Thursday, May 10, 2007

Perlocution

OK, so today I read some Austin and Searle, which means nothing to most people, unless they are into the philosophy of language (or discourse or pragmatics). Anyway, these two write about what people DO with words. Blah. Not going to explain it all here except suffice to say they are pretty cool and have stimulated my thoughts :>

Anyway, I was thinking about my work while I was reading, and I was wondering how my ideas fit into the traditional structure as outlined by Austin and Searle of locution/illocution/perlocution.

Basically, the locution is the actual words of an utterance, the literal meaning; the illocution is the intended "meaning" and the perlocution is the intended effect on the hearer. So, e.g. "It's cold in here" has a literal meaning (an observation about the temperature) and it can be intended to function as a request (the illocution), and the speaker hopes the hearer will act on this request (perhaps by shutting the window that is open next to them, the perlocution). That's the text-book case, anyway.

Now, what I'm looking at is texts/utterances that function (amongst many other things) to exhibit the good intentions of the speaker and to position them as an advocate for a marginalised group. That is, the utterance has an effect on the public identity of the speaker.

Hmmm. Is this making sense to anyone but me? I'll give an example. Yooralla (a disability charity) said on a billboard: "Why Yooralla Week? Because this is our community" I think that in stating this "is our community", Yooralla is positioning itself as an advocate for disabled people, a good charity (perhaps one you should give money to). Moreover, it positions Yooralla as having what Hage calls "governmental belonging" - Yooralla presents itself as being in a position to claim and bestow belonging. Maybe this would be clearer if I compared Yooralla with an actor who clearly lacks this kind of belonging. For example, people who are currently detained in detention centres in Australia are not able to say "this is our community" with the same effect. It's very easy for people in power to refute this and say "no it's not, go back to where you came from/belong". The same may be true for Yooralla if there were bigots out there who disagreed in the social integration of disabled people, but Yooralla is claiming a position of authority in regards to conferring belonging.

On another note, ironically, in saying "this is our community", it becomes clear that disabled people have experienced the opposite - they have felt excluded from "the community". The statement vividly evokes the converse - that disabled people are unwelcome in the broader community. One only needs to declare the welcome of those whose welcome is questionable.

In White Nation, Hage brilliantly explores how White people construct themselves as being in the position to welcome/not welcome non-White people into the Australian community. He argues that even (especially) "tolerant multiculturalists" imagine themselves as having the power to decide who is welcome and under what conditions they are welcome. I think Hage's discussion is relevant to this text by Yooralla - Yooralla presents itself as welcoming disabled people, albeit this is somewhat ambiguous way (the blurry use of "our", which seems to equate Yooralla and disabled people, Yooralla constructs itself as simultaneoulsy working in the interests of disabled people, and as being one with disabled people.)

1 comment:

James said...

I have a half memory that all good ancient Latin was written in multiple genres concurrently, and was expected to say at least two, and ideally four, things concurrently. This idea almost certainly comes from an Isaac Asimov science-fiction novel, so it should be treated with caution.

By analogy (with a separate caution) I suggest that the billboard has two illocutions, for different audiences: one projecting duties onto the non-disabled community, and one projecting rights onto the disabled community. 'Our' is ambiguous precisely when it is ambiguous which audience the recipient is in.