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KINT 5020 - Equality, Discrimination, Affirmative Action / A comparative Perspective

Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Spring 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English, French


Reading English and French.

Course Description

Broadly defined, affirmative action encompasses any measure that allocates goods – such as admission into universities, jobs, promotions, public contracts, business loans, rights to buy and sell land – on the basis of membership in a designated group, for the purpose of increasing the proportion of members of that group in the relevant labor force, entrepreneurial class, or university student population, where the group is currently underrepresented as a result of past and/or present discrimination. The existence of such measures may result from constitutional mandates, laws, administrative regulations, court orders, or voluntary initiatives. Their goal is to counter deeply entrenched social practices that reproduce group inequality even in the absence of intentional discrimination. This multidisciplinary seminar is located at the intersection of political science, law, philosophy, sociology, and economics. While considering in greater detail the US historical experience, it will provide a comparative exploration of affirmative action policies including the cases of India, South Africa, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and France. Some of its goals are: - to examine the connections (or lack thereof) between philosophical theories of social justice and equality and antidiscrimination law and policies; - to clarify the analytical and empirical links between racism, discrimination, and affirmative action; - to disaggregate the notion of “discrimination” so as to make explicit some distinctions that are relevant to policy analysis in all the countries under examination (“disparate treatment” versus “disparate impact”, intentional versus unintentional discrimination, animus-driven versus “statistical” discrimination); - to distinguish and assess the potential justifications for affirmative action (the “corrective justice” argument; the “diversity”/multiculturalist argument; the “deracialization” argument), while accounting for the predominance of some over others in political and legal spheres; - to identify the empirical effects and side effects of affirmative action – and of the ways in which the policy has been partly legitimized by political and legal authorities; - to sketch a typology of affirmative action programs according to the criteria used for identifying their intended beneficiaries, the – more or less flexible – form of the programs involved (quota/non-quota), the level (constitutional, legislative, administrative) of the legal rules from which they derive, the programs' domain of implementation, and the justifications more or less successfully advanced in their behalf. In conclusion, one will consider the hypothesis that, paradoxically enough, in some contexts affirmative action programs can only be successful and/or legally admissible to the extent that they remain indirect, implicit, or both.


SABBAGH, Daniel (Researcher, CERI)

Course validation

If the number of registered students allows it, each student will make an in-class presentation of 20 to 25 minutes (alone or as part of a two-person team) and write a 10-page paper. The paper (on a topic to be defined jointly by the student and the instructor) is due on session n°10. The final grade will be determined on based on the in-class presentation, the paper, and in-class participation.

Required reading

RAWLS, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 1971, pp. 3-53