Countdown To The TOC (and free word PIC answers)

Most teams will be traveling to the Tournament of Champions tomorrow and the writers of The 3NR are no exception. While our primary responsibilities this weekend will involve coaching the team from Woodward Academy, we will be doing our best to provide live coverage of the TOC for those following along at home. Our coverage will start tomorrow night, so stay tuned throughout the weekend.

As a special gift to our readers, a few excellent cards that can be used to answer word PICs (and “bad word” critiques) are posted below the fold. You’ll have to tag and underline them yourselves, but I just cut them today from a hard-to-find book and thought that others would appreciate having this evidence in their arsenals at the TOC. Enjoy—and safe travels to Lexington!

A2: WORD PICS.

Sanford F. SCHRAM, Associate Professor of Political Science at Macalester College, former Visiting Professor at the La Follette Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin and Visiting Affiliate at the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, 1995
[“Discourses of Dependency: The Politics of Euphemism,” Words of Welfare: The Poverty of Social Science and The Social Science of Poverty, Published by The University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0816625778, p. 21-23]

The deconstruction of prevailing discursive structures helps politicize the institutionalized practices that inhibit alternative ways of constructing social relations.5 Isolated acts of renaming, however, are unlikely to help promote political change if they are not tied to interrogations of the structures that serve as the interpretive context for making sense of new terms.6 This is especially the case when renamings take the form of euphemisms designed to make what is described appear to be consonant with the existing order. In other words, the problems of a politics of renaming are not confined to the left, but are endemic to what amounts to a classic American practice utilized across the political spectrum.7 Homeless, welfare, and family planning provide three examples of how isolated instances of renaming fail in their efforts to make a politics out of sanitizing language. [end page 21]

Reconsidering the Politics of Renaming

Renaming can do much to indicate respect and sympathy. It may strategically recast concerns so that they can be articulated in ways that are more appealing and less dismissive. Renaming the objects of political contestation may help promote the basis for articulating latent affinities among disparate political constituencies. The relentless march of renamings can help denaturalize and delegitimate ascendant categories and the constraints they place on political possibility. At the moment of fissure, destabilizing renamings have the potential to encourage reconsideration of how biases embedded in names are tied to power relations.8 Yet isolated acts of renaming do not guarantee that audiences will be any more predisposed to treat things differently than they were before. The problem is not limited to the political reality that dominant groups possess greater resources for influencing discourse. Ascendant political economies, such as liberal postindustrial capitalism, whether understood structurally or discursively, operate as institutionalized systems of interpretation that can subvert the most earnest of renamings.9

It is just as dangerous to suggest that paid employment exhausts possibilities for achieving self-sufficiency as to suggest that political action can be meaningfully confined to isolated renamings.10 Neither the workplace nor a name is the definitive venue for effectuating self-worth or political intervention.11 Strategies that accept the prevailing work ethos will continue to marginalize those who cannot work, and increasingly so in a post­ industrial economy that does not require nearly as large a workforce as its industrial predecessor. Exclusive preoccupation with sanitizing names overlooks the fact that names often do not matter to those who live out their lives according to the institutionalized narratives of the broader political economy, whether it is understood structurally or discursively, whether it is monolithically hegemonic or reproduced through allied, if disparate, practices. What is named is always encoded in some publicly accessible and ascendent discourse. 12 Getting the names right will not matter if the names are interpreted according to the institutionalized insistences of organized society.13

Only when those insistences are relaxed does there emerge the possibility for new names to restructure daily practices. Texts, as it now has become notoriously apparent, can be read in many ways, and they are most often read according to how prevailing discursive structures provide an interpretive context for reading them.14 The meanings implied by new names of necessity [end page 22] overflow their categorizations, often to be reinterpreted in terms of available systems of intelligibility (most often tied to existing institutions). Whereas renaming can maneuver change within the interstices of pervasive discursive structures, renaming is limited in reciprocal fashion. Strategies of containment that seek to confine practice to sanitized categories appreciate the discursive character of social life, but insufficiently and wrongheadedly.

I do not mean to suggest that discourse is dependent on structure as much as that structures are hegemonic discourses. The operative structures reproduced through a multitude of daily practices and reinforced by the efforts of aligned groups may be nothing more than stabilized ascendent discourses.15 Structure is the alibi for discourse. We need to destabilize this prevailing interpretive context and the power plays that reinforce it, rather than hope that isolated acts of linguistic sanitization will lead to political change. Interrogating structures as discourses can politicize the terms used to fix meaning, produce value, and establish identity. Denaturalizing value as the product of nothing more than fixed interpretations can create new possibilities for creating value in other less insistent and injurious ways.

The discursively/structurally reproduced reality of liberal capitalism as deployed by power blocs of aligned groups serves to inform the existentially lived experiences of citizens in the contemporary postindustrial order.16 The powerful get to reproduce a broader context that works to reduce the dissonance between new names and established practices. As long as the prevailing discursive structures of liberal capitalism create value from some practices, experiences, and identities over others, no matter how often new names are insisted upon, some people will continue to be seen as inferior simply because they do not engage in the same practices as those who are currently dominant in positions of influence and prestige. Therefore, as much as there is a need to reconsider the terms of debate, to interrogate the embedded biases of discursive practices, and to resist living out the invidious distinctions that hegemonic categories impose, there are real limits to what isolated instances of renaming can accomplish.

A2: WORD PICS.

Sanford F. SCHRAM, Associate Professor of Political Science at Macalester College, former Visiting Professor at the La Follette Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin and Visiting Affiliate at the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, 1995
[“Discourses of Dependency: The Politics of Euphemism,” Words of Welfare: The Poverty of Social Science and The Social Science of Poverty, Published by The University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0816625778, p. 24-25]

Renaming not only loses credibility but also corrupts the terms used. This danger is ever present, given the limits of language. Because all terms are partial and incomplete characterizations, every new term can be invalidated as not capturing all that needs to be said about any topic.22 With time, the odds increase that a new term will lose its potency as it fails to emphasize neglected dimensions of a problem. As newer concerns replace the ones that helped inspire the terminological shift, newer terms will be introduced to address what has been neglected. Where disabled was once an improvement over handicapped, other terms are now deployed to make society inclusive of [end page 24] all people, however differentially situated. The “disabled” are now “physically challenged” or “mentally challenged.” The politics of renaming promotes higher and higher levels of neutralizing language.23 Yet a neutralized language is itself already a partial reading even if it is only implicitly biased in favor of some attributes over others. Neutrality is always relative to the prevailing context. As the context changes, what was once neutral becomes seen as biased. Implicit moves of emphasis and de-emphasis become more visible in a new light. “Physically” and “mentally challenged” already begin to look insufficiently affirmative as efforts intensify to include people with such attributes in all avenues of contemporary life.24

A2: WORD PICS.

Sanford F. SCHRAM, Associate Professor of Political Science at Macalester College, former Visiting Professor at the La Follette Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin and Visiting Affiliate at the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, 1995
[“Discourses of Dependency: The Politics of Euphemism,” Words of Welfare: The Poverty of Social Science and The Social Science of Poverty, Published by The University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0816625778, p. 34-35]

The politics of renaming highlights the relationships of discourse to structure and ideology to power.87 The limits of euphemisms suggest that these renamings often reinforce a broader, institutionalized, and structural context that is supported through the daily actions of aligned groupings exercising power to effect outcomes consistent with their interests. Yet the power plays reinforcing prevailing structures also operate to encourage selected interpretations of a wide variety of acts of signification. These structures help create a “social logic” that constrains interpretation of even the most imaginative of renamings. Whereas the structural conditions that constrain policy discourse are themselves discursively constituted, they in turn produce [end page 34] material constraints that limit notions of what is feasible and practical under the existing arrangements. Therefore, displacing the self-sufficiency of the “breadwinner” will not on its own make “dependents” more worthy. Even if “bread” itself is shown in good part, if not the whole loaf, to be symbolic, that will not by itself lead people to eat some other symbol. Gaining leverage for political change involves appreciating not just how material structures can be denaturalized. Political change comes with also appreciating how material practices serve to constrain seriously the extent to which discursive moves will have any tractability in public settings. Only when the power plays supporting such structural conditions are resisted can alternative discursive moves gain political salience.88 Action to improve the lives of poor people involves instituting changes in institutional practices so that people will be motivated to think more inclusively or be willing to entertain the idea that it is rational for them as well-meaning, if not self-interested, individuals to promote the well-being of marginal groups. The existing institutional infrastructure currently works against such thinking.

One thought on “Countdown To The TOC (and free word PIC answers)

  1. Anonymous

    Bronx has been reading this cards all year but it was always too much effort to track down the book…thanks for this!

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