Social issues in text – the power of language

This is an experiment as my wife is working on a Master degree in Social Work Science. I want to give her a hand and also prove the power in sharing combined with the opportunely to comment and discuss various subjects in the blogsphere. So please read this, comment it and also send it to others you know who are interested in participating and debating! Diane; the floor is yours:

I am currently writing a paper for a class called “Social issues in text”. The subject of the class is to see how language creates our thoughts, and our understanding of reality. I have chosen a text to analyze by deconstructing the text, taking it line for line, to see what kind of a text action is involved.

Bush and DoctorCurious about what President Bush’s plan for health care reform consists of, I decided to go directly to the top and ask the man himself. He was naturally a little busy at the time, however he left a letter for me online to help answer my questions. The original letter can be viewed here. The letter itself is just three paragraphs so I recommend that you read it before you go on, but we do have freedom of the press so it is entirely up to you!

Text is more than communication – it creates our understanding of reality. I have written this text and you are sitting there reading it because we have a common understanding of that this is a way to exchange not just words but thoughts and understanding. In this definition “text” isn’t strictly the written word but it can also be spoken like in a speech or a story. It can be combined with pictures, headlines, music and graphics to create new meanings and new understandings (as my husband is well aware).

Text has great power because it can define reality. What inspired me to use the president’s letter for my analysis is that when I read the letter critically I discovered that within the text it defines the current situation, how the problem is to be understood, and how it is best solved. However it excludes all other definitions of the situation and possible solutions in the same action. This particular reality is in fact multifaceted and may be seen in many different ways.

The language in the letter is compact with and each word seems to be carefully chosen for best effect. Nothing here is random or left to chance. The letter starts like most presidential letters with “My fellow Americans”. This isn’t special for Bush, but if you do look at it and what it does with the reader, it helps to create a common “we”, a group, we are a group, and the President is “just one of the boys” when seen in that way.

The state also has another crucial weapon: legitimacy. The successful state makes most people within its borders feel they are members of a single status group, the nation. (Collins,1994:92.)”

America’s health care facilities and medical professionals are the best in the world.” This is the opening statement of the letter. It is a powerful statement because it sets up a frame of understanding for the rest of the letter. To make this statement even stronger the letter also ends with almost the same statement, “The greatest medical system in the world.” Within this letter this statement is also one which the reader can easily take for granted as a true statement. With that power the letter creates reality; the US has the greatest medical system in the world, basically because Bush says it does.

I ask you in what degree this is a true statement? If you are now thinking “yes, of course it’s true”, then why is it true? Is it true for everyone? Would the self employed carpenter who is declaring bankruptcy because he has been sick and must pay massive medical bills which his insurance didn’t fully cover agree with this statement?

My paper is quite long, and if readers are interested I will be happy to post again later this week. I will not go into a deeper analysis now, just a little taste of critical reading.

Please understand, I am not attacking President Bush, or the United States. I am an American and proud of it! However I encourage everyone to be critical to the information you are fed every day, because if you simply accept it, then you are part of that reality. Asking questions and being awake for the hidden message is always a good tool to real democracy. The government is by the people, for the people. Is it being run in the best way?

This subject is taught by Eivind Engebretsen, at Oslo University College. With your permission I will print relevant comments in my paper! Please join the discussion!!