and even unchained by recent socio-economic and political events and stuck in bureaucracy. Investment in certain groups only is counter-productive, not investment in cohesion or in human and professional development (with apologies to those stealing from their private time to collect CPD points, I don’t mean this type of professional development).
Mainstreaming support to entrepreneurship
Being a female white moral entrepreneur, running an enterprise on interest-free micro-credits from Mum and friends, I have no illusions about the reality of entrepreneurship, let alone social entrepreneurship. I am wondering, though, whether the “mainstreaming while targeting approaches” (EC, 2007) are not holding some potential. Yes, the link to this EC report is also dead, but to summarise, cutting edge social cohesion strategies were just about giving new hope for social innovation and economic stability before they seem to have disappeared in someone’s drawer. These strategies are anchored in cross-fertilisation between societal sectors and in mobilising diversity to give rise to solutions to new and inherited challenges. Utilising a ‘mainstreaming while targeting’ framework means developing ‘[g]eneral programmes [that] promote […] integration as an integral part of activities that are geared towards society as a whole, [but acknowledge] specific needs that will demand additional and targeted measures’ (EC, ibid. 2007:17). While the effects would not be as good as with simply a universal basic income , I am confident that considering the case for universal supported entrepreneurship may be a worthy pursuit, too.
The value of labour market is largely exaggerated, but I will bracket (for now) the perils of labour market “participation” per se. For the sake of the argument here, we should consider first that barriers to the labour market are not always due to vulnerabilities, poverty, or lack of knowledge or skills or qualifications. Like any market, the labour market is inhumane, messy, exclusive, and difficult to navigate; it is complex, discriminatory, exploitative and oppressive on top of that. Finding a way out is the secret dream of any decent human being who has gone through the everyday struggles to keep their soul intact while contributing to the perpetuation of the capitalist machinery through the so-called “labour participation.”
Labour itself, though, can be creative and is indeed what makes us human and how we relate to the world around us. As the Talmud has grasped, there are two types of work – work as creation and work as servitude. While the labour market is well capable of suffocating any creativity, altruism and vitality, labour has unlimited potential to make this world a better place and guess what – we can even feel good while doing so.
The support for Roma groups
The case of developing interventions to support Roma in the EU presents an opportunity to explore the potential of cutting edge emancipatory techniques, developed in the most challenging contexts, to be adapted to the current context and applied universally. Roma integration (as well as the integration of Gypsy and Traveller groups) has become one of the key ‘hot potatoes’ and the focal point of conflicts and tensions that accompany the integration of any vulnerable groups. Perhaps it is the main point of resentment in the countries where Roma population forms a significant percentage of the population as well as in the West since Roma integration is a persistent challenge across the EU. Btw in terms of numbers, there are as many Romani in the UK, as there are in the considered as Roma “home” countries such as Bulgaria, for example; the ways in which Roma groups are pushed to the margins of society reflects similar processes to which trans-national and indigenous populations have been and are driven to extreme poverty and isolated in ghettoes elsewhere, although it is easier to blame “new democracies” for the state in which Roma are today, or of course – the Roma themselves.
The efforts made to address the situation of Romani people, as well as that of other vulnerable groups, have led to perfecting interventions that can well be mainstreamed. Supported entrepreneurship (cf. Stock, Stateva and Junge, 2013) has become a key approach to managing talent and developing human resources as assets to bring national and regional economies back on track. Due to political equilibristic that aims to doctor the statistics of unemployment and poverty, and to mask deteriorating work conditions, when forcing people into self-employment, entrepreneurship has become a hot spot. The underlying assumption is that entrepreneurship is a way to freedom, self-sufficiency and emancipation regardless of one’s background, but under certain conditions and while embedded in a set of other structures and processes (see Stateva, Stock, Junge and Castellanos Serrano, 2013).
Promoting supported entrepreneurship usually do not account for the fact that it is extremely rare for successful entrepreneurs to have not been supported one way or another. Identifying the ingredients of the needed support has become the priority of elites for centuries, most notably via access to highly paid advanced business development and leadership support schemes or by belonging to a guild. The democratisation of support to entrepreneurship is instrumental in forming elites but underutilised among marginalised groups and those at risk of falling through the growing holes in the net. Lifting people up, giving them strength to be equal participants and beneficiaries in their societies and allowing them to develop as assets is an approach that works universally, yet cannot be applied in the conventional contexts in which sophisticated support is ring-fenced. Applying universally strategies, methodologies and techniques of supported entrepreneurship blending approaches developed for elites with those tailored to Roma groups, provides an opportunity to test, adapt and democratise ring-fenced tools of the elite that can be mainstreamed appropriately by blending with the most advanced targeted interventions for vulnerable groups. Frameworks can be developed to bring together a selection of organisational and psychosocial sets of interventions that can address contemporaneously individual, group, community, social, cultural and political dynamics.
Developing people as assets and supported entrepreneurship
People should be supported not because they are assets but because they are human beings soon to drawn in the world as it is now. In the current business-oriented political climate, politicians listen to profit only, hence “assets” replaces “humans” – not that this has not been the case before, but those in power are even not ashamed of this language now. This discourse inevitably speaks the language of “talent management”, which is by default focused on the rich or, at least, the able to pay. As far as I am aware, I am the only one who does not make role analysis (coaching) or organisational and process consultancy dependent on high income. Role analysis and process consultancy are crucial ingredients for helping aspiring entrepreneurs and other leaders thrive in contexts that are very similar across strata, generations and cultures and link not to ethnic or other backgrounds, but to malfunctioning politics, organisations and systems.
Politically, in the case of Roma, structural factors are combined with, re-enforced or over-ridden by stereotypes about the Roma among the general public everywhere (cf. Tanner, 2005; CSD, 2015). This phenomenon applies to vulnerable groups with other backgrounds in similar circumstances as well as to the mainstream when it comes to entrepreneurship. Consequently, interventions are characterised by a lack of conscious voice and real participation of the aspiring entrepreneurs, as these groups are considered incompetent to say the very least and contrary to the official marketing of such “courses”. Which is worse, “user involvement” is used to legitimise practices and not to promote participation, let alone to enrich and foster growth in businesses or the groups concerned.
Parallels between Roma groups and what we call “the mainstream” are more than what we are made to believe. Romani girls and women are especially vulnerable when it comes to kicking off a business not only due to culturally different, and not necessarily worse arrangements, surrounding reproduction and care responsibilities but also because of a “glass ceiling” generally for women in contemporary societies. The illusion of white women being more advantaged is maintained by imposing on them male styles of leadership and very often by “emancipatory” strategies of postponing motherhood indefinitely. Another evidence is that the situation of the Roma population also interweaves with issues of migration more widely. Roma is a mobile population, including both nomadic behaviours (of which many of us non-Roma are familiar and I don’t mean only the new white gipsies from Bulgaria and Romania, but also those moving from the US to the EU and vice versa). Of course, many Romani are involved in social and economic migration identical to the mainstream migration patterns.
Organisationally, there is a range of obstacles at the level of organisational behaviour and development that hit particularly badly Roma population but are expressed when addressing the mainstream, too. A study by the CSD (2015) echoes other studies across the EU that show anti-Roma stereotypes as prevailing also among public servants who work directly with Roma. This includes teachers, doctors, social workers and others and leads to exclusion, related to the provision of and access to public services and investments. Language/communication barriers in both countries of origin and especially countries of destination combine with a (justified) lack of trust by beneficiaries in social services, exacerbated by inconsistencies in language support and cultural mediation. The underutilisation of funds leads to a lack of sufficient resources for the long-term investments and interventions needed to address structural challenges and to develop entrepreneurship. A particular additional challenge lies in the practical and bureaucratic arrangements that prevent the access to funds by grass-root organisations. All these obstacles are linked to barriers to the effective and efficient functioning of mainstream interventions, too but become a particular challenge for vulnerable groups.
Systemic challenges in the areas of employment and entrepreneurship are universal for everyone who has fallen through the current net. Starting and running a business is difficult, especially in the current economic climate and a dynamic society (for a not very good intro and a lack of specialised accessible literature, see Shahidi and Smagulova, 2008). In addition, there is insufficient contact between interventions, business organisations, policy-makers and funders or investors, and a lack of wish and knowledge on their behalf to work closely with entrepreneurs and would-be mainstream entrepreneurs, let alone entrepreneurs from a migrant or other minority background. Inconsistency in policy development and patchy implementation can be a book in its own right, but Stateva et al (2013, see link above) offer a good overview of what goes wrong and some tips on how to fix that.
That political, organisational and systemic blockages are staying on the way to all of us becoming entrepreneurs is an issue and it may well be an issue to be solved with a handbag. As an aspiring consultant, one of the best group relations consultants I have met learned to consult small groups by modelling from a woman consultant. She would come to the room and would sit quietly on the chair left by the group for her. When consulting his first group, my colleague realised that the only sign the group would receive to start the consultation with his training consultant was putting her handbag on the floor – how is he to announce the start of the consultation not having a handbag? It was a coincidence, of course, as a consultation of this type starts on the hour, but for the trainee consultants, the handbag was doing the magic.
My favourite women’s organisation started as a group of inspired women who soon received their first grants. With no security guards, not being a traditional institution, and in times when debit cards still did not exist, the women would carry the money for their operational expenses in a small handbag. The handbag was so small, that with the money for projects (mind you, there was also an enormous inflation), they had to stuff it so much that the handbag came to be known as ‘the pig’. ‘The pig’ was a good camouflage for petty criminals, who were quite a few at the time. They would never suspect the young women with a handbag of carrying their turnover in cash. And of course, the bigger criminals would never suspect that the young women who carry their turnover in ‘the pig’, through that cash, would become responsible for one of the biggest contributions in their country for shifting the political, the gender and the social in favour of commoners and underdogs.
Could it be, then, that DANUTA DANIELSSON marked the start of a new era consultation by women with handbags? Someone used to joke that whatever I am searching for in my handbag must be next to the inflatable helicopter. That I have all sorts of things in my handbag was evidenced by me reaching out within seconds, for even my surprise, to a box with eye cleaning drops after a dog hugged me in the park, thus splashing mud straight into my left eye. The joke aside, my handbag is actually my tiny office, full with notebooks, a laptop, memory sticks and the likes. Call me a dreamer, but I honestly believe in the power of women’s handbags and I hope that the project behind this post will be one of the good punches to come out of mine.