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December 5, 2013 / compassioninpolitics

Discourse Doesn’t Shape Reality Evidence

The following is my response to a question from someone who wanted to make the “discourse doesn’t shape reality or “discourse doesn’t construct reality” argument–mostly without evidence. A fine argument, but given the evidence on the other side is decent–the level of argument required may be fairly hefty….. anyway…here’s my response and advice:

The argument you are targeting:

The challenge with discourse solvency is that it favor what we think about language/speech and action. And the evidence that Ks read is at least mediocre on this point. So in an offense/defense paradigm–the evidenced argument generally trumps the assertion that “discourse doesn’t solve.”

Here, the notion of awareness or consciousness raising. It helps prevent us from making bad language choices or helps us understand the other or respect the other. There is a pro-social change, pro-education bent to such arguments.

As a side note, it may not be that language creates reality….but rather shapes it….That our overall worldview

Plus, there are often independent voter type arguments (even if not flagged this) for the rejection of the aff language–which are independent reasons beyond the solvency of the alt.

Lets look at your options:

There is evidence that the “Sapir-Wharf” hypothesis isn’t true. I’m not sure how far this argument gets–and the discourse argument is really larger.

Also there is evidence that suppressing language causes a host of problems. Thats the evidence you want to go after. Admittedly some of those assume suppressing probably without an alternative language (for instance suppressing the T-word, without an alternative like “freedom fighter”). Or at least you can make those arguments. The notion of “policing language” may be just as bad or worse than the language in the first place. However, not all Ks are discourse centric or alternatives could be say to “police language.” At some level, a lot of this evidence falls in to the Political Correctness movement bad arguments. (i.e. speech codes on college campuses) which arguably has some parallels to K debates.

Basically I would read a decent amount in those literatures…..and make your argument based on that. Or make a historical comparison or a comparison to an event almost all humans experience or think to be true.

There are arguments like that here, http://www.cross-x.c…-to-a-word-pic/ (Note: Language needs institutions to solve…..still doesn’t really get what you need, I don’t think)

If you search Butler on the forums you may run across some of the language policing arguments I talk about. Also, you might also search that.

Arguing that language determines reality is reductionist and simplistic—there are too many alternate factors that are more important—language is a trivial factor in constructing reality
Rodwell, 05
(Jonathan, PhD student at Manchester Met. researching U.S. Foreign Policy, 49th parallel, Spring, “Trendy but empty: A Response to Richard Jackson”,
http://www.49thparal…15/rodwell1.htm)

However, having said that, the problem is Jackson’s own theoretical underpinning, his own justification for the importance of language. If he was merely proposing that the understanding of language as one of many causal factors is important that would be fine. But he is not. The epistemological and theoretical framework of his argument means the ONLY thing we should look at is language and this is the problem.[ii] Rather than being a fairly simple, but nonetheless valid, argument, because of the theoretical justification it actually becomes an almost nonsensical. My response is roughly laid out in four parts. Firstly I will argue that such methodology, in isolation, is fundamentally reductionist with a theoretical underpinning that does not conceal this simplicity. Secondly, that a strict use of post-structural discourse analysis results in an epistemological cul-de-sac in which the writer cannot actually say anything. Moreover the reader has no reason to accept anything that has been written. The result is at best an explanation that remains as equally valid as any other possible interpretation and at worse a work that retains no critical force whatsoever. Thirdly, possible arguments in response to this charge; that such approaches provide a more acceptable explanation than others are, in effect, both a tacit acceptance of the poverty of force within the approach and of the complete lack of understanding of the identifiable effects of the real world around us; thus highlighting the contradictions within post-structural claims to be moving beyond traditional causality, re-affirming that rather than pursuing a post-structural approach we should continue to employ the traditional methodologies within History, Politics and International Relations. Finally as a consequence of these limitations I will argue that the post-structural call for ‘intertextuals’ must be practiced rather than merely preached and that an understanding and utilisation of all possible theoretical approaches must be maintained if academic writing is to remain useful rather than self-contained and narrative. Ultimately I conclude that whilst undeniably of some value post-structural approaches are at best a footnote in our understanding .

Discourse doesn’t construct reality, it describes it—only an empirical method of determining truth can produce coherent conclusions
Rodwell, 05
(Jonathan, PhD student at Manchester Met. researching U.S. Foreign Policy, 49th parallel, Spring, “Trendy but empty: A Response to Richard Jackson”,
http://www.49thparal…15/rodwell1.htm)

The larger problem is that without clear causal links between materially identifiable events and factors any assessment within the argument actually becomes nonsensical. Mirroring the early inability to criticise, if we have no traditional causational discussion how can we know what is happening? For example, Jackson details how the rhetoric of anti-terrorism and fear is obfuscating the real problems. It is proposed that the real world killers are not terrorism, but disease or illegal drugs or environmental issues. The problem is how do we know this? It seems we know this because there is evidence that illustrates as much – Jackson himself quoting to Dr David King who argued global warming is a greater that than terrorism. The only problem of course is that discourse analysis has established (as argued by Jackson) that King’s argument would just be self-contained discourse designed to naturalise another arguments for his own reasons. Ultimately it would be no more valid than the argument that excessive consumption of Sugar Puffs is the real global threat. It is worth repeating that I don’t personally believe global terrorism is the world’s primary threat, nor do I believe that Sugar Puffs are a global killer. But without the ability to identify real facts about the world we can simply say anything, or we can say nothing. This is clearly ridiculous and many post-structuralists can see this. Their argument is that there “are empirically more persuasive explanations.”[xi] The phrase ‘empirically persuasive’ is however the final undermining of post-structural discourse analysis. It is a seemingly fairly obvious reintroduction of traditional methodology and causal links. It implies things that can be seen to be right regardless of perspective or discourse. It again goes without saying that logically in this case if such an assessment is possible then undeniable material factors about the word are real and are knowable outside of any cultural definition. Language or culture then does not wholy constitute reality. How do we know in the end that the world not threatened by the onslaught of an oppressive and dangerous breakfast cereal? Because empirically persuasive evidence tells us this is the case. The question must then be asked, is our understanding of the world born of evidential assessment, or born of discourse analysis? Or perhaps it’s actually born of utilisation of many different possible explanations.

Perm – combining discursive change with action is key to accurate representation and successfully addressing material inequalities.
Swartz in ’06
, Ph.D. in Communication from Purdue University, 2006, (Omar, “Social justice and communication scholarship,” pg. 43-44)
The reason such rhetorical criticism does not necessarily produce social change is because of the great divide between the symbolic and material worlds. As Cloud (1994) persuasively argued, although the study of rhetoric is “vital to the projects of critique and social change … discourse is not the only thing that ‘matters’ in these projects” (p. 141). She cautioned against falling victim to the “materiality of discourse hypothesis”: the belief that “discourse itself is influential or even constitutive of social and material reality” (p. 141). The materiality of discourse hypothesis draws no distinction between symbolic and material acts, because reality is viewed as being a discursive formation. However, as McGee (1986) pointed out: Action is doing to the world, the chopping of trees. … There is a tremendous gulf between action and discourse, the distance between murder, for example, and the “symbolic killing” of name-calling. In truth, the only actions that consist in discourse are performed on discourse itself. Speech will not fell a tree, and one cannot write a house to dwell in. One can act through discourse on discourse to guide or control the meaning people see in selected representations of the world. Discursive action, however, always stands in anticipation of its consequences, an act that requires additional acts before one is clear that it was ever more than “mere talk.” (p. 122) Hence, as Cloud (1994) maintained, When discourse counts as material, emancipation is seemingly possible in “mere talk” (p. 154), but it is not only discourses and codes from which many people need liberation. A politics of discourse … assumes that those who are oppressed or exploited need discursive redefinition of their identities, rather than transformation of their material conditions as a primary task (p. 157). Cloud pointed out that “to say that hunger and war are rhetorical is to state the obvious; to suggest that rhetoric is all they are is to leave critique behind” (p. 159). Thus, criticism alone, the textualizing of politics, as Farrell (1993) called it, does not produce social change unless it leads “to some kind of concrete oppositional action – a successful strike, a demonstration that builds a mass movement, or other collective and effective refusal of the prevailing social order” (Cloud, 1994, p. 151); that is, action that results in changes in the material world. As Wander (1984) exclaimed, “Cries of help call for much more than appreciation” (p. 199)

Perm – combining discursive change with action is key to accurate representation and successfully addressing material inequalities.
Swartz, 06
Ph.D. in Communication from Purdue University in 1995, 2006, (Omar, “Social justice and communication scholarship,” pg. 43-44)
The reason such rhetorical criticism does not necessarily produce social change is because of the great divide between the symbolic and material worlds. As Cloud (1994) persuasively argued, although the study of rhetoric is “vital to the projects of critique and social change … discourse is not the only thing that ‘matters’ in these projects” (p. 141). She cautioned against falling victim to the “materiality of discourse hypothesis”: the belief that “discourse itself is influential or even constitutive of social and material reality” (p. 141). The materiality of discourse hypothesis draws no distinction between symbolic and material acts, because reality is viewed as being a discursive formation. However, as McGee (1986) pointed out: Action is doing to the world, the chopping of trees. … There is a tremendous gulf between action and discourse, the distance between murder, for example, and the “symbolic killing” of name-calling. In truth, the only actions that consist in discourse are performed on discourse itself. Speech will not fell a tree, and one cannot write a house to dwell in. One can act through discourse on discourse to guide or control the meaning people see in selected representations of the world. Discursive action, however, always stands in anticipation of its consequences, an act that requires additional acts before one is clear that it was ever more than “mere talk.” (p. 122) Hence, as Cloud (1994) maintained, When discourse counts as material, emancipation is seemingly possible in “mere talk” (p. 154), but it is not only discourses and codes from which many people need liberation. A politics of discourse … assumes that those who are oppressed or exploited need discursive redefinition of their identities, rather than transformation of their material conditions as a primary task (p. 157). Cloud pointed out that “to say that hunger and war are rhetorical is to state the obvious; to suggest that rhetoric is all they are is to leave critique behind” (p. 159). Thus, criticism alone, the textualizing of politics, as Farrell (1993) called it, does not produce social change unless it leads “to some kind of concrete oppositional action – a successful strike, a demonstration that builds a mass movement, or other collective and effective refusal of the prevailing social order” (Cloud, 1994, p. 151); that is, action that results in changes in the material world. As Wander (1984) exclaimed, “Cries of help call for much more than appreciation” (p. 199)

(link)

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