Daniel R. Stout Rhetoric of Social Movements Dr.

Charlie Griffin Position Paper #2 Premise 1: Social movements are defined as “observing changes in the “ideographic” structures of social norm systems” Premise 2: All language is transformative in nature and contains power. If the two premise’s are correct we are only left with one thing, and that is how are we going to study the changing of ideographic structures? McGee’s argument in “Social Movement”: Phenomenon or Meaning?” entails a focus on the change in consciousness. I think this distinction is a good one. Words have multiple meanings and multiple interpretations as to what those words mean. Take for example the word Permutation. I know that word is a math word, couldn’t tell you what it means though, it’s all because I’m within a different social norm. Inside my social norm the word permutation is a word used to describe the competitiveness of the counterplan versus the plan. It does prove one thing, that words have meanings and aren’t necessarily static. This lack of staticness is what provides differing social interactions, because we as humans inherently use words to describe and understand our world. If we are using words to describe our world, the definitions and consciousness behind those words become incredibly important. This means in order to understand HOW a movement functions we need to dictate look to how social norms are changed. In order to understand how the world works within the aspect of language we turn to Michel Foucault and The Discourse on Language. Here Foucault identifies that there


are three axes to language and its ability to create power. He says that although power and discourse are separate things, that they are inherently intertwined when creating social norms and creating disciplinary power, or a power that makes people self regulate themselves to take certain actions. The Three axes that Foucault describes are that of; knowledge, power, ethics. The Axis of knowledge is the use of absolute truths in order to explain how the world is around us. We describe the world as only being a certain way and that’s the way it is. This discourse creates a truth about the world that allows us to assimilate people into a certain way of thinking. The axis of power is defined as having the ability to define things and the way to people think. I think a great example of this is a Ph.D. when they teach classes they are looked to as experts and therefore their discourse dictates how we are to interact in our daily lives. The third axis is that of ethics. Here persons prescribe a moral or ethical grade to actions and dictates through those moral and ethical guidelines how all people should behave in the world. These three axes of power that are entailed in all discourse are important to study. Remember all something has to do in order to be considered a social movement is create some sort of change in social meaning. This means we need to look at all the things that are normally considered to be parts of movements; the banners, rallies, speeches, town hall meetings, newspapers, websites and list serve e-mails, but we should also be looking to the everyday practices of the people involved in the movement. There should evaluation of how the workers interact with each other at headquarters. There needs to be


analysis of how the norms that are constructed inside a headquarters is potentially spilling over to other parts of the movement. The Foucauldian analysis allows us to look for these types of discourses in their practices as the everyday continues. It would be a major flaw to not speak about actual actions that people take in the world, like the freedom rides or the lunch counter sits ins. These events also are discourse. Our definition of discourse is something that has the potential to use the three axes of subjectivity as defined by Foucault in order exert power over a group of people. I would contend that the lunch counter sit ins were in fact able to exert all three axes of subjectivity. The most important one in this situation is that of ethics. The Students who participated were going to call upon an ethical value of violence is wrong in order to dictate that discrimination is bad and equal rights are needed. By invoking violence to occur it showed that the world the truth of how the world was constructed, even though it might not have been like that all the time, because of the media coverage that was required by the sit ins, the students were able to coopt the avenues that were inside the media to dictate HOW the world was these days, full of discrimination and violence against minorities. This is what allowed the call to ethics to be presented. The Power aspect was that when they came in and the cops tried to arrest the students, and another wave just came right on in, it took away the power that the cops had in deterrence, (i.e., the ability to prevent someone’s actions by threatening jail time) and gave it directly to the students because no matter what the cops were going to try they were helpless. Another avenue of power was that of business. The businesses were losing money because the students were able to dictate to the public through the media that the downtown area is violent. This idea that it was violent (whether it was or not is irrelevant


because as long it was the thought that mattered) downtown was present, prevented peoples from shopping there which showed that the students controlled the businesses income and made them a determining factor in their ability to pay the bills, and because people want to ensure they can pay the bills, the business owners functionally had their hands tied behind their backs. While it can be argued about whether the lunch counter sit ins were considered tactical or strategic action. The action itself is a discourse and creates a social norm that dictates self regulation of persons. I think another example of a social situation in which a norm could be changed tacitally proves that this Foucauldian approach to the study of the discourse of movements would be helpful. For this I want you to picture yourself in the workplace, a corporate headquarters in Kansas City. You come in at 8 am, and leave at 5 pm, everyday. A new woman appears, this woman is an incredible worker (establishes credibility and therefore power). She often times is there before you, and there at work later than you. After about of month of working there you notice something that she is doing during her lunch break, and that is acquiring all the soda cans that are thrown away during the lunch break and prior during the day. She does this everyday (this is truth, establishes through actions that this is the way the world works) but never tells anyone why she does it (only this makes it tactial as defined earlier, if she told us why at this point it wouldn’t be tactical in nature because we would know here motives or goals and her method for achieving them which is all the system needs to co-opt your movement. However I do suppose that she could tell you after the actions or social norms have changed as to why she did it.)


Again, the Foucauldian approach again strikes again in showing its sheer interdependency upon one another of the axes of subjectivity because when looking towards the axis of ethics its reliant heavily upon the description and actions that were dictating the truth axis as well. This is because while she is also just doing it to show the world that she IS going to do this, it also provide some sort of litmus test for people to think about SHOULD THEY DO IT. That by definition is based upon a value assessment that is dictated by the actions that our woman friend is making in the workplace. This ultimately boils down to this, the research methodology that fits within the paradigm advocated here within is one that assumes that all actions and rhetoric are forms of discourse that should be evaluated. Advocated is to look at the forms of discourse that are occurring within a movement and establish how they are using the three axes of subjectivity to change social norms and have persons self regulate themselves in certain manners. That, however, is only the first part of the story as it also follows that people should evaluate why and how movements are effective and what aspects may be more effective than originally thought. This second level is where the importance of the discussion between tactical and strategic action comes into play so heavily. When evaluating the movements tactics through the discourse you must decide how the movement could have its discourse co-opted by the system in some sort of fashion. This evaluation of actions allows for a more wholistic approach to big social movements that have occurred in the past to understand them more fully, and understand why other movements have failed, while still allowing for small social experiments or analysis of small societies (like homes) to garner ideas that could be applied or already are applied to national movements. It also is the best method because it allows you to


analyze social changes that have occurred without any real organization to be specifically identified. These are all things worthy of study and the narrow interpretation may give us more narrow information it will lack the fundamental aspect of a wholistic approach can offer and that comes down to all the little things, which sometimes are the reason for life or death of a movement.