"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
-- Proverbs 29:18, King James Bible (KJV)

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Words, Acts and Cognition in Life and Law: Speech as an Act of Performative Utterance: Language Performativity Suggests Rethinking the ImpACT of the Human Word

What a superb article by Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
at Why We Care About the Royal Family Feud.

Noonan's "performativity"-centered discussion about the British Monarchy has had a special bonus for us, by opening up a new way of thinking about human communication and interaction in the form of "speech acts", which analysis also provides an unexpected connection to "critical legal thinking" (see the link below).

The Wikipedia writes: "Performativity is the concept that language can function as a form of social action and have the effect of change. The concept has multiple applications in diverse fields such as anthropology, social and cultural geography, economics, gender studies (social construction of gender), law, linguistics, performance studies, history, management studies and philosophy." [link added]

Indeed, "performativity" suggests to us that the unending mainstream media discussion about controversial social topics such as e.g. White House lies and untruths over the last four years have completely -- and we mean completely -- missed the point in their analysis of the significance of an avalanche of Twitter Tweets from the past U.S. President and from his similar performative utterances. Something else -- arguably more important than truth -- was at work.

As the language professionals writing about performativity suggest to us, it is not the content of spoken words per se or even the truth or falsity of that content that is at issue, but rather the purpose viz. societal influence of a given "speech act",
ala John L. Austin.

Read on below .... where we find to our astonishment ... really, in a fascinating turn of analysis ... that the assertion of truth or untruth has nothing to do with it.

Who would have thought it. Performativity is even applicable to basic science.

It is thus likely e.g. that the truth of history or other content being written about is not the chief issue in academic publications, as otherwise alleged by the powers that be, but rather the often hidden ulterior motives lurking behind such publications that are among the main driving forces of science. Scientific periodicals and human interactions at gatherings such as congresses can thus fundamentally be viewed as forums for performative acts. Recall that the motto is "publish or perish" but NOT "publish the truth or perish".

We have always known the above to be true, but never understood why.

Now we suspect to know a little more.

Hat tip to CaryGEE.