We are all guilty here

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Language is a force.
Language names, and by naming, it calls into being. This is how social reality is constructed and maintained. I think it is an effect of quantum mechanics, but smarter minds than mine are needed to make the connections in a compelling scientific manner.
Last fall I wrote a post on some dynamics of dialogue and discourse, in which I engaged with ideas of a discursive psychologist, Michel Billig.

The core of the argument laid out by Michael Billig (in the articles from Discourse and Society 2008, Vol. 19, Issue 6) is that we who think in terms of critical discourse analysis (CDA) need to be acutely aware of our own uses of language, lest we repeat some of the very elements of language use that we critique in others. Billig’s concern is with social scientific language in general; he selects CDA for heuristic and practical purposes: “It should be a major issue for analysts who stress the pivotal role of language in the reproduction of ideology, inequality and power” (p. 784).

In particular, Billig goes after the academic/theoretical use of nominalization, which is a shorthand way of condensing a particular dynamical concept (something with a lot of parts) into a single term. Debate over costs and benefits of using nominalization seem to swing on the temporal grounding of interlocutors. I’m thinking at the mundane level as well as at level of ideological reproduction. For instance, does saying something about (i.e., naming) tensions in a friendship necessarily make them worse or can it provide a means to shift footings? At the precise moment of making the utterance, there may be a spike in bad feelings – all that tension concentrated and released in the acts of speaking and hearing. But I think that it is what comes next (at least, so I hope) that becomes determinative for the subsequent unfolding. When nominalization is at play, Billig argues there is a tendency to depersonalize behavior or action such that individual contributions to whatever unfolds are lost to perception. So the pattern of tensions enacted when one or another party to the tension actually says something directly about the presence or evidence of tension becomes bigger than the minute social interactions that compose it. The pattern itself becomes “the thing”, and individuals are simply swept up in it, all agency erased.
The question is, when things are not going the way one wishes, what next? I watched an interesting video on the synthesis of happiness this morning (20 minutes long) which argues that if we assume irretrievability, then we enhance our capacity to choose happiness. I’m wondering if this basic precept – that’s what done is done and can’t be changed – could guide many other choices, including the ways we respond when we find ourselves seemingly trapped in a discourse that we don’t necessarily want. I believe it is the element of acknowledgment that I am finding most attractive. Perhaps my general communicative strategy is to reduce uncertainty (see What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous) in order to make choices clear.

One thought on “We are all guilty here”

  1. clarifying – for my memory and context in general: The immediate impetus for this post is writing a chapter for an upcoming book on “Dialogue Under Occupation,” in which I’m trying to address “the use of dialogue” in-and-about (perhaps even “of”) the Middle East (broadly), the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (specifically), and (most precisely) an academic conference critiquing all manner of events/activities relating to the specifics of the conflict.
    A proposal was made to standardize the labeling of the conflict throughout the book, and I’m resistant to this, believing it is a form of reification that does not serve to resolve (re-solve) any of the complicated issues but rather hardens one view, which will (in turn) elicit more hardening of other views, and hence the dialectic (see definition 4a) will continue.
    At the same time, my thinking on this matter is enlivened by the possible re-appearance of ghosts from the way past (biographically speaking), and some current dynamics that serve (in a comparatively mild way) to show how easy it is to get trapped into one perspective (usually our own) without being able to perceive how that perspective locks us (me) into a particular position which then perpetuates momentum to continue along an already established trajectory.
    For instance, I know my own pathological stuff is about not belonging, and hence taking up too much space. I can explain it to people, and do my best not to act from this basis…nonetheless “my stuff” will still somehow rub against other people’s “stuff” and the end result still veers more often to the undesirable than I wish. The fact that each time I improve my a) diagnostic ability and b) adaptive responses does little to assuage the sense of frustration in not being able to forge something new/different enough to enable movement beyond the boundaries of the old path.

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