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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Resistance to institutional power : positionality, modality, and the statement Wegner, Diana Lee


The main objective of this study is to theorize a possible method of compatibility between macro-rhetorical analyses and micro-dynamic analyses of power, discourse, and the subject. The vehicle for application is conflict over privacy rights, and the proposed bridge between the two levels of analysis is the grammatical-pragmatic relation of modality and positionality. This investigation thus draws upon key theoretical elements from conventional structuralism, post-structuralism, and pragmatics. These form the framework for discussion of a number of analyses of selected textual features that reflect moves to truth and power, and the shifting status of the subject. Two general sets of analyses emerge. One focuses on rhetorically-motivated constructions of the subject, and the other on the uses of modality as indices of subject position. I have chosen the example of the conflict over privacy rights because the strongest instances occur in power struggles between individuals and institutions. The samples for analysis are drawn from the discourse of individuals and institutions involved in this conflict. My investigation focuses on power relations involved in control over the hermeneutic authority that influences the determination of speaking subjects and the establishment of truth. At the center of this discussion is the philosophical question of the subject, not only in terms of power over subject construction, but also in terms of the status of subject hood per se. The relationship between the self and discursive constructions of the self is thus examined. At issue is an ethical concern: the individual seems to need both conventionally approved constructions of herself in social contexts, and a measure of independent control over her self such that she has subject integrity. Three types of analyses, corresponding to the three levels of theoretical orientation identified above, inform this investigation: 1.conventional rhetorical analyses (structuralist), as they are exemplified in Kenneth Burke's dramatistic and logological calculus (at the level of global power struggle) 2.micro-analyses (post-structuralist), as they are ex-emplified in Foucault's archaeological approach to power, knowledge, and the speaking subject (at the level of local relations of force and their indices in "statements") 3.^grammatical-pragmatic analyses of modality, evidentiality, and the "statement," informed by studies in social semiotics (at the grammatical level of modality as a linguistic index of power and positionality) This work is intended to contribute to speculative research on how the three levels of analysis might be integrated. The results of this study show correlations between grammatical features of modality and subject status. Where there is a positive correlation, the uses of modality indicate conformity and acceptance in terms of institutional norms. Where there is a negative correlation, modality is not aligned with subject construction, and the "subject" involved is therefore institutionally powerless. She cannot receive a serious audience for her discourse. In the former case the authority invested in speaking subjects also sanctions credibility in the construction of truth and facts. Both reinforcements of, and changes in, the status quo occur only where modality and subject status are aligned with each other in terms of a specific organizational structure and situation. In the latter case where discourse is divorced from salient positionality, the speaker can utter only empty rhetoric. Resourceful individuals, however, may manoeuver within these institutional constraints to both utilize the conventions of discourse and to activate resistance to these restrictions in a field of low-level detectability. Such individuals (bricoleurs) are able to play with the aletheic phemonemon of truth: they retain the social character of convention and at the same time exercise a certain degree of independence or freedom in order to protect the ethical core or integrity of the self. This play is rhetorical strategy par excellence: the individual finds a way of co-existing with the institution. Resistance is thus survival by troping the world. It involves using the modality of the situation and moving the self strategically in and out of position. The bricoleur constructs resourceful faces that please yet deceive, that bend to discursive technology yet serve the self, and that disclose yet conceal. The modality of strategic aletheia is non-canonical and ordinary. One constructs the truths that protect, however temporary. And, however transitory, one makes a self that is at home in the world.

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