Archive for February, 2011

24 February 2011

Presuppositions and the GDR

A discourse analytical moment: Reading about a survey of perceptions of the GDR. Very critical study of how the “east Germans” are oh so nostalgic about the GDR and simply won’t accept the view of these west German scholars that the free, democratic FRG was the much superior state. The study led to a good deal of controversy in its time (2007).

One of the questions in the survey (Agree/Disagree as possible answers):

Sich in einer Gemeinschaft oder Gruppe unterzuordnen wie in der DDR, ist für mich grundsäzlich wichtiger, als meine eigene Persönlichkeit zu entwickeln.

To subordinate oneself to a community or group, as in the GDR, is more important to me than developing my own personality.

And here, once again, analysing presuppositions comes into its own. The explicit statement, to be supported or negated, is “X is more important to me than Y”.

It takes a lot more work to negate the presuppositions. Indeed, within the frame of the survey it is not possible to question the presuppositions.

Presupposition 1: In the GDR one subordinated oneself to the community/group.

Presupposition 2: This subordination hindered the development of one’s own personality.

Well, as long as we know what our “common knowledge” is.

20 February 2011

What if Derrida was wrong about Saussure?

This new book wins title of the year for me:

Russell Daylight (2011). What if Derrida was wrong about Saussure? Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Daylight’s fine book on Derrida and Saussure is the first critique to seek to understand Derrida’s philosophical project while testing his reading of Saussure and exploring how the argument of the Course may, despite Derrida’s influential critique, contain resources for resisting his project and thinking differently about language and meaning.” (Jonathan Culler, Cornell University)

Between 1907 and 1911, Ferdinand de Saussure gave three series of lectures on the topic of general linguistics. After his death, these lecture notes were gathered together by his students and published as the Course in General Linguistics. And in the past one hundred years, there has been no more influential and divisive reading of Saussure than that of Jacques Derrida.

This book is an examination of Derrida’s philosophical reconstruction of Saussurean linguistics, of the paradigm shift from structuralism to post-structuralism, and of the consequences that continue to resonate in every field of the humanities today.

Despite the importance of Derrida’s critique of Saussure for cultural studies, philosophy, linguistics and literary theory, no comprehensive analysis has before been written. The magnitude of the task undertaken here makes this book an invaluable resource for those wishing to interrogate the encounter beyond appearances or received wisdom. In this process of a close reading, the following themes become sites of debate between Derrida and Saussure:

  • the originality of Saussure within the history of Western metaphysics
  • the relationship between speech and writing
  • the relationship between difference and difference
  • the intervention of time in structuralism
  • linguistic relativism and the role of the language user.

This long-overdue commentary also poses new questions to structuralism and post-structuralism, and opens up exciting new terrain in linguistic and political thought.

19 February 2011

“hier bei uns”

Connection of the day: Reading a lot of good work about memory and remembering at the moment. Harald Welzer, Sabine Moller and Karoline Tschuggnall, for instance, on the dynamics and contradictions of remembering in families (“Opa war kein Nazi”). Very interesting study on how memories are passed on – including, for instance, how a gran’s vague ambiguous memory of certain events becomes ever more concrete and definite as it passes down through the generations.

One of the things Welzer and colleagues critique is that in remembering WWII, very often a distinction is drawn between “the Germans” and “the Jews”. An us/them dinstinction is made, even when nothing malicious or discriminatory seems to be intended.

Is that so very surprising, given today’s constellations of group identies? Today I am reading a valiant attempt in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit to point out how the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt etc. could “improve the world – from Kreuzberg to Peking and Ramallah”.

And what do they say – bearing in mind this is an entirely well-intentioned article, and bearing in mind that Muslims living in Germany are often of the third generation born here. Writing about the dramatic contradiction between the imagined Muslim of “the Sarrazin year” (Muslims in this hugely problematic view are uneducated, violent, dole scrounging machos who mass produce babies to get more dole money) and the Muslims of the recent revolutions(democratically engaged, equality promoting, intelligent), Die Zeit writes:

Immerhin könnte es sein, dass man sich getäuscht hat. Die Vermutung war, dass die meisten Schwierigkeiten, die es in Deutschland und Europa mit Muslimen gibt, aus deren Kultur, aus Rückständigkeit und Religion entspringen. Nun legen die arabischen Ereignisse nahe, dass es eher an den Umständen liegt, unter denen die Muslime dort unten und hier bei uns leben.

“Hier bei uns” (“Muslims living down there and here with us”)? So, despite generations of living together, Muslims in Germany are still not the “us” of …what? White/Christian/atheist Germans? And, once again, as with Welzer and co’s study: An us/them dinstinction is made, even when nothing malicious or discriminatory seems to be intended.

(And, yes, more could be said about the previous sentence in thw quote: “The assumption was that most of the difficulties that Europe and Germany have with Muslims stem from their culture, from backwardness and religion”. Paul Chilton write beautifully about the packaging involved in this kind of statement. Even though the author explicitly presents “culture, backwardness and religion” as a flawed assumption, he (implicitly) reproduces the presupposition that it is Europe and Germany which have (currently) “difficulties” “with” “Muslims”, i.e. which positions Muslims as causing the difficulties, rather than any particular forms of social organisation, exclusion, discrimination, etc.)

6 February 2011

Media driving licence for primary schools

Niggemeier blogs about a pilot project for a “media driving licence” which has been introduced in Bavaria.

One particular set of materials aims to teach children in the 3rd and 4th grade about how news is produced, and how to evaluate the credibility of news sources. Newspapers are apparently credible and invariably double-checked. Blogs are full of mistakes, with no external observer to correct them.


Unter dem Vorwand einer guten Sache, nämlich Kinder dafür zu sensibilisieren, dass nicht jeder Information zu trauen ist und dass Quellen unterschiedlich vertrauenswürdig sind, erzählt der bayerische „Medienführerschein” ihnen das Märchen von der Überlegenheit gedruckter Nachricht. Es geht nicht nur um den Kontrast professionell ersteller journalistischer Informationen zu privaten Blogs — eine zumindest theoretisch sinnvolle Gegenüberstellung (auch wenn mit spontan gleich mehrere vermeintlich professionelle Medien einfallen, denen ich im Zweifel weniger Glauben schenken würde als einem unbekannten Blog). Die Unterrichtsmaterialen mischen das konsequent mit dem behaupteten qualitativen Unterschied zwischen Print und Online.

Most interesting about the materials is indeed the question of who produced them: the Verband Bayerischer Zeitungsverleger (Association of Bavarian Newspaper Publishers). Delightful. Niggemeier:

„Schau genau hin!” heißt die Lerneinheit. Zu ihren ehrenwerten Zielen gehört es, dass die Kinder (jedenfalls im Internet) auf den Urheber einer Nachricht achten sollen, um die Glaubwürdigkeit von Informationen bewerten zu können. „Firmen verfolgen eigene Interessen”, warnt das Begleitmaterial, „und werden vor allem sich selbst oder ihre Produkte ins rechte Licht rücken.”

In der Tat. Herausgeber der Unterrichtseinheit ist übrigens zufällig der Verband Bayerischer Zeitungsverleger (VBZV). Ich hoffe, Kinder und Lehrer schauen genau hin, entdecken dessen kleines Logo auf der Titelseite und denken sich ihren Teil, was von dieser Printpropaganda zu halten ist.

And there, of course, we see the internal contradiction in the materials themselves.

“Schau genau hin!” here as pdf.

4 February 2011

Journalism and balance

A lot has been written about the journalistic epistemology of balance. Everyone generally accepts that journalism is balanced; there is some discussion as to whether this metaphor limits reporting to black-and-white reporting of (only) two sides.

Ahem: if I may: there’s something about balance in Journalism and the Political: Discursive tensions in news coverage of Russia. Due out on 15. Feb.

But this week I have the delightful opportunity to observe the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ). And today I see a strangely unbalanced news story: Mehr Schaden als am 1. Mai. Not entirely a SZ story, it’s actually a story written up from AFP and dpa. Nevertheless.

It reports on the 2500 police officers (!) who were required in order to evict the tenants of a housing project in Berlin. It quotes the police president Dieter Glietsch. And it quotes the police president Dieter Glietsch. It balances this with some comments from the police president Dieter Glietsch. No comments from the demonstrators who turned out in support of the housing project. Nor from any passersby, the tenants themselves. Not even other reporters.

For some balance, check the Gentrification blog’s story – includes a short video sequence from mainstream television news, which points out that not only “leftist extremists” (SZ) were valdalising the area, but that “normal citizens” (Tagesthemen) had turned out in support of the housing project.