Introductory Comments

Robert Parks (
Tue, 14 May 1996 11:45:36 -0400

Hello all,

I am new to this list, but have followed a couple of the threads in the
past few days, and would like to introduce myself in part by commenting on
the issues under discussion. As is usual in a conversation, the unity of
the discussion is a fragile collective construction. Some of my comments
have already been mooted in the course of discussion.

Re: Wendy Crebbin's comments on Grids....
>It is more that in an environment where language is neither
>transparent nor uni-vocal, I have problems with the idea that one
>person can accurately construct a grid of another person's meanings,
>especially self meanings. Its hard enough to articulate, communicate,
>map, one's own meanings.

There may be another way of looking at the whole "grid/mapping" problem you
refer to in a post-modernist mode. Because the self is such a transient
construction, perhaps we are studying temporary and fragile constructions.
Let me propose three thoughts: (1) perhaps we can look at the repertory
grids as aids in our own meanings, and thus aids FOR THE OTHER in their
constructions; (2) perhaps the act of asking others about their
constructions creates the sort of feedback loops that make the constructive
act possible; so that (3) we can study the conditions under which
collaborative construction of meaning communities is possible. (Brian
Gaines comments seem to have set the terms for the dialogue on this issue,
which seems to be more empirically advanced in the "expert systems" and
"Collaborative work" research. Anyone know of work in pedagogy along the
same lines?)

Gary Blanchard and Wendy Crebbin seem to be working on a very interesting
dialogue on the transparency of language. Is my felt need for a
"definition" of transparency premature? From what I have read in the
exchange, it appears that "transparency" captures the ways in which someone
is aware - particularly self-conscious - of the operations of language. The
transparency of language appears to be illustrated by examples which show
us unaware of what we are doing (Gary's reference to an internal dialogue
before speaking). And Wendy refers to the way we become puzzled, or the way
we "stumble" when the word that comes to mind isn't quite the right one to
express a meaning. There is a sort of "tear" in the fabric of communication
that disrupts the transparency of language.

If I'm getting at the two poles of this discussion correctly, then I'd like
to propose that we understand this as a (perhaps the) most important and
most political aspect of language. As stated by Lecercle, in "The Violence
of Languagez", every utterance is "a Freudian compromise between the two
extreme positions: 'I speak language' and 'language speaks'." Or, in the
terms I have come to use - language is both medium and tool, and our
constructions are made upon the slippery slopes between these two poles. As
medium, language is transparent as air. It is the bearer of oxygen of the
soul, the bearer of nitrogen to the roots of the person. Living is FROM
language, and through language. On the other hand, as tool, we become aware
of the ways that the medium is inconsistent, inadequate, incoherent,
disrupted. In the fabric of our social lives, we find we can have an effect
on others that depends on making choices of what we let others think we
mean by our words. We begin to control through language and the issue of
the control of language arises to the forfront But, as we control language
to control our lives, we find - ala Alice in Wonderland" - that the more
control we take of "language", the less control we get through

Let me back up now, and start closer to the beginning.

I am a political scientist, with an interest in language and ideology - in
particular, in interpreting what it is about "language" that makes politics
possible, and what it is about "politics" that makes language (or
particular communicative activities) essential. I am focusing my concern
with PCP on the challenge of constructing a grid that will help me
interpret ideologies along three value dimensions: equality-authority;
community-individual; and state-anarchy. I have used a simple (unvalidated)
scale questionnaire in the past, and would like to apply the repertory grid
approach. My initial use will be pedagogical - in giving my students a tool
with which to become aware of their values and the ways they apply them in
constructing a political orientation/ideology.

First, I would like to use a grid to find the "meanings" of these terms for
my students. Anyone know of a model I could borrow from? I've looked at
Osgood's "semantic differential", but he appears to skirt denotative
meanings and focus on relational or connotative meanings.

Second, I would like to use a grid to apply these values to policies which
"exeplify" (or promote) them in various degrees.

In more theoretical terms, I'd like to follow the most insightful questions
of Stephen Toulmin, and ask both "what does x mean" and "what is there for
us to mean by x". There are many people in politics searching for the right
combination of beliefs/issues .... Their motives are often intensely
practical (winning an election), but their successes and failures mean much
to the political process.

I'm pleased to be able to participate....

Best regards to all,

Bob Parks
Elmira College
106 Cayuga Park Road
Ithaca, N.Y. 14850
(607) 257-7895