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I. Advocacy in the Courtroom
II. Advocacy in Public Discourse

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Created: March 1, 2002
Latest Update: March 1, 2002

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III. Advocacy and Dominant Discourse

Entry by jeanne

Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individaul Authors, February 2002.
"Fair use" encouraged.

As I was trying to sort out my lectures on advocacy and public discourse, I wrote this paragraph:

Now, when we shift our forum from the courtroom to public discourse the perspectives for advocacy change. In the courtroom our objective was to resolve a dispute, or to punish and prevent transgressions of the law. Our audience was the public who must abide by the legal system and who expects the laws to hold. In other words, we recognize the public's expectations for the law, and we do our best to honor those expectations. But our objective in public discourse is different. There are conflicts in public discourse, just as there are in the application of the law. But we do not expect of the public discourse that it solve these problems. There is no need to develop a consensus, for we can in fact agree to disagree.

Because I write these lecture notes directly in html, and do my best to get them up as soon as possible, and because I can never know the direction the lecture will take until we actually engage in the discussion (Think grounded theory), you need to recognize that I'm thinking the material through as I'm writing it, referencing sources in my head, not searching them out, as in the writing of a hardcopy text. Essentially, I'm engaging in public discourse with you and with myself. Sure, I'm talking to myself, as well as to you. This is a very different process from giving you information which I expect you to assimilate and catalog for future "right" answers. (On that process, think Freire, "banking education.")

As I thought about the People's expectations for the law, with the conceptual link to dominant discourse in the back of my mind, I realized that I needed to talk about how the dominant discourse shapes our expectations. Most of us would never have thought in a thousand years to be wary of a young man or woman with dark hair and eyes. That would make us wary of half the population. But following the World Trade Center attack, the People are often not just wary, but downright afraid, of the "Middle Easterner," who might fit the vague descriptions they have heard or read of "terrorists."

We have acknowledged the injustice of racial profiling for many years. Yet we now find ourselves engaging in racial profiling of Middle Easterners, who are pretty hard to distinguish from "us." The expectation that an Arab or Muslim person, whom we often could not categorize except by signs we have been taught to identify, like the women's headdress, the man's beard, etc., has been shaped by the dominant discourse we have been fed through the media.

So when I included that innocent-sounding sentence above: "Our audience was the public who must abide by the legal system and who expects the laws to hold. In other words, we recognize the public's expectations for the law, and we do our best to honor those expectations. . . . " I realized that the sentence could be read as though these were naturally occuring expectations, bred of normative patterns of interpersonal interaction. Not so. Most of the "fear" of our Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters has been bred of persuasion techniques over our corporate media, fed by the advertising of the corporate capitalist perspective.

This is when I hark back to social constructionism, to remind myself that agency is interdependent with the structural context, and that my ability to control my own feelings, which may lead to real decision-making on my part, is deeply affected by the extent to which I am surrounded by the advertising message of the corporate media. Here, in the spirit of public discourse, of understanding the multiple validity claims, and of tolerance of differences, I recognize that I can no longer subscribe to a dualistic simplification of my own feelings and expectations as "my feelings," "my expectations." To a very large extent, we all shape these expectations together. Part of my ultimate position comes through my own agency, part through the structural context of the corporate media, part through my exposure to alternative media, part through the shared expectations in my lifeworld, and part, well, from goodness knows where.

When I say that our expectations are largely shaped by the corporate capitalist media, I don't mean to imply "capitalist" as part of a dualistic conclusion with "marxist" or "socialist" at the other end of the spectrum. I mean to emphasize that most TV and radio channels through which we get our entertainment and news are part of the corporate structure of our shared lifeworld. That translates to mean that advertisements pay the media industry lucrative sums to "sell" their products. In this market-based economy, sales and the bottom line have more to do with what is presented to us as entertainment and news than our individual agency and choices. (Think John Donne and "no man is an island . . .")