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)

No comments: