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Definition of the Situation April 24, 2014

Posted by larry (Hobbes) in Culture, Frame Analysis, Philosophy, Psychology.
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The concept of the definition of the situation originates with William Isaac Thomas, possibly in Thomas and Florian Znaniecki’sThe Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918-1920).  The concept was given new vigor and poignancy in the fifties by Erving Goffman in his study of roles in face-to-face social interaction in Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1957).  Goffman agreed to a significant extent with what has become known as the Thomas theorem (1928): “If men define things as real, they are real in their consequences”.

Most situations bring their histories along with them.  To do well in a situation, it pays to know something of its history.  And to successfully redefine a situation, it may be essential to know that situation’s history.  Sometimes the history can be daunting and intimidating thereby rendering the situation daunting and intimidating.


The concept of the definition of the situation is closely related to frame analysis, although this relationship is not always explored, to the detriment of both approaches, I think.

Varoufakis on corrupt statistics in respect of Greece debt April 24, 2014

Posted by larry (Hobbes) in Abuse of power, economics, Jefferson Airplane, Statistics.
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Varoufakis begins his post with this graphic, which reminds me of a song by Jefferson Airplane. Here they are appearing on The Smothers Brothers show. A hilarious TV program. It begins with White Rabbit but continues with (Do You Want) Somebody to Love whose first line is “When the truth is found to be lies”. The following line: “All the joy within you dies”. Sometimes I wonder whether members of the elite and their economic lackeys have been taking some of Alice’s pills.

[In case the video is not shown, here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnP72uUt_pU]

Varoufakis argues that the statistics from Eurostat that show that Greek debt isn’t as great as it was thought to be is little more than a political ploy by the Euro elite in order not to upset the upcoming European elections in May. It is a short piece. You can read his argument for yourself.


Happy listening and reading.

Bank of England governor admits central MMT axiom April 24, 2014

Posted by larry (Hobbes) in economics, MMT, money.
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I gave a presentation recently at a Radical Statistics conference where one of my contentions was that money was nothing more than a legally binding promissory note, or as Randall Wray like to refer to it, an IOU, much like it states on US bills themselves. Now, we have Carney, the Candian BoE governor, saying exactly the same thing publicly.

The Bank of England, as reported by David Graeber, finally admits publicly what I contended in my talk at the RadStats conference, that the UK is not finance constrained and that money is just a legally binding promissory note [or as he says, an IOU]. As Graeber notices, this completely contradicts Osborne’s justifications of his austerity program, which it appears he may mention again in his budget statement tomorrow along with further comments about the [nonexistent] recovery. Labour’s problem is that There Is An Alternative [TIAA], MMT, which would completely undercut Osborne’s entire economic program, but they continually fail to utilize it.

Here is the link.


Update: it seemed that Osborne might mention what the BoE governor said about the nature of money in a contemporary economic system, but he didn’t. This is not surprising, as to do so would have seriously undermined his entire economic program. He and Cameron have since then, for what would seem to be obvious reasons, combined to form a double act extolling what they claim is an economic recovery. That there is no such thing, I take here as read.

Lakoff on his own frames April 24, 2014

Posted by larry (Hobbes) in economics, Frame Analysis, George Lakoff.
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Harry Feldman has brought to my attention that in terms of his reading of Lakoff, Lakoff fails to appreciate that he is speaking from within a particular frame and seems to be using it unanalytically. Quoting Harry directly, according to him, Lakoff

seems oblivious to the frames underlying what he himself says – that there is something he calls ‘American values’, that the Democrats are somehow ‘progressive’, that there is something natural about a ‘family’, nurturing or otherwise… Ultimately, the message appears to be that if ‘progressives’ are to defeat ‘conservatives’, they have to play by the conservatives’ rules by jettisoning rational argument and appealing to their perceived audience at a visceral level. It’s not at all clear how this differs from dishonesty.

To be frank, the phrase ‘American values’ puts me off some of Lakoff’s stuff. Which is why I have stuck with Goffman and others on this. (Perhaps it is apposite, parenthetically, to point out that we are not limited to Lakoff’s approach to frames. In addition to Goffman, there is also Kahneman and Tversky’s Choices, Values, and Frames,which I heartily recommend. Not all the articles in that volume are relevant to our concerns here, but some are.)

Harry’s point about Lakoff’s obliviousness seems well taken, but I alter L’s approach by marrying the two, the so-called emotional and the evidential, including the general framework. Or try to anyway. For Lakoff’s  emotional, however, I prefer the term, conceptual, and its cousin, conceptualization, which are both more general and more specific. Since data isn’t value-free, that is, comes with conceptual baggage and, as Lakoff would no doubt point out, a concomitant emotional commitment, in the fight we have at hand against the neoclassical economic worldview, it is not going to be sufficient to attack the data alone. The framework in which the data has been encased must also be undermined. (This is, I think, part of Galbraith’s point about Piketty’s interpretation, or framing, of his data.)

Balls, who I think is a good example of how not to do things, had a piece in the Guardian, on 14 April, and a more vacuous set of utterances I have yet to see. All fluff and no substance. Here is the link: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/14/labour-party-cost-of-living-crisis

If I may, possibly, over-generalize just a tad, philosophers of a certain stripe think the best way of disarming the other guy is to show that his argument leads to contradiction, while certain psychologists think the best way of disarming the other guy is to undermine his value assumptions. Both approaches, however, require some sort of “factual” information to work with or they won’t fly. With Balls there is little or nothing to work with. And, in addition, he assumes that the other guy’s framework is the way to “frame” the debate. There is a way of doing this that might work but Balls isn’t doing that. In the case at hand, the attack on the NHS, the benefit “reforms”, the general attack on the poor, and the like, Balls has so far discussed the situation in ways laid out by the Tories. He needs to re-frame the debate. But since he basically accepts the way in which they have laid out the terms of the debate, he may be incapable of doing that.

Since their view of the economy, or Osborne’s anyway, is at the root of everything they are doing, it has not been sufficient to attack their lack of evidence for the policies and programs they have introduced. The way they view the economic system must also be shown to be completely mistaken. This involves a conceptual reorientation, or as Lakoff would say, a re-framing of the debate, root and branch. If this can be done successfully, the data themselves can be seen in a new light and acquire new relevance. While you can’t do without data or evidence, more is needed, and this is why I say: data isn’t enough.

Only by marrying the conceptual with the evidential can Osborne’s way of viewing society and how it works be placed in the coffin where it belongs and buried in the ground along with the rest of such conceptual detritus. Perhaps we may then regain some control of the debate.

I realize that I haven’t directly addressed Lakoff’s way of doing things. But I hope I have shown how we can avoid the pitfall that you point out may lie in Lakoff’s path by altering the frame framework (!?) in certain ways. Goffman and Kahneman and Tversky’s approaches aren’t so subject to the pitfall in question.

As an aside, related to all this is the notion of the “definition of the situation”, so well discussed by Goffman so many years ago. While highly relevant, this must be left for another occasion.

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