Eat the rich?

I found the article on critical discourse analysis to be quite interesting, and at times a bit aggravating.  I suppose what struck me as one of the most contentious points about CDA is its political bent.  The author stresses time and again that CDA is meant to expose abuses of power by the rich and powerful in society against the weak.  Apparently CDA has no other use!

Okay, I can accept that, as a post-Marxist methodology, CDA will naturally gravitate towards such political work.  The rich and powerful abuse the weak in infinite ways, so I'm glad that there are people out there studying this kind of stuff.  But I have to say that I found some of the statements made here to be a bit troubling.

At one point, the article states that "critical scholars should not worry about the interests or perspectives of those in power, who are best placed to take care of their own interests anyway" (p. 253).  Hmm?  Does this mean that the rich and powerful have teams of scholars promoting their interests via some other discipline?  I get what is being said here, but this remark is a tad blunt.

Soon after this, the author states that "power involves control, namely by (members of) one groups over (those of) other groups" (p. 254).  At this point it became clearer to me what was bothering me about this article.  The author assumes that society is split into two discreet groups: the powerful on one side, and the oppressed on the other.  Good guys vs. bad guys.  Isn't this exactly the kind of black and white thinking that we accuse arch right-wingers of practicing?

I remember listening to an episode of This American Life that covered several stories related to U.S. health care.  One of them was about the agents that work for the health insurance companies.  These are the people that do all the terrible stuff we always hear about, such as denying coverage to people who require critical care because of some trivial reason or another.  Certainly a group of people that wield tremendous power in society.  But the thing is, these people understood that what they were doing was terrible, and they certainly got that the American health care system is a mess.  They weren't monsters with claws and pointy teeth.  They were people who took pretty lousy jobs to take care of their families.

So how bad are these people, then?  It's kind of a grey area.  They use their power to do tremendous damage to those who cannot fight back, yet they feel pretty terrible about it.  Where do they fit into this black and white schema?

The world isn't so simple that people can be dropped into one slot or another.  I think a more nuanced approach to these issues would be more effective.

- Matt

2 comments:

Heather said...

That’s a really interesting point of view, Matt. I was actually quite engaged in van Dijk’s article, especially when he started using the explicit example from the British House of Commons. He does mention from the onset that the idea of CDA, “presupposes a study of relations between discourse, power, dominance…” (p. 249). So, CDA is meant to be a socio-political, at least from van Dijk’s point of view.

Reading this article made me think of the recent media coverage surrounding the comments (since CDA is all about analysing text, language and states of power) made by a male politician (David Schreck) regarding the attire and cleavage of the female premier of BC (Christy Clark). A female who is in a position of political power is undermined by a male individual using his own political power and position:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/10/06/bc-david-schrick-christy-clark-cleavage.html

As van Dijk states, using CDA can examine and evaluate such events (p. 253). It also looks at the consequences of these words – consequence Premier Clark sees as keeping females out of politics.

Not every social and political event can be so easily slotted into good-bad, right-wrong, rich-poor. However, there are still so many instances where using CDA highlights inequality that exist, that spoken words by those in power are rarely neutral, and how dominant powers manage to exert their force in so many areas of 21st century society.
- Heather

Aaron. said...

I had the same response, Matt - for probably quite problematic reasons. Van Dijk explicitly identifies the 'bad guy' in these power relations as white males so often that by the end of the article I felt quite unsettled and defensive...as though I'd have to prove that I'm not a racist, should I ever run into him socially. And I feel weird for feeling weird about it, since it's not like I can deny that I AM a member of that elite group. It's all very confusing.

Heather, that's a good point - and in turn made me think of the comment that set off the SlutWalk movement - http://www.thestar.com/news/article/940665--cop-apologizes-for-sluts-remark-at-law-school - which seems tailor made for this sort of investigation, both in what started it all and in the reactions to it.

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