Posts tagged ‘obama’

9 February 2009

Blogging discourse (2)

Praxis: Happiness Club Blog informs users about coaches using linguistic discourse analysis, together with, e.g., positive psychology or brain research to create dynamic training programmes such as Anastasia Pryanikova’s “The Art and Science of Rewiring Your Brain for a Happier Life.”

Writing from Burma, Abacus tells the tale of someone being bullied by a stupid white man into accepting a favour and feel bad about it. The blog as a whole is harshly honest and very engaging; sure to resonate with many who’ve felt uncomfortable about their white-ness (or western-ness) while living in the majority world.

Fossicking About gets riled about politically correct changes to rhymes which patronise kids and mean they lose out on shared socio-cultural knowledge. (“What do you do with a drunken soldier?” has apparently been changed to “What do you do with a grumpy pirate?”)

Research: In the Asrudian Center Raewyn Connell writes on masculinities and power. In passing, Connell also writes: “A good piece of social research does not generate an answer that we can apply everywhere; but it may raise issues and pose questions that we can ask everywhere.” — Lovely.

Theory: The Bickerstaffe Record posts a long and typo-fulled, but interesting (and polemic) take on why Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy was so successful in England of all places. Also links to a pdf of Hall’s seminal piece on Thatcherism.

Politics: Paul Trathern is pleased that Obama “is committed to the restructuring of our modes of discourse”; and is even optimistic enough to think that Obama is aiming for a political terrain in which we’ve gone beyond playing games (in Eric Berne’s Transactional Analytical sense).

Research and theory and politics and praxis: The philippines matrix project offers a critique of contemporary orthodox cultural studies, asking:

In what sense can this still inchoate and contested terrain called “cultural studies,” distinguished for the most part by formalist rhetorical analysis of texts and discourses, be an agent for emancipation, let alone revolutionary social transformation, of the plight of millions?

The critique functions simultaneously as a good introduction to cultural studies, taking in Gramsci, Althusser, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Angela McRobbie, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, Dick Hebdige, etc. (Short for an introduction, the text is long for a blog post.). Scrolling right down, we come to the critique:

[Cultural studies, CS] was never radical enough to destroy the logic of capital and the ideology of commodity exchange. Eventually CS has become an Establishment organon, or an academic “ideological state apparatus” preventing even the old style of Kulturkritik to function.

19 January 2009

Bush on Putin

I really am keen to see how Barack Obama will interact with Dmitry Medvedev and other Russian politicians. Just as Bush exits, I’ve been re-reading some old news stories on his style of interaction with his opposite number, Putin. One of my favourites, from Andrew Greeley writing in the Chicago Sun-Times in 2005:

Bush a hypocrite to lecture Putin

Suppose that Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Canada and announced that the United States was retreating from its principles of freedom since the World Trade Center attack. The United States, he might have said, has denied due process of law to some American citizens. It has established a concentration camp in Cuba. It has tortured prisoners, indeed often and in many places. It denies aliens the right to trial by jury — indeed, it acts like the only ones who have Mr. Jefferson’s inalienable rights are American citizens, and not always.

Then he says, while I’m at it, there are a lot of flaws in your democracy. You certainly don’t think your Electoral College is democratic, do you? Neither is your Senate, with its disproportionate representation of smaller states. Rhode Island is as big as California? Gimme a break!

And what about your gerrymandered congressional districts (presumably he knows about Elbridge Gerry) which guarantees the re-election of incumbents, especially if they are conservative Republicans? What about Tom DeLay’s open theft of Democratic congressional districts in Texas? Is your House of Representatives all that democratic?

And all the capitalist dollars that are poured into your campaigns? And the false attack ads aimed at the character of an opponent? And the endless spinning of the truth so that it no longer means anything? Would Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison approve of that?

How dare, he might conclude, the American pot call the Russian Samovar black?

Now, Greeley is careful, he knows the response which is likely to thunder at his door, by daring to use such analogies. So, he continues:

It is not my intention to say that Russia is more democratic than the United States. Patently it is not. Nor do I propose to argue that American democracy is far from perfect. Patently it is far from perfect. Rather, I am suggesting that for President Bush to come to the edge of Russia (Slovakia) and preach about democracy to Putin is rude, crude and undiplomatic. It is an insult to Putin and to Russia and to the Russian people.

The most important questions come towards the end:

What good would come of his criticism? Why did he bother to make such a big deal out of it?

One answer (mine) is that he thereby (re)produces an understanding of what exactly democracy is, shapes potential political identifications for his listeners (including all the many readers of news which reprinted his criticism), and indeed attempts to structure the field of possible political action, not only in the US, but around the globe.


…image via American DeTocqueville.

11 November 2008

PDA and Obama

Lovely ‘positive discourse analysis’ of Barack Obama’s speech on David Crystal’s blog:

Speaking as a stylistician – as opposed to a human being (if you’ll allow me the distinction), as excited as anyone about this event – it blew me away. As the speech started, I turned to my wife and said, ‘He’ll never do it!’ What was I noticing? It was the opening if-clause, a 41-word cliff-hanger with three who-clause embeddings. Starting a major speech with a subordinate clause? And one of such length and syntactic complexity? I thought he would be lucky if he was able to round it off neatly after the first comma. Try it for yourself: get a sense of the strain on your memory by starting a sentence with a 19-word if-clause, and see what it feels like. But he didn’t stop at 19 words. The first who-clause is followed by a second. Then a third. It was real daring. It’s difficult for listeners to hold all that in mind. But it worked. And then the short 4-word punch-clause. And deserved applause.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

How did it work? How can you get people to process 41 words easily? By following some basic rules of rhetoric. One is to structure your utterance, where possible, into groups of three.

who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible,
who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time,
who still questions the power of our democracy

The other is to make sure that none of these chunks exceed what is easy to process in working memory. Psycholinguists once worked out a ‘magic rule of seven, plus or minus two’ – that most people find seven ‘bits’ of information the most they can handle at a time.

Far more on Obama’s use of the ‘rule of three’/triples/tiptychs, his pair structures, rhetorical contrasts, slow build-up and elegance at dc-blog.

6 November 2008

Medvedev, Missiles and Obama

Some day I’m going to sit down and count the number of times the verbs ‘site’, ‘deploy’, ‘place’, ‘locate’, etc. are used in connection with US plans to ‘station’ missile defence shields in Central Europe; and at the same time study how often the words ‘threaten’, ‘warn’, ‘caution’, etc. are used in connection with Russian plans to ‘station’ missiles in the Baltic, as Medvedev today announced in this state of the nation address. The same address which congratulated the new future president of the USA.

An example from Voice of America:

There was no immediate warm welcome from Moscow./ Delivering his state of the nation speech in the Kremlin, President Dmitri Medvedev instead blamed U.S. policy for Russia’s brief conflict with neighboring Georgia in August. And, he threatened to station new missiles near the border with Poland – in response to Washington’s plans to deploy an anti-missile defense system in parts of Eastern Europe.

(But see also Bloomberg, BBC, ZDF, AP. And it seems that Medvedev and Obama may meet face to face at next week’s emergency financial summit in Washington, planned for 15 Nov.)

The missile affair reminds me of an old cartoon in Berlin’s Tagesspiegel.


Pictures from left to right: ‘Kosovo’, ‘Nato’s eastern expansion’, ‘US military in the Caucasus’, ‘Missile defence shields in Eastern Europe’, ‘[Bear shouts “Enough!!”] …and the completely inappropriate reaction’.

Thanks to Marco for reminding me…