Saturday, November 30, 2013


Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective 

I have already mentioned that discourse functions not only as the research object, but also the medium through which other (mental, social) phenomena are communicated and may be studied. 
We cannot access other people’s minds. “Mental concepts, even if they existed – writes a critic of cognitivism – would not be accessible to any empirical investigation” (Teubert 2010: 7). We can only access discourse. Thus, we cannot study actual attitudes, but only discursive constructions of attitudes. The term constructions is important here – it brings to attention the claim that discourse does not express attitudes which are stable internal states, which are something the speaker has; rather, the speaker constructs attitudes when they are needed, demanded, asked for – parallel to the construction of memories: “social psychology assumes that attitude is a mental reality and expressing it is giving expression to an inner mental state; discourse analysis shows that people do not have a single attitude, they use complex, often contradictory patterns of talk” (Billig 1991: 15) to construct them.
Due to this inaccessibility, discourse analysis cannot make references to internal states (goals, expectations, motives) of speakers (Holtgraves 2002). It may only investigate clues to such states that are explicitly or implicitly encoded in text and talk (Shuy 2008) – a text always says more than its author means to say (Angermüller 2012). 
Some approaches to discourse, such as pragmatics or speech act theory, are concerned with speakers’ intentions – according to these approaches, the hearer’s task is to correctly interpret these intentions on the basis of clues provided by the speaker’s text, e.g. by making use of conversational maxims (as in an influential theory by Paul Grice, 1989) or recognizing illocutionary force of a speech act (as in speech act theory by John Austin, 1975). More recently, relevance theorists have said that utterances do not encode speaker’s meaning at all – they just provide evidence for this meaning (cf. Wilson & Sperber (eds.) 2012). Actually, already in the 1970s Garfinkel wrote that “what the parties said [i.e. the spoken text] would be treated as a sketchy, partial, incomplete, masked, elliptical, concealed, ambiguous, or misleading version of what the parties talked about [i.e. their discourse]” (Garfinkel 1972: 317, as cited in Widdowson 2004: 11; consider also de Saussure 2007: 181: “a discourse is more than the sum of the utterances composing it”). Still, this project is not about attributing intentions to speakers, making guesses about presuppositions and implicatures, and so on, because it approaches discourse as a historical process, as a common accomplishment of society, and not as a product of an individual speaker. 

Another point to make here is that discourse is constitutive: "it constitutes situations, objects of knowledge, and the social identities of and relationships between people and groups of people" (Fairclough and Wodak 1997: 258). This means that language not only functions as a medium of construction, but also actively influences, affects, shapes "both social and psychological processes" (Wodak & Reisigl 2008). “Discourses are practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (Foucault 1972: 49). “Discourse does not transparently reflect the thoughts, attitudes and identities of separate selves but is a shared social resource that constructs identity as individuals lay claim to various recognizable social and shared identities” (Ainsworth & Hardy 2004). 
We may be reminded here of the so-called Whorf’s hypothesis whereby language shapes the way we perceive the world, to the point that linguistic categories impose restrictions on cognitive categories (e.g. Lakoff 2000: 47). Although such extreme linguistic determinism is not taken seriously anymore, it has inspired work on mutual relations and connections of language and thought, most notably the theories of metaphorical thinking (Lakoff & Johnson 1980, 2003) and rhetorical thinking (Billig 1987, 1991). Actually, these theories point to discursive determinism rather than linguistic determinism. Thinking of a concept in terms of another concept (e.g. ARGUMENT IS WAR (Lakoff & Johnson 2003: 4), TIME IS MONEY (ibid: 7), etc.) or thinking rhetorically and argumentatively (Billig 1991: 1) is only possible due to discourse understood as accumulation of all texts ever created or uttered. We rarely invent new metaphors – we inherit them from previous discourses. Our arguments build upon what we have learnt, read, heard. “Any new text is always in some way a comment on previous texts” (Teubert 2010: 4); “the text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture” (Barthes 1977: 146). 
Relevant here are the concepts of heteroglossia and intertextuality. In Bakhtin’s heteroglossia, or “diversity of voices” (1981), “the constant dialogic interaction(s) of meanings condition each other; the process of redefining is endless unless a powerful participant is involved, in which case meaning becomes authoritative and absolute” (Schulthies & Boum 2007: 148). “An instance of a word refers to all previous instances of that word, creating a dialogue between utterances” (Stoltz 2007: 116, quoting Bakhtin 1984); an individual’s speech is always filled by others’ words (Myles 2010: 50). Intertextuality, in turn, is “the property texts have of being full of ‘snatches’ of other texts (Kristeva 1986), which may be explicitly demarcated or implicitly merged in, and which the text may seamlessly assimilate, explicitly echo (ironically or otherwise) or confront” (Sunderland & Litosseliti 2002: 14). Intertextuality may be manifested quite explicitly with, for example, reported speech; but also when implicit, it reflects discourse as a historical process in which all texts are linked. 
Also important is the concept of interdiscursivity – “the mixing together of different discourses and genres” (Fairclough 1992). “For instance, discourse on climate change may contain discourses on finance and health and discourse on exclusion can possibly link to discourses on education and employment” (El Naggar 2012: 81). This has important consequences for ideological, persuasive, promotional effects of texts: “metaphors and analogies are always available from other discourses, and the space this gives a speaker to find a voice from another discourse, and even within the discourse they oppose, is theoretically limitless” (Parker 1992: 13). Goffman (1981) suggests talking about various voices or positions from different genres and discourses that find their way into a text in terms of footing: it is an alignment among participants of interaction typically articulated through utterances, but also through other “semiotic displays” (Agha 2007: 178). “A change of footing implies a change in the alignment we take up to ourselves and the others present as expressed in the way we manage the production or reception of an utterance” (Goffman 1981: 128). Thus footing is associated with power, and footing change reflects negotiations of power within the interaction. 

The phenomena of heteroglossia and intertextuality are believed to reflect more general, established social arrangements of power. It has been claimed that the contents of our everyday thinking – including our beliefs, attitudes and values – are cultural products, and these in turn confirm these power relations (Billig 1991: 1). Groups holding the power – we will call them power elites – provide us with patterns of thinking that we internalize and reproduce, even if they are contrary to our interests (“to secure power, it makes sense to persuade everyone else that what you want is also what they want” (Wareing 2004: 38); cf. the Marxist term false consciousness, Gramsci’s (1971) concept of hegemony or Bourdieu’s (1991) symbolic power). According to these approaches, processing information may not be a strictly individual and independent process. Categorization and stereotyping, which are devices that help to organize masses of incoming information, are not merely individual “cognitive reflexes” or “shortcuts” (Billig 1987), but also effects of socialization, mobilized by the processes of ideology. In this light, discourse appears as “the platform where power is performed” (Wareing 2004). The most obvious means of discursive influence are manipulation and persuasion (cf. de Saussure & Schulz (eds.) 2005), but power elites have much more subtle and seemingly “innocent” resources at their disposal. The mere access to specific forms of discourse, e.g. of the media, politics, science, education – is considered a power resource (cf. van Dijk 2008a: 162: “by controlling the access to public discourse, only specific forms of knowledge and opinions may be expressed and widely circulated, and these may persuasively lead to mental models and social representations that are in the interest of the powerful”). Knowledge coming from these discourses is commonsensical, taken for granted, “unmarked” – but, in fact, language use is never neutral; it always reflects underlying ideologies (Wareing 2004; consider also the following statement by Hinton: “we accept our cultural norms as being ‘true’ rather than a specific view within our culture” (2000: 13)). Billig explains that “ideology operates through the mobilization of discourse (…) the processes of ideology (…) are also means of mobilizing (individual) consciousness” (1991: 14). What is important, these ideological contents “are perhaps most influential when they reproduce negative representations of other groups in subtle and indirect ways” (van Dijk 1997: 36; Matsuda (1993) calls this “sophisticated” or “sanitised” discourse); “work most effectively in texts which are not explicitly addressing those identities [of other groups] but construct them as part of another communicative purpose” (Koller 2012: 20). But no matter how explicit or implicit, eventually they are internalized and reproduced by members of both the in-group and the out-group(s) that are stereotyped or discriminated against. The point is, again, to recognize these ideological contents and gain awareness of their effects on our beliefs and attitudes whether we agree with them or not. The fact that a belief sounds credible does not make it true; and the fact that we like a belief does not make it more credible.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Confessional and sexual minorities

Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective

The term sexual minorities refers to: 1) gay men, lesbian women, bisexual persons, asexual persons, 2) transgender/transsexual persons, and intersexual persons. Labels listed under 1) apply to sexual identities (commonly called orientations) while those listed under 2) apply to gender identities (I apply here the distinction between sex as a biological/physiological category and gender as a social category).
In public discourse, the term sexual minorities “is used in order to underline the normative aspects of homosexuality (being inferior to heterosexuality), but in the academic literature this concept also has a sociological sense according to which a minority is a group which tends to be more vulnerable to social exclusion as in the cases of ethnic, religious and other minorities” (Reingarde & Zdanevičius 2007: 50). 
In this project, sexual minority is considered a socially constructed category, an identity imposed on those who defy the hegemony of heteronormativity:
“If homosexuality still has a strong identity constructing capacity in a society, it can suggest that the given society is dominated by exclusive monolithic homosexual and heterosexual identity patterns which can threaten the successful social integration of people. (…) The (potentially unifying) concept and the practical realisation of homosexual identity can be seen as the product of social stigmatisation and discrimination: the greater the proportion of signs of rejecting individual difference, the more widespread personal and group identities are organised by and around these differences. This type of stigmatisation can be interpreted in general as a social symptom reflecting the rejection of the right to be different” (Takács 2007: 185). In other words, homosexuality (and other sexual minority identities) has high topicality in a society that sees democracy as the right of majority to demand that everyone follow the same patterns. Sexual minority identities are, from the perspective of the majority, problematized, excluded, stigmatized, and as such deemed sufficient to group people coming from different cultures, countries, speaking different languages, having different religious affiliations, political views, professions, hobbies, interests and lifestyles into a conflated Other.
The situation of religious minorities is different, because some of their members are at the same time ethnic and linguistic minorities in the countries where they live. It may thus be assumed that they belong to different cultures, too. On the other hand, those belonging to the majority culture and a minority religion usually consciously choose the latter, which, in a way, makes them “outsiders by choice”. 

Sexual and religious minorities are usually invoked with regard to, or in the context of, human rights. In fact, “it was religious minorities [understood as cultural minorities] who spearheaded minority rights concerns onto the regional and, later, international level. It was the effort to protect religious minorities that led to the aborted attempt for recognition of minority rights at the League of Nations and that later slowly percolated through to United Nations (UN) human rights norms and mechanisms” (Ghanea 2012: 1).
“Migration has had religious overtones throughout history, with the very emergence and spread of religion—and the subsequent linkages related to that religious civilization—leading to minority demands and concerns in many lands” (p. 1). The protection of religious minorities “has a record dating back to the mid to late 1500s, when successive treaties sought to provide protection for religious minorities” (p. 2).
While religious minorities are associated with the beginning of human rights movement, the attitudes towards sexual minorities today are a “litmus-paper test” for tolerance, openness and inclusiveness of societies (Gruszczyńska 2007).
To a certain extent, religious minorities may appear to fare a bit better – at least in the case of Abrahamic religions in the European context – due to the fact that they share a certain core of universal moral principles which all religions may be abstracted to (Downes 2011: 236). But atheists, as well as sexual minorities, seem to defy these principles, and thus “deserve” to be “subordinated, marginalized, stigmatized and excluded” (extending somewhat the reference of the formulation by Reingarde & Zdanevičius 2007: 50).
Still, the discrimination towards confessional minorities must not be taken less seriously, as “each individual has the right to enjoy a full life, irrespective of the way in which that individual is different from others” (Locmelis 2002: 27-28). 

In either case, religious and sexual minorities are discourse minorities, in the sense that they are underrepresented in public discourse as producers of texts. They constitute issues talked about [note how it is possible to say "I am against homosexuality" the way people say "I am against progressive tax", as if its very existence as a social reality were subject to public discussion], but rarely contribute their side of the story. Sexual minorities are silenced by the social taboo imposed by heteronormativity. If they speak out, it is always from the defensive position.
Religious minorities that also are linguistic minorities face restrictions in access to discourse also in the recipient role. They are rarely able to speak out even to defend themselves. Due to different cultural common ground, immigrant religious minorities may also fail to recognize discourses that are harmful to them.

In terms of concepts introduced in the previous posts, we may consider sexual and religious minorities as out-groups. Attitudes of the majority in-group towards these out-groups may vary significantly: they may be just identified as different – alien, foreign, and so on; common grounds shared with them may be recognized (universal moral values, being a believer, being in love…); or the principle of polarization may be employed to construct them as bad, evil, wrong. Sexual minorities are especially vulnerable to polarization, because they break with the “universal, everlasting” classification of gender identities and gender roles, which, as noted above, is polarized itself. “There is extensive evidence to suggest that gender is a crucial component of people's social world; many people really do find it vital to be able to pigeonhole others into the normative, binary set of female-male, and they find linguistic or social behaviors which threaten the apparent stability of this "essential" distinction extremely disturbing. Thus, they censure women (overtly or indirectly) for behavior that is typically associated with males, they beat up transvestites, they pathologize or murder homosexuals” (Holmes & Meyerhoff 2003: 9).
[Such a statement is of course a bit extreme, but it matches an Introduction to a long book – it is controversial and attention-catching. It also justifies the claims made earlier. Sexual minorities are an “issue” due to the perseverance of binary opposition of genders and gender roles. I am not claiming we should do away with the category of gender at all, but do we really need it to be so significant? Does it really need to define us in such rigid ways? The same applies to categorization in general – we cannot stop categorizing, but we could try to stop putting so much (evaluative) weight on the differences between categories, and to stop perceiving what is different as what is worse.]
Interestingly enough, extremely hostile and prejudiced attitudes about sexual and religious minorities do not necessarily originate in disgust and fear towards what is different, but in fear of what may be hiding and lurking in us ourselves. Homophobic men may despise homosexuality because it means that they may be “reduced” to the female role of the penetrated; it reminds them that their bodies are penetrable, and thus perishable (Kowalski 2009: 37, quoting Nussbaum 2004).
In turn, coming in contact with another religion produces “genuine doubt and a threat not only to the authority of particular traditions but also the general authority of religion” (Downes 2011: 217).

Other relevant terms:
Discrimination takes place when one treats another person in a different way, usually worse/less favourably, from the way they would treat different people in the same situation, only because he or she perceives this person (justly or unjustly) to belong to a certain social group. The treatment of a person less favourably because one considers them to be bisexual or homosexual, constituates [sic] discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” (Glossary in Abramowicz (ed.) 2007).

Homophobia consists of the dislike of as well as negative emotions expressed towards bi-and homosexual persons; sweeping generalizations about usually negative features that are allegedly characteristic for all representatives of this group. Furthermore, homophobia is manifested through behaviours that consists of different, usually less favourable treatment of persons perceived as belonging to this group. This different treatment can have a verbal form (for instance, expressing false and/or negative beliefs, verbal aggression) or physical (for instance, avoiding contact, condescending treatment, provocation, physical aggression, violence, refusal or impeding access to the same goods, services or privileges that the persons perceived as heterosexual have access to). Worse treatment takes also on the form of written and unwritten social rules and legal and formal regulations, which exclude bi- and homosexual persons from access to goods, services and privileges that are accessible to heterosexual persons” (Glossary in Abramowicz (ed.) 2007).
“Homophobia is an irrational fear of homosexual people which often translates into negative attitudes towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT)” (Tereškinas 2007: 3).
“The term homophobia is used to describe fear of, discrimination against or hostility towards lesbians, gay men or bisexual people” (Bortnik 2007: 367, footnote 12).

Hate crime: “A working definition of hate crime is given by OSCE/ODIHR. It takes national differences into account, such as differences in legislation, resources, approach, and needs. A hate crime can be defined as any criminal offence, including offences against persons or property, where the victim, premises, or target of the offence are selected because of their real or perceived connection, attachment, affiliation, support, or membership of a group, which may be based upon a characteristic common to its members, such as real or perceived race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or other similar factors (OSCE/ODIHR 2005, 12)” (Bortnik 2007: 367, footnote 12).

“The term “hate speech” shall be understood as covering all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin” (Council of Europe, Committee of Ministers, Recommendation no. R (97) 20).
Hate speech – “regarded as speech which is particularly harmful because it contributes to a climate of hatred and violence towards marginalised and disempowered sectors of the community. It violates the basic human dignity of its victims” (Gelber 2002: 1).

Effects of hate speech (Matsuda 1993, Gelber 2002):
1)   limiting the victim’s personal liberty – hate speech denies the feeling of personal security and the liberty to pursue the victim’s daily life due to fear of hate crime; it limits the victim’s ability to maintain broad support networks and personal relationships;
2)   internalization of discriminatory messages – hearers begin to believe that the claims are true;
3)   perpetuation of further acts of subordination;
4)   silencing.

Hate speech silences its victims via three mechanisms:
1)   actual and potential victims fail to speak due to intimidation or a belief that no one will take them seriously;

2)   actual and potential victims do speak, but their speech-act does not achieve its desired effect (and this failure is directly related to their position of relative powerlessness as hearer); and/or

3)   actual and potential victims do not possess the authority in the relevant domain, vis a vis the speaker of the hate-speech-act, to be able to utter a meaningful response (Gelber 2002: 86).

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Conflicts and other problems

Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective 

In previous posts, I discussed the distinction between cultures, communities, groups, as well as their common grounds, ideologies, beliefs and attitudes. I tried to look at all these concepts from the point of view of discourse, which is the platform where various groupings and their ways of seeing and understanding the world around them meet, interact and clash.
Behaviour is another term in social sciences and social psychology that has some relevance here, although I haven’t discussed it in any length. Behaviour is usually mentioned in relation to attitude – for example, in research on cognitive dissonance, where one’s attitudes and behaviour do not match. Behaviour is a social act and a public act, potentially observable by other people. So is discourse. Language use is a social act and a public act as well. In this sense, the expression of attitude through language IS behaviour.
Now we have a fuller (but not necessarily full) picture of the potential points of conflict. Conflicts between individuals’ norms within a group, conflicts between ideologies within a culture, conflicts between cultures… An individual’s behaviour may be in conflict with his/her values – e.g. when he/she acts just to conform to his/her group. An individual’s attitudes may be in conflict with his/her beliefs. And so on, and so forth:
“Ideological contents are admitted to the mind by virtue of their social meaning. Within both society and the individual there are conflicting normative pressures from different sources. (…) Therefore, almost all cultural concepts and reflective beliefs are potential sites of social conflict” (Downes 2011: 235).
“There is a tension here between ‘identity’, understood as what gives groups a sense of being all ‘the same’, and ‘ideology’, beliefs that underpin that sense of unity. Both of these are in tension with ‘practice’, the set of engagements by many people facing different problems in a complex and contradictory world” (Hodge 2012: 2).

We often write and talk about values or attitudes as if they were tangible, observable objects, but of course it is not so. There are some groups (organizations, religious communities etc.) that actually do write their norms of behaviour and values down, but in most cases they remain unsaid. As members of groups, we make guesses about beliefs underlying other members’ behaviour: sometimes we are right, sometimes we are wrong. We also discuss them, but are rarely aware of their situational, context-dependent nature.
This may give rise to such issues as:
- pluralistic ignorance – when virtually all members of a group privately reject a norm yet believe that virtually all other members of the group accept it (Miller, Monin & Prentice 2000: 103). It accounts for widespread public support for social norms that have no widespread private acceptance (p. 104). This happens because people tend to adjust their own attitudes to match their estimates of peer attitudes (p. 105);
- conservative lags – when attitude change is not accompanied by behaviour change, leaving social practice in place long after it has long widespread private support. This may happen because people fail to recognize that their attitude change has been shared by others (p. 107);
- liberal leaps – when behaviour change accelerates without the corresponding attitude change (p. 108).

It is not difficult to imagine that the multiple, fragmented and fluid nature of our individual assortments of personal and social identities may also lead to conflicts. Blackledge distinguishes imposed identities (that are not negotiable), assumed identities (accepted and not negotiated) and negotiable identities (contested by groups and individuals). He also adds: “assumed identity options that are not negotiated by one group of individuals, may become a battleground for another group that approaches them as negotiable” (2005: 36). [A case in point is homosexual identity: within the community of LGBT people, such an identity is uncontested, but becomes negotiable in other groups and communities, such as families, teams of colleagues, church congregations, etc. What is interesting, bisexual identity may be problematized and contested both by “straights” and “gays”, cf. Borgos 2007).]
Nowadays, with the rise of globalized commercial culture, national identities that promote homogeneous cultures and nationality as a core aspect of people’s very being have to compete with new identities, “no longer connected to a specific nation or place of origin” (Machin & van Leeuwen 2007: 41) – ‘lifestyle’ identities. Machin & van Leeuwen consider them two top-down models of identity construction. “One is imposed by nation states, reinforced in national news media, education systems and other national institutions, and defines people primarily as citizens. The other serves the interests of global corporations, is disseminated through marketing practices and global media, and defines people primarily as consumers” (2007: 44). We usually choose certain elements from both models, which may result in significant tensions. Also Sparks notices the potential for conflict along the lines of citizen/consumer identity (2000: 43). He adds to the list: conflicts between values represented by one’s self-identities and represented by one’s attitudes/expressions of attitudes (Sparks 2000: 42); between people’s roles as citizens/as consumers; between people’s moral codes/social roles/personal tastes; between someone’s personal/moral preferences; between pleasure/moral values (p. 43).

I would like to discuss one last issue that is bound to come up in research on religious and, especially, sexual minorities – distinction between the private and the public domain. The private sphere is “the domain in which one can only be witnessed by intimate observers” (Coleman & Ross 2010: 5); it is “closed off, invisible to outsiders, and governed by internally specific rules” (p. 22). In contrast, the public space is open to everyone, visible to everyone, universal rather than particular, impersonal rather than personal (p. 24).
In the era of reality shows, call-in radio programmes, computer-mediated communication, Skype, facebook, blogs, Internet discussion groups, etc., the boundaries between the private and the public zones are increasingly blurred. The private sphere is becoming more visible (of course, these technologies make the public even more visible too).
The public is not only a space (public zone), but also a social actor (society); it is, however, unable to represent itself, and “doomed to be represented” (Coleman & Ross 2010: 9). In a democracy, those who represent the public – the political class – “can only claim legitimacy by speaking in its name and acting in its interests” (p. 8). But who decides what is in its interest?
We may consider the following statement an answer: “the public agenda is largely framed by the media agenda, and the media agenda by the institutional elites. The battle for public opinion is not so much about what one wants the public to think, but about what one wants the public to think about. Whoever has a decisive influence over that has already half won the battle” (van Ginneken 2003: 13).
(A somewhat more extreme formulation of the same claim is Chomsky’s “spectator democracy”, which manufactures consent with the means of propaganda; cf. Chomsky 1997.)
The media create the world for us, or rather they create a specific version of the world for us. “Certain views of what is true, real and important” are selectively articulated by the global media discourse. We internalize those views, they become our beliefs and opinions, they lead our lives.
The question is: in this context, does the distinction between the private and the public really hold?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Stereotypes and related concepts

Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective

Key reading: Billig 1987, 1991; van Dijk 1984, 1993, 1998; Hinton 2000

Categorization is believed to be the basic function of human thinking (Mervis & Rosch 1981). In order to make sense of the world, we label things, people, actions, etc.; we identify them as belonging to particular, more general categories. We then use these categories to make inferences and assumptions about their members. “Stereotyping involves judging people as category members rather than individuals” (Hinton 2000: 5). [Sexual and religious minorities are examples of such categories.]
“Categorization not only protects us from cognitive overload, in that we are simplifying the enormous amount of information available to us, but it also provides an organization of information about the social world” (Hamilton 1979, quoted in Hinton 2000: 21).
The most salient social categories regarding people include race, gender, class and age; other examples – family status, professional affiliation, religious affiliation, etc.

Patternicity is another basic function of human brain – “the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise” (Shermer 2011: 60).
“Our brains are belief engines, evolved pattern-recognition machines that connect the dots and create meaning out of the patterns that we think we see in nature. Sometimes A really is connected to B; sometimes it is not. (…) In other words, we tend to find meaningful patterns whether they are there or not (…) [they] are not so much errors in cognition as they are natural processes of a learning brain” (Shermer 2011: 61-62).
false positive
false negative
Examples of errors in patternicity include false positives (believing something is real when it is not), false negatives (believing something is not real when it is), illusory correlations, among others.
illusory correlation
Illusory correlation is “the perception of a causal relationship between two sets of variables where none exists, or the overestimation of a connection between two variables. The illusory correlation effect is strongest when people form false associations between (X) membership in a statistically small group and (Y) rare and usually negative traits or behaviors. Trivially, for example, people tend to recall the days when they (X) washed their car and (Y) it rained; nontrivially, white Americans typically overestimate the rate that (X) African Americans (Y) are arrested” (Shermer 2011: 83).

“Many beliefs are abstractions or generalizations from several experiences over time” (Bem 1970: 7), and “when an individual treats such generalizations as if they were universally true, we usually call them stereotypes” (p. 8).
Research on stereotyping is based upon the claim that “human cognition is not able to apprehend the full complexity of the world” (Hinton 2000: 54).  Stereotypes here are cognitive shortcuts that ease the effort of processing all the incoming information. Stereotyping involves automatic processing that “does not use up our processing capacity, operates quickly, is inflexible and is unconscious (…) but automatic processing relies on highly practised techniques or overlearnt expectations” (Hinton 2000: 59). “The essence of stereotypical thinking is that it is fast and gives us a basis for immediate action in uncertain circumstances. But its legacy is that we are happier and more comfortable when thinking in ways that promise immediate survival than in ways that appear to threaten it. This may no longer make much sense, but unfortunately our brain doesn’t know that (…) presented with the need for a quick decision it will prefer stereotype to logic” (Fox 1992: 140).
Stereotypes are beliefs – thus, Shermer’s claim that “beliefs come first, evidence second” applies also to them. Stereotypes may be thought of in terms of false positives, false negatives, illusory correlations – once established, they are very difficult to correct or change, because people have the tendency to think and perceive in ways that reinforce those patterns.
attributional biases (Hinton 2000: 87-88, 98-99)
Attributional biases in stereotypical thinking:
- fundamental attribution error – attributing causes to people rather than situations;
- actor-observer effect – attributing causes to situations rather than ourselves;
- self-serving bias – we attribute our successes to internal factors and failures to external factors (independent from us);
- false consensus effect – assuming that all people would act as we would;
- self-fulfilling prophesy – a person acts in a way that brings about the stereotypical outcome they believe to be the case
- stereotype preservation bias – people are biased in the ways they seek out information and recall information to confirm and reinforce the stereotypes they have and resist stereotype change.
Biases according to Shermer (2011):
- the confirmation bias: the tendency to seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirming evidence (p. 259);
- the bias blind spot: the tendency to recognize the power of cognitive biases in other people but to be blind to their influence upon our own beliefs (p. 276; list of other biases: pp. 260-276). 
how stereotypes work (Hinton 2000: 7-8)
1. A group of people are identified by a specific characteristic – the particular chosen group is separated from an undifferentiated set of people on the basis of this characteristic. [categorization]
2. A set of additional characteristics is attributed to this group as a whole. [patternicity? (illusory) correlation?]
3. If a person is identified as belonging to the group, all stereotypical characteristics will be attributed to her/him.
features of stereotypes
Features of stereotypes:
- stereotypes are generalizations – they ignore individual differences (Brown 1965: 176);
- stereotypes vary in terms of accuracy (accurate/inaccurate) and of valence (positive/negative), but are not inherently false or negative (Jussim, McCauley & Lee 1995: 16-17); “some inaccurate stereotypes attribute positive characteristics to a group; some accurate stereotypes attribute negative ones” (McCauley, Jussim & Lee 1995: 302);
- stereotypes are ethnocentric: “we accept our cultural norms as being ‘true’ rather than a specific view within our culture” (Hinton 2000: 13);
- stereotypes assume that the stereotypical attribute of a group is inherent – “the characteristic is in their nature” (Hinton 2000: 13), it is something they cannot control or change;
- stereotypes are held regardless of changes of circumstances (Hinton 2000: 12); “even repeated disconfirmations of a stereotype can often fail to alter it because the individual treats them as exceptions” (Bem 1970: 9).
stereotyping as a social process
Most statements listed above apply to individual thinking and cognition, but it is important to emphasize that stereotypes are also social phenomena. Categorizing people generally means assigning them to groups on the basis of a characteristic. People attributed the same characteristic that we share enter our in-group defined in terms of this characteristic; people that lack it enter the out-group. For example, if the characteristic is nationality, the in-group is our imagined community of nation, and the out-group comprises foreigners.
“Stereotyping differs from more general social typing [categorization] in its rigidity; it "reduces, essentializes, naturalizes and fixes 'difference'. . . facilitates the 'binding' or bonding together of all of Us who are 'normal' into one 'imagined community'; and it sends into symbolic exile all of Them (Hall 1997: 258)” (Talbot 2003: 471).
Aspects of inter-group stereotyping include:
- overestimating differences between groups (‘they are not like us’),
- underestimating internal out-group differentiation (‘they are all the same’),
- perceiving one’s in-group in more positive terms,
- perceiving out-groups in more negative terms,
- in-group favouritism,
- out-group discrimination.
Stereotypes provide positive feedback about one’s in-group and help create both individual and social self-esteem. Stereotypes function to justify existing attitudes in intergroup contexts (Stangor 1995: 280-281). In an intergroup confrontation, such pre-existing attitudes affect the receptiveness to arguments (Billig 1987: 66).
"Within-group amity and between-group enmity are almost universal. The rule of thumb is to trust in-group members until they prove to be distrustful, and to distrust out-group members until they prove to be trustful" (Shermer 2011: 247).
It is important to note that “erroneous stereotypes are a social problem primarily if they lead to biases and discrimination (…) inaccuracy becomes a problem when perceivers treat or evaluate one group differently than another as a result of that inaccuracy” (Jussim & Eccles 1995: 246). This statement illustrates exactly the influence of stereotypes on attitudes (biased, discriminatory attitudes) and action (unequal treatment).
From my perspective, one of the most important aspects of intergroup dynamics is that one individual may belong to a theoretically indefinite number of groups, that boundaries of and between groups may not always be clearly defined, and that groups are characterized by various relations to each other that may even seem contradictory (from an individual’s point of view). For example, a female gay Pole belongs to the groups of women, homosexuals, and Polish citizens. However, she may be excluded from the last group by religious, nationalistic, homophobic etc. Polish citizens. Her sexual orientation means she cannot qualify as a “good Polish citizen”. Note how difficult it is to define who should be included in the category of, say, “American”. Does it include recent immigrants who speak perfect English, have jobs and residency permits, but no citizenship? Does it include children born in the United States who do not speak the language or identify with the culture? Who may be considered “British” – do families of African-American, Asian, Eastern-European background, living in the UK for one, two, three generations, qualify? Does someone born of British parents in Singapore or South Africa qualify?

Thinking in terms of “us” and “them” leads to polarization, as it ignores such “fuzzy” boundaries of categories and groups. “Polarization generally promotes collective violence because it makes the us-them boundary more salient, hollows out the uncommitted middle, intensifies conflict across the boundary, raises the stakes of winning or losing, and enhances opportunities for leaders to initiate action against their enemies” (Tilly 2003: 22–23).
Polarization is also problematic as it encourages thinking in terms of "black and white" opposition: "we" are good, right, normal, "they" are bad, wrong, abnormal - there is nothing in-between, no middle position, and no other "truth" than "our truth". This results in the rejection of any arguments coming from "them" without prior consideration, as prejudice against them is extended to their arguments and discourse (Šūlmane & Kruks 2009: 13).

stereotyping and language
Once again it is necessary to emphasize the role of discourse in the construction of social realities. Stereotypes may not only be explicitly expressed in language, but also emerge in implicit ways from the way we talk about other people. “Many forms of group perception, judgment and interaction, such as conformity, polarization, solidarity, stereotyping and racism, (…) take place through discourse (…). Indeed, when talking as group members people tend to emphasize the positive things of their own group, and the negative things of outgroups, processes of group stereotyping, prejudice formation and polarization that may be observed at many levels of text and talk” (van Dijk 2009: 71). Lakoff writes: “when bias is made explicit (…), it can be identified and criticized. But when it’s implicit, hiding behind a frame that renders it invisible, it is impervious to critique or change” (2000: 52). We return to van Dijk for an illustration: in Dutch media discourse, “we” typically “refers to an ingroup that may be vaguely characterized as “Dutch” or “European,” but usually not as “white.” In other words, “being white” is the normative baseline that is being taken for granted for the organization of text and talk, and need not be explicitly oriented to – in focus are those who somehow can be constructed as having a different color or culture, or both (2009: 111).
Billig recognizes that the manipulation of reference of the pronoun “we” belongs to the most common ideological effects of discourse (1991: 101).
stereotypes and ideology
We might recall that ideologies operate at the level of social groups. At the same time, categorization and stereotyping are intergroup processes. Ideology is relevant to the study of stereotypes and prejudiced attitudes because “subjects” of ideology, those who use ideological “reflexes” without reflection, become stereotypes that reproduce stereotypes – Billig cannot be more explicit when he writes that “uncoordinated acceptance is the opposite of thinking” (Billig 1991: 8), “the automatic application of categories is the negation of thinking” (Billig 1987: 140).
Against this background, it may be important to note that social categorization involves not only distinguishing out-groups from in-groups, but also labelling them, their norms and values: “in rhetorical situations each party will attempt to apply the label which suits their purposes best” (Billig 1987: 142); consider Geertz’s statement “”we” have political opinions; “they” have ideology” (1973: 194). Another strategy is using the same label with different meaning (Billig 1987: 147) – for example, the term freedom means something different for Republicans and for Democrats.

Prejudice “is an aversive or hostile attitude toward a person who belongs to a group, simply because he belongs to that group, and is therefore assumed to have objectionable qualities ascribed to the group” (Allport 1954: 8).
Prejudice is “a shared form of social representation in group members, acquired during processes of socialization” (van Dijk 1984: 13); “even without any information about a group, people may already start building an attitude about them” (p. 24). It is a kind of pre-judgement that steers perception and thinking; prejudiced individuals will treat information confirming their prejudices as typical, and information disconfirming it as exceptional. Prejudiced people expect the negative (recall the self-fulfilling-prophesy effect of stereotyping).
Prejudice – “an unjustified negative emotional reaction to a target group (…) assumed to result from displacement of hostility and frustration toward convenient scapegoats” (Ottati & Lee 1995: 46). “Some prejudice may be a reflection of the individual’s own insecurities” (Bem 1970: 21).

My point is:
Categorization and stereotyping are inherent to human thinking. Problems start when they threaten social cohesion, lead to discrimination and injustice. The point is not so much to stop categorizing, but to do it in a self-reflexive and critical way; to be aware of the existence of pre-judgements that affect our perception of new phenomena, that introduce bias into our thinking about them.
We should be especially careful about beliefs that become the foundation for other beliefs. Beliefs build upon one another, and so those "at the bottom", at the basis of our belief system become neutralized, invisible. As time passes it gets increasingly difficult to even recognize them as beliefs as not as "obvious, natural facts"; besides, such beliefs are very difficult to change, because it would require admitting that the entire belief system is based on wrong foundations. It is then probably easier for an individual to stick by wrong beliefs than to rearrange the entire belief system.

Reflecting on the social nature of categorization and stereotyping, another point is to recognize and resist beliefs that public discourse imposes on us as facts. Language use is never neutral; what to talk about and how to talk about it are ideological choices. Butler (1997), for example, makes us aware of “the divine power of naming”; Wareing reminds us that “language creates power, as well as being a site where power is performed” (2004: 11). Or, to go even further: “it is more effective and efficient for a system to control our behaviour by controlling our perception of reality than it is to control us with force” (Wareing 2004: 11);  “to secure power, it makes sense to persuade everyone else that what you want is also what they want” (Wareing 2004: 38).
We must then approach all new information with caution; we must ask: "how do you know that?" "where does it come from?" "where is the proof?" We must remember that all facts are merely factual beliefs, no matter how feasible and attractive they seem.
On a more positive note, "discourse emerges in a particular socio-historical context where participants appropriate, challenge, and negotiate meanings” (Bakhtin 1981: 428). Power elites may appropriate meanings for us, but we still have the options to negotiate and challenge them.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Attitudes and related concepts

Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective

Attitude “is a relatively enduring organization of beliefs around an object or situation predisposing one to respond in some preferential manner” (Rokeach 1968: 112). In short, attitudes are our likes and dislikes and are orientated to action (response, behaviour).
as a frame of reference
An attitude, “like a theory, is a frame of reference, saves time because it provides us a basis for induction and deduction, organizes knowledge, has implications for the real world, and changes in the face of new evidence” (Rokeach 1968: 131).
rhetorical context
In a project on attitudes in discourse, it is important to emphasize the rhetorical argumentative context of attitudes: “any attitude is more than an expression in favour of a position: it is also implicitly or explicitly an argument against a counter-position” (Billig 1991: 112); “an attitude represents an evaluation of a controversial issue (…) the social context of attitudes is the context of controversy” (Billig 1987: 177).
[more definitions of attitudes here]

Belief is a perception of the relationship between two things or between a thing and its characteristic. Collectively, a person’s beliefs compose her/his understanding of her/himself and her/his environment (Bem 1970: 4-5) – in other words, a belief system.
belief system & change
Rokeach proposes three basic assumptions about beliefs: “First, not all beliefs are equally important to the individual; beliefs vary along a central-peripheral dimension. Second, the more central a belief, the more it will resist change. Third, the more central the belief changed, the more widespread the repercussions in the rest of the belief system” (1968: 3).
Van Dijk distinguishes the following beliefs: personal/socially shared; specific/general (abstract); specific social/historical; factual/evaluative (opinions, attitudes); truth/evaluation criteria (norms, values); true factual/false factual (errors, illusions); cultural (common ground)/group beliefs (1998: 41).
knowledge as belief
What is most notable here is the classification of knowledge as belief: knowledge is simply what we as a group believe to be true; it is a belief presupposed in the group’s discourses (Fairclough 2005: 73).
Shermer’s belief-dependent realism
Shermer agrees that the knowledge we possess about the world is just a belief justified by science. Although he seems to interpret beliefs as personal, not as both personal and social phenomena, his argumentation does go well with what social psychology has to say about categorization and stereotyping. [more here]
“We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow” (2011: 5).
"Belief comes quickly and naturally, skepticism is slow and unnatural, and most people have low tolerance for ambiguity" (p. 135).

Value is “a type of belief, centrally located within one’s total belief system, about how one ought to or ought not to behave, or about some end-state of existence worth or not worth attaining” (Rokeach 1968: 124). While the total set of a person’s beliefs may be very large, we usually have much fewer values. Many beliefs and attitudes are derived from them.
Rokeach (1968) has the following to say about the relations between beliefs, attitudes and values:
“An attitude is (…) a package of beliefs consisting of interconnected assertions to the effect that certain things about a specific object or situation are true or false, and other things about it are desirable or undesirable (p. 159)”.
“Once a value is internalized it becomes, consciously or unconsciously, a standard or criterion for guiding action, for developing and maintaining attitudes towards relevant objects and situations, for justifying one’s own and others’ actions and attitudes, for morally judging self and others, and for comparing self with others. Finally, a value is a standard employed to influence the values, attitudes, and actions of at least some others… (p. 160)”

“Ideologies are the foundation of the social beliefs shared by a social group. In other words, a bit like the axioms of a formal system, ideologies consist of those general and abstract social beliefs, shared by a group, that control or organize the more specific knowledge and opinions (attitudes) of a group (van Dijk 1998:49)”. Ideologies are based on values, not knowledge. Ideologies organize attitudes which in turn control those social practices that are somehow relevant to the interests or identity of groups (van Dijk 1998).
ideology in discourse
Ideologies are meanings situated in discourses that construct a certain version of reality, e.g. present the given situation as natural, rational, or sectional interests as universal ones (Billig 1991: 101). In other words, ideologies are “propositions that generally figure as implicit assumptions in texts, which contribute to producing or reproducing unequal relations of power, relations of domination” (Fairclough 1995: 14).
public, media discourse
“By controlling the access to public discourse, only specific forms of knowledge and opinions may be expressed and widely circulated, and these may persuasively lead to mental models and social representations that are in the interest of the powerful” (van Dijk 1998: 162).
“Face-to-face interaction may even play a less prominent role than textual or one-sided spoken/visual communication by newspapers and television” (van Dijk 1998: 200).
ideology in thinking
Ideology mobilizes consciousness, removing the autonomy of individual thinking: “people are socialized into communities. They learn the values and morality of their community, absorbing its common sense. The ordinary philosophers do not create their own philosophy but they have inherited the accumulated wisdom of their community. Their philosophizing is merely a reproduction (Billig 1991: 7).
important reading
Van Dijk 1998; van Dijk 2002; Billig 1991; Fowler 1991; de Saussure & Schulz (eds.) 2005; Singh & Stilwell Peccei (eds.) 2004

(social) identity
Identity is a concept just as all-inclusive and at the same time fuzzy as the concepts of culture or ideology. The following brief overview of approaches to social identity cannot be more than just a sketch.
identity as membership
Collective, group, social, etc. identity is one’s “display of, or ascription to, membership of some feature-rich category” (Antaki & Widdicombe 1998: 2). Since such categories reflect different levels of collectivity (group, community, culture), people may simultaneously display group identities, identities associated with membership in various communities (e.g. regional, national, European identity) and cultural identities (e.g. Christian). These identities form relations with each other. For example, “identities can be conceived of as being nested. According to this model, regional identities, for example, are contained in national identities, which in turn can be nested in supra-national identities, such as European. Second, identities can be “cross-cutting”, meaning some members of identity group A can also be members of identity group B. However, not all members of A are also members of B. Third, identities can be thought of as being separate, for example, when private and professional affiliations are apart from one another” (Bärenreuter 2005: 192-193).
In another model, called “the marble cake”, various components of an individual’s identity “influence each other, mesh and blend into each other” (Risse 2004: 251f, cited in Bärenreuter 2005: 193). This model points out that networks of identities are not neatly organized, regular, constant; to the contrary, identities are “multiple, fragmented and fluid” (Reingarde & Zdanevičius 2007: 52). In this sense, identities are historically variable and sensitive to social change: “the expanding national and international economies, membership in the deepening European Union, economic crises, terrorism attacks (…) and the pre-existing or growing presence of minorities (…) all of these factors have naturally inter-acted with collective self-images and identity constructions in a way which has called past certainties and identities into question, leading to fears of powerlessness and hurt” (Gould 2010: 19). In an effort to resist these fears, “collective identity is increasingly conceived in terms of ethnicity, culture, heritage, tradition, memory and difference” (Stolcke 1995: 4, quoted by Gould 2010: 20).
identity as a construct
Identities may be understood as constructs, “made up of specifically constructed narratives of identity” (Wodak 2003: 678); “narratives are constitutive of the self rather than the reflective action of an already constituted individual” (Armbruster & Meinhof 2002: 18), just as attitudes are discursive constructs rather than expressions of already existing mental entities. In this approach, it is important that the construction of identity is situated and context-dependent: individuals call upon identities that are relevant to the current communicative situation.
identity as social construct
It is also important to note, especially with regard to this project, that identities are constructed not by the individual alone, but in collaboration with others; others may also attribute identities to the individual (cf. Litosseliti & Sunderland (eds.) 2002). The process of identity construction is a process of “social negotiation which individuals enter into, modify and reconstruct on the basis of discursive practices. In each case construction and perception are the products of a social consensus” (Carli, Sussi & Kaučič-Baša 2002: 35).
identity as discourse construct
“Analysis of identity is analysis of language use (…) language includes the catalogue of all human interrelations, all roles, that the speaker can choose for himself and to impose on the addressee (…) We define our identities as we speak about ourselves choosing verbal formulas offered by public discourse, which helps us describe individuals in shared group terms” (Kruk 2005: 101).
identity as relational
Identities are relational – the construction of Self always involves the construction of the Other, what one is always entails what one is not (e.g. Schwartz, Luyckx & Vignoles (eds.) 2011). Identity builds upon sameness and difference:
“Identity is produced from difference, it also carries multiple differences in itself. Differences and contradictions are emerging not just between identities, but also within them (Fuss 1989). Since the relation between the self and the prevailing “Other” is multiple, identity cannot be grasped and fixed either, it slips out of our hands. When we try to make it fixed and unified, we ignore a couple of further differences. Not because individual experiences are so diverse and so individual, but rather because the self-other relation, the constructedness is so multiple” (Borgos 2007: 177).
The self-other relation is also what links identity to attitude: “to varying degrees, attitudes tell us what sort of people we are and what sort of people others are (…) Attitudes can be important markers of – even the defining attributes of – identity. In many, perhaps most, cases, attitudes are shared and attitudinal discontinuities among people provide the contours of social groups. In this way, attitudes can be the content of social norms – the stereotypical attributes, even the criterial attributes, of social groups” (Hogg & Terry 2000: 9).
It may also be noted that our Others also differ from each other: from the “threatening significant other” (Triandafyllidou 2001) to the “positive otherness”, source of rapport rather than hostility (Szpociński 2004: 136). Others may also be “accepted and tolerated” – although not necessarily included – under certain conditions (e.g. “passing”, “acting” homosexuals).
identities “performed”
The strategies of “passing” and “acting” emphasize the basic aspects of identity mentioned above: its being a discourse construct, social construct, and its relativity. The latter especially reflects the fact that we often do identity work for others, in order to maintain desired relations with others (consider the following statement: “So after a while I thought I didn’t necessarily have to define myself. This is more important for the society than for me” (Borgos 2007: 175). Against this backdrop, “coming out” as gay may be interpreted as relational in the sense that it is always done “to someone” and it changes the relations between those involved: the perceived identity of the one coming out changes, in consequence the identity of those he/she comes out to changes as well (e.g. from “parent” to “parent of a gay child”, cf. Kuhar 2007).
Gay people do not come out to everyone. They do different identity work in different situations and contexts. The concept of performativity, first applied in gender identity research (Butler 1990), seems to fit here as well. Performativity theory claims that there is no pre-discursive identity: speakers do not affirm or resist some objectively existing attributes, but “activate various identity positions within particular conversations and localized contexts” (Hall 2003: 373).
identities as “texts”
Warnke (2007) offers a very interesting approach to identity – identities as texts: identities are “interpretations of who people are, interpretations that select among the various possibilities in our culture and tradition for saying who and what people are. As ways of understanding, however, identities possess the same features as understanding in general and the same features, in particular, as understanding texts. When we ask who someone is, we are asking the same sort of question we ask when we want to know what the meaning of a particular text is; we are trying to understand the person’s “meaning””(p. 6).
This understanding of identities renders them situated, purposeful, and subject to differing interpretations. We understand them because of and within historical and cultural contexts (pp. 6-7) – which are also necessary to understand and interpret texts. What is more, “our identities and identifications are not exhausted with one interpretation, just as one reading does not “exhaust” the potential of a book to be understood in different ways, in different historical and knowledge frameworks” (p. 106).
important reading
Sparks 2000, Warnke 2007, Koller 2012
Hodges 2007, Stoltz 2007
Litosseliti & Sunderland (eds.) 2002, Eckert & McConnell-Ginet 2003, Holmes & Meyerhoff (eds.) 2003; Antaki & Widdicombe 1998 (eds.)
Chouliaraki 1999, Kovács 2005, Krzyżanowski 2005

To consider:
The struggle for the liberation of identities might be followed by a struggle for the liberation from identities. (Borgos 2007: 181)