John sent this paper critiquing functionalism, and it coincides nicely with the discussion I (mostly missed) today among some of the departments’ social interactionists. “Holism on a grand scale is difficult, if not impossible, to verify, but the way systems work is not.” Donal argues, I think, that systems can be understood from the inside out…maybe this is what Bakhtin refers to as centrifugal? A centrifugal forces pushes things away from the center. Donal often uses the term “cohere”, so he’s arguing that the discourse around a certain practice is centripetal (a pulling inward). But what if the pulling in is in reaction to, or predicted upon the condition of possibility that other discourses are pushing out?
I am working a paradox here. For instance, the notion that the term “cultural difference” means certain things to a particular group, and certain other things to a different group. Members of both groups can use the term and think they have a common referent. If the uses and meanings, premises, etc. are defined only in terms of what is sensible within the group – this may be an accurate representation of that particular cultural system, but it neglects the position of this particular cultural system within a larger system who’s primary function seems to be “to eat cultures.”
Fiske would be liking that argument, however, one cannot assume a direct relational interaction in any type of conflict, so the ways this term plays into the larger system and plays out within its local cultural system are by no means transparent. This seems to me to be the crux of the Fiske-Carbaugh debate. Donal critiques the automatic assumption of conflict because it can work as a filter or lens to presuppose and superimpose the “usual ways” that conflict plays out between majorities/minorities, the oppressors and the oppressed. Fiske critiques Donal’s willingness to stop at explication of a cultural system without delving further into its interactive participation within an even larger structural system.
To at least a certain extent, part of the challenge of finding power in discourse, is asking questions that assume persons have some way of making sense of how their particular cultural meanings are used in and by the larger system. Power may not always show up, but that could be because we’re participating in dialogic repression. When power does show up, it may be in radically different forms than we expect.