language as propaganda

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I’ve contemplated a research topic for a few years, and even mentioned it to new friends at Saybrook as well as family and friends outside of academia because the subject of gender and racism propaganda is a subject that is at once fascinating and deeply disturbing to me, though I don’t think I can combine a question and human subjects that allow for research analysis of both gender and racism propaganda unless I specify the participants of the study to women and girls of color.  Given that I would like to create it as a participation action research study, this is within the realm of possibility.  However, I have not yet formulated a question that is definitive in this area.  For our purposes, the research question that I am interested in is, “What are the short and long-term effects of organized and unintentional interpersonal propaganda upon women and girls of color in the black community? This is a good start but it still needs some refinement.

The subjects of the academic articles I selected relate directly to my research interest, though the authors do not make use of “propaganda” as a working term within their studies, but it is used there as an influence upon the subjects as “proper” vs “improper” behavior to police women and girls to avoid the use of extreme forms of gender propaganda. ter Bogt, et al (2010) and McFerran, et al (2010) are quantitative and Bailey, et al (2013) are qualitative.

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(Or as I would like to call it, The Intersection of Common Knowledge with Sexism and Racism, but that will have to wait for my own research study.)

This was written in response to a request from the VU University Amsterdam admissions department as part of the Social Psychology master’s degree application.  I need to write more often because I certainly enjoyed this, however short it is.

Within social psychology, cooperation research is normally devoted to altruistic cooperation, where one individual appears to assist a different individual without any incentive or reward, but there is little research literature devoted to mutual coordination or what the authors of the Psychology of Coordination and Common Knowledge (Pinker et al.) term, common knowledge, “any string of embedded levels of knowledge that falls short of infinity.” The authors decided to address the epistemological challenges and explore the problems associated with cognition and motivation of mutual cooperation between two or more individuals. They wanted to test their hypothesis, whether people react positively to common knowledge when confronted with an activity that requires cooperation with one or more other individuals. Based on previous research, the authors expected to find more cooperation through common knowledge and mutual benefit that with secondary shared knowledge.

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While propaganda in the form of unintentional influence and the language of sexism has been independently researched, a review of literature reveals no such studies that link these two topics.   In this paper, I link these two subjects to study the hypothesis that the language of sexism, embedded within media, unintentionally influences individuals and small groups.  Through participatory action research methodology, participants will take part in a series of focus groups analyzing sexist language within media contexts. Findings will indicate how media sexism influences individuals and small groups, what that influence means to the health of their local community, and what action should be taken to alleviate negative consequences.


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(Once again, I freely admit this isn’t perfect, but from the earlier Goffman Paper to this, I see some marked improvements. I would also like your constructive feedback when you have a chance to read it.  This paper is slightly similar to the Research Proposal but there are minor but significant changes to this one when you have a chance to read and skim.)

It may not be necessary to research the sexism embedded in the English language because it is overt and omnipresent to the people who are aware of and affected by it the most.  However, a grand examination or even a small study in a quiet corner of the language to determine sexism’s extent and affect would be extensive and vast, due to the limitless language of male domination employed and reflected in the conquering of foreign lands and peoples of the “New World,” much like the Romans in the old world before.  Inherent within our verbs, nouns, and grammar is the nationalism, capitalism, and cultural values that devalue women and people of color and dominate the usage that is taught to foreign nationals learning English for the first time (Piercey 2009:  111).  Frankly, if each of us notice enough of the English language and work to change it within our speck of the Universe, the English that all of us use will evolve over time. It won’t eliminate sexism completely, but evolutionary change will happen.

Obviously, sexism may be apparent in media texts such as television programming, advertising, and movies, but the sexism within those texts employs sexist language that is embedded within our language that was discussed briefly earlier in the semester during one of many discussions of media sexism.  The origin and effects of specific propaganda can be overt or subtle and embedded so deep in the language that it becomes difficult to recognize and challenging to change. Intentional propaganda is that which is practiced and performed by media companies with a deliberate agenda to promote or sell ideas or products utilizing language or socially constructed visual symbols that are already present and used instinctually and subconsciously.  Sexist propaganda is that language, by common usage, that places women in an inferior or subservient role to men rather than the role of an equal.  Sometimes this language can be blatant, and sometimes it can be subtle, commonly overt and socially accepted (Chew & Kelley-Chew 2007:  644). However, to counter the effects of sexist language that all of us are subject to daily, gender-neutral language will be employed throughout this paper rather than the sexist language that will be used as illustrations within directly quoted examples. Specifically, instead of using he as a “neutral” gendered term, s/he or one will be used, and instead of him, herm may be used.  They may also be used to signify a singular or plural pronoun.

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(Once again, I freely admit this isn’t perfect, but from the earlier Goffman Paper to this, I see some marked improvements. I would also like your constructive feedback when you have a chance to read this since I would like to make this a real study that perhaps my followers could participate in at some future date.)

To what extent are individuals influenced by the language of sexist propaganda embedded in media advertising and programming perpetuated by small in-group conversations that reinforce sexist media texts? And how aware are individuals of their use of sexist language that perpetuate themes and ideas from sexist media propaganda?  The implications of this question lie in the definition of propaganda as much as in the definition of sexist language.

Propaganda is the use of communication to achieve behavior and attitude changes amongst one group of people by another individual or group.  Intentional propaganda is that which is practiced and performed by media companies with a deliberate agenda to promote ideas or products utilizing sexist media texts already present in our language or visual symbols that are used instinctually.

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(And so the saga continues as I wrassle with determining what a proper hypothesis.  The below is an indication of how far I have come and ow far I need to go.  But I am getting closer.) 

  1. Original Hypothesis:  Individuals and small groups are influenced by intentional sexist propaganda embedded in media texts that influence unintentional propaganda in conversational language.
  2. Alternative Hypothesis 1:  Implicit language in media texts will influence the behavior of individuals and small groups.
  3. Alternative Hypothesis 2:  Unintentional propaganda that occurs between individuals and in small groups is influenced by the language of sexism within everyday conversation embedded within media texts. Read the rest of this entry »

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(This is more or less a brainstorming session to begin fleshing out these thesis ideas and, and, and, to satisfy the assignment requirements for Social Psychology.  Bear with me folks.  It’s getting interesting.  And if anyone at all has any suggestions to improve this, please let me know.)

  1.      Original hypothesis:  Individuals and small groups are influenced by intentional sexist propaganda embedded in media texts that influence unintentional propaganda in conversational language.

2.      If I was to use a survey method for my study, how might I change my hypothesis? If I were to use a survey method for my study I may change my hypothesis to reflect that survey thus, Individuals and small groups are influenced by intentional sexist propaganda embedded in media texts that influence unintentional propaganda in conversational language surveyed through word association and analogy tests.

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(At least the beginnings of one)

  1. What was the original theory and/or hypothesis that you based your study on? The original theory that I based my study on is the language of sexism, that sexism exists in the grammar and language of English that is discussed in one article by Julia Penelope, Prescribed Passivity: The language of Sexism, and several past studies.  While this phenomenon is pervasive, what I want to uncover is more complex than just this simple explanation.  It is an interest in the oftentimes inherent intentional but sometimes-inherent unintentional propaganda within the language of sexism to control women and elevate men and boys. It is language that is used every day that most are unaware of, sometimes-even women.  So I want to study this phenomenon to determine the effects of such propaganda on women and perhaps the effects of counter propaganda in interviews and focus groups.
  2. What are the limitations of this theory or research that you hope your study will address? The limitations of this theory may include failing to achieve a large enough sample to base a study upon and participants who do not understand the positive and/or negative connotations of particular descriptive adjectives being used.  However, I believe the latter is not going to be a realistic possibility.
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Media propaganda is vitally important, whether advertising, marketing, movies or television shows, to the reinforcement of stereotyped images of women and persons of color, most of it subconscious and embedded within the very imagery of language that each of us use and the conditioning propaganda that all of us have been subjected to and programmed with for centuries, especially the twentieth and the twenty-first.  This conditioning propaganda surfaced in a recent Facebook conversation with a friend who emphatically and seriously believes that feminism, through a government interventionist conspiracy, destabilized and destabilizes societies worldwide.  He apparently has “evidence” of this and would not even consider that patriarchal control and domination of corporations, and hence government, is responsible for destabilizing society by not treating everyone equally in the eyes of the law, letter or spirit, or even within the wider society in general.  Just this one example convinces me that this is an important and insidious issue that must be overcome, but like racism that is tied into the feminist issue of true equality for all, it will take decades, if not centuries, of intentional and intensive counter propaganda, aided by assessments of imagery and semiotics until it becomes a truly subconscious and unintentional propaganda influence that pervades wider society from person to person and group to group.

The readings in Chapter 2 of Women and Gender, Images of Women and Men, discuss beauty, whiteness as a social construction, stereotypes, sexism, and language imagery as means to perpetuate the status quo of sexism throughout the media.  Gender propaganda is not discussed specifically, but I believe it pervades and influences every other aspect of inequality that is discussed throughout the chapter.  It is the underlying subconscious shorthand re-enforcer that conveys immediate ideas without conscious thought, to sell products, to reelect politicians, to perpetuate the white social construct, male-dominated societal power structures.  To the advertising and corporate executive or even most of the masses, this propaganda conditioning is part of their very being.  They don’t even think about the words of the script or the imagery used because they believe in the rightness and normality of the status quo and so are unable to see the underlying damage that is perpetuated. Here is why I can understand somewhat that someone would believe that feminism is responsible for the so-called destruction of the very fabric of society. To the public, this is reinforced conditioning of stereotypes that do not allow anyone to evolve or to be treated with equality. The gender propaganda reinforces unacceptable behavior as a norm while moving product is of primary importance, not the propaganda behind the methods used to sell it.

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