James Valentine (1998)
'Naming the Other: Power, Politeness and the Inflation of
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Received: 12/06/98 Accepted: 18/12/98 Published: 31/12/98
1Harré and Van Langenhove note that in any discursive practice each positions the other and self simultaneously: positioning constitutes the self and the others (1991: p. 398). However they draw too sharp a distinction between personal and social identity: here, and in Harré's more extended discussion (Harré 1998), much is made of the grammatical use of the first person singular, thus neglecting the extent to which we (first person plural) identify ourselves with as well as against others. In Japanese this becomes even clearer, through the contextual usage of uchi to 'signify the individual "I" as well as the collective "we"' (Bachnik 1994: p. 27). Through contributing to our understanding of identification that ranges beyond the individual, analysis of Japanese interaction has, as so often, implications beyond the confines of any particular society (Valentine 1997a: p. 112 - 113).
2Driedger (1991: p. 7) points out that, until women with disabilities became named as a group, their specific concerns went unrecognised in both women's and disabled persons' communities in Canada.
3'The imposition of a recognized name is an act of recognition of full social existence which transmutes the thing named... The fate of groups is bound up with the words that designate them: the power to impose recognition depends on the capacity to mobilize around a name' (Bourdieu 1986: pp. 480 - 481).
4In 1996 a Japan Foundation Fellowship enabled me to conduct 7 months research in Japan on representations of marginality. A difficulty in conducting interviews on this topic was the predominant reticence in naming certain marginal groups.
5The relational perspective of self and other is emphasised by Bachnik (1998: p. 97), who further specifies how the person is defined in Japanese discourse often without reference to terminology. Kondo (1990: p. 29) similarly notes the contextual definition of Japanese selves: 'the plethora of available "I's" throws into relief the multiple ways people present themselves and their identities in particular situations. You are not an "I" untouched by context, rather you are defined by the context.'
6This view of the stigmatised as non-human is not restricted to Japan: Goffman (1968: p. 15) notes that 'we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human.'
7During the seven months research on the portrayal of marginal people on Japanese television, July 1996 to January 1997, I found no representation of Burakumin. It is also noteworthy that neither the directly abusive eta nor the more euphemistic Burakumin appears in the most well-known Japanese-English dictionary, published by Kenkyûsha. The silence on Burakumin is eloquent.
8In Japanese newspapers, reporting of Burakumin issues is rare, partly through fear. 'It's because they have, consciously or unconsciously, a discriminatory way of thinking that they use discriminatory terms and are afraid of possible repercussions. And because they are afraid, every newspaper editor has on his desk a couple of volumes listing discriminatory expressions - to prevent themselves becoming victims of their own discriminatory thinking.' (Murakoshi 1985)
9While entertainers or sports personalities may be known to be Korean, representation in dramas and documentaries is still rare. Significantly, the few television programmes that portray Korean residents tend to focus on problems of naming, in particular the dilemma of whether to 'pass' with a Japanese name or to 'come out' by identifying oneself with one's Korean name (Valentine 1997d: p. 9). This media representation of a simple dilemma masks a multiplicity of choice in a variety of contexts, including, as noted by Maher and Kawanishi, the switching of names according to the person with whom one is communicating (1995: p. 170). Instead of identificational difficulty, it can be argued that 'the very complexity of reading and writing Japanese names is an advantage for the purposes of identification' (Ogawa 1992: p. 34), allowing names to be adapted for different purposes and social contexts. In the case of Korean residents (who may also have Japanese names), their Korean names can be written in Chinese-derived characters (kanji) that may be read in either Korean or Japanese ways. The supposed quandary of multiple names may be seen as an opportunity rather than a problem.
10A common problem in the identification of minority ethnic groups is finding an appellation that is appropriately inclusive and exclusive. For example, Modood (1994: p. 867) argues that to use 'black' to include British Asians marginalises their distinctive concerns. Similarly Jeffreys (1994: p. 471) contends that 'queer', in subsuming lesbians, makes them disappear.
11In contrast to the inflation of euphemisms, which cover with further layers of decency, critical concepts which aim to expose may undergo an inflation of meaning, to include and indict a wider range of beliefs and practices, as in extended charges of sexism and racism. Miles (1989: p. 41) refers to this as 'conceptual inflation'.
12For example rezu (les/lezzie) is, like its English equivalent, a derogatory abbreviation for the more formal term rezubian (lesbian). Similarly, Senjin is an insulting contraction of Chôsenjin (Korean person), just as in English Jap is used to belittle Japanese.
13For example, deaf people become characterised through a discourse of disability couched in lengthy euphemisms (Valentine 1998). In English, certain types of disability came to be indicated by the euphemistic language of 'special needs' (Valentine and Taylor 1995), paralleling Japanese use of 'special' to refer to a grouping formerly conceived as sub-human.
14The inflation of euphemisms suggests not only inflated length or currency, but also expressions that are puffed up and full of hot air.
15It is not only euphemisms that, in gaining currency, begin to manifest prevailing social discrimination. Non-euphemistic attempts to reform discriminatory language may be undermined by the persistent 'linguistic encoding of social distinctions that are clearly of ideological importance to the speech community', as in the use of supposedly nonsexist terms 'like chairperson to designate female referents' (Ehrlich and King 1994: p. 64).
16Euphemisms for war and military action are legion. There may be reticence about recognising civil war as more than persistent 'troubles', and military intervention commonly goes under the guise of 'peace-keeping'.
17Heinrich Böll (1958) satirises such inflated forms in his story Doktor Murkes gesammeltes Schweigen, where direct references to God in a radio broadcast are replaced by 'jenes höhere Wesen, das wir verehren' (that higher being whom we revere). Like euphemisms for the disdained, names for the deity may require periodic upgrading to maintain distance, as is witnessed in Hebrew names for God, which undergo recurrent revision or substitution, aided by the alternative ways of reading and writing offered by Hebrew - a parallel here to Japanese. Yahweh, a common name for God, became too sacred to pronounce, and barriers to vocalisation were reinforced by its being written with the vowel sounds of another name for God, Eloha. This name, in its plural version as Elohim, became intentionally misread as Elokim; and the more indirect appellation Adonai (my Lord), was altered to Adonam (their Lord) in a further distancing process. In addition, more oblique descriptions may be used to refer to God, such as Hashem Hameforash (The Explicit Name): here one is able to speak of a name without naming directly.
18This is not to deny that delicacy may not be the only motivation for the development of expert terminology: developed terms may place more emphasis on other criteria of classification, looking at the phenomenon from a different angle (Cameron 1995: p. 147), at the same time as euphemistically avoiding what has come to be seen as too direct and indelicate a reference.
19For example, Taylor (1999) shows how resistant readings by tenants unwrap the manipulative discourse of authorities who seek to encourage passivity in the face of supposed 'voluntary' transfers of public housing stock.
20'Wimps' and 'wets' are associated with loss of masculinity, while 'new men' are derided as 'half-men' by traditionalists, such as Brown (1994). 'Wet' has an interesting recent history as a term of abuse. As a British political epithet, it was adopted by Thatcherite Tories, with memories of Public School slang, to refer to the 'left' of their party, suggesting they were soft, not 'man' enough. In contrast, self (mainstream in the party at that time) was defined as dry, a term without negative connotations but (as with many mainstream self-references) not widely used except in contrast to the other (wets). As a derogatory term, 'wets' had the advantage of putting down those out of favour with the dominant faction, whilst avoiding terms such as left, which would have indicated genuine differences on matters of policy and principle, and would have sounded too oppositional and confrontational (admitting to fundamental divisions), rather than dismissive and dismissable as ineffectively weak - as wet in contrast to the dry connotations of toughness and strength. Those designated wet have had little choice but to take up this term in positive self-definition, attempting to reverse its evaluation.
21In the UK House of Lords debate on the age of consent (22.7.1998), Lord Jakobovits misconstrued 'gay' as a euphemism, and objected to this as an abuse of language. 'Public opinion is being manipulated by insistent use or misuse of euphemisms. One speaks about "gays". I like to think of myself as a gay fellow. I enjoy gayness. I object to others appropriating that term.' It is significant that he objects to others appropriating a positive designation, and that he is not concerned to defend 'others' and the language from abuse by the adoption of hurtful and discriminatory terms.
22Note for example the way in which the most recent British Census (1991) and ethnic monitoring procedures (Gelsthorpe 1993: p. 79) develop careful subdivisions of those who are marginalised, while the mainstream is left with an overriding and undivided complacent category of 'white'. Only recently have sociologists begun to discuss the social construction of whiteness (for example, Frankenberg 1993; Dyer 1997).
23As Dyer (1992: p. 163) notes: 'Struggles over words can often seem trivial.' Yet exposing associations and objecting to terms can change habits of thought and make political connections: 'Words struggles often have a wider resonance.' Eitzen and Zinn (1989: pp. 369 - 370) similarly argue that changing gender-marked names that render women invisible or trivial is not itself a trivial matter: 'Renaming gives women a sense of control of their own identity and raises consciousness within their group and that of those in power.'
24'White people, heterosexuals, the able-bodied, do not generally go around worrying over what to call themselves and have themselves called. Having a word for oneself and one's group, making a politics out of what that word should be, draws attention to and also reproduces one's marginality, confirms one's place outside of power and thus outside of the mechanisms of change. Having a word also contains and fixes identity... We will always feel frustrated by having to have words to express our social identity, even while that social identity means that we do indeed have to have words for it.' (Dyer 1993: pp. 8 - 9)
25For example, Lane notes that this is the case for various disability groups, and for Deaf culture (1995: p. 181).
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