Sunday, February 24, 2013

Loaded Language

As we learn about culture, one important point is that language is a part of culture and it affects how we think about the world.  Language socially constructs our reality, that is it creates how we feel about and experience the world.  Checkout this piece on npr about the language of the debate over guns:
"Gun control" suggests big government telling Americans what to do. "Violence prevention" — well, that's something everybody could support in theory.
"I've seen polling in which the phrase 'gun violence prevention' tests a good 17, 20 points higher than the term 'gun control,'" Glaze says.
Change words, and you can change opinions.
On the other side of the debate, the National Rifle Association does its own polling, though it's not as open about what the conclusions are.
"We do polling all the time, and, you know, it runs the gamut of how people feel about certain issues, and certainly that includes some language," says Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman. But "I'm not going to divulge our polling numbers out there...
Words do more than just describe the world. They literally define it. They shape and frame it.
"Most people don't understand this," says linguist George Lakoff of the University of California, Berkeley. "Most people think that words just refer to things in the world and that they're neutral. And that's just not true."
Lakoff has written many books about this idea. "English does not just fit the world. English fits the way you understand the world via your frames," he says. "And in politics they are morally based frames."
This is not just spin. Words in political debates tap into deeply held principles — like freedom and safety — and the specific phrases people use determine which values come up, in the same way that playing different notes on a piano will make music that evokes different emotions.
These principles apply to every debate, not just guns."
I have been transfixed by the latest This American Life, episodes 487 & 488.

487: Harper High School, Part One

Feb 15, 2013
We spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot. 29. We went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances. We found so many incredible and surprising stories, this show is a two-parter; you can listen to Part Two here

Saturday, February 23, 2013

All in the Family

Bruce Feiler "The Secrets of Happy Families" book cover
Family is an important agent of socialization.  Many sociologist will say it is the most important agaent.  New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler looked into the most recent research about families and how they shape us and how they can shape our happiness.  Here is an interview with Bruce and an excerpt from the book.  Here is a quiz from Parade magazine about the happiness of your family.  I'm not positive about Feiler's book and its claims, but it makes for an interesting discussion especially in terms of the role family plays in socializing us.