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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: September 6, 2000
Latest update: March 10, 2001

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Rambo and the Dalai Lama
Adversarialism as a Paradigm

Review and Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of Peacemaking Identity Series
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, June 2000. "Fair Use" encouraged.

  • When Dictionaries Don't Work
  • Conceptual Linking
  • Discussion Questions for Test Preparation

    This essay is based on a general discussion of adversarialism in Gordon Fellman's Rambo and the Dalai Lama, State University of New York Press, 1998, passim.

    When Dictionaries Don't Work

    Berthena brought up last night in distributive justice that her dictionary did not include "adversarialism" or "adversarialist." That is one reason I want the dictionaries with you in class. I want us to know the difference between eloquent usage of the English language and the creation of new terms to fit new theoretical and scientific contexts. Fellman uses "adversarialism" to define an entire paradigm with what Jeanne calls "wicked little unstated assumptions." No simple definition in a pocket dictionary will do for "adversarialism." It did take me an entire lecture to make it real for you, remember?

    So, here's our first dictionary lesson: if what you really want is an explanation of contextual usage, and that is what you will need to understand Fellman's text, then we have to look beyond the dictionary to other kinds of reading guides. For us this semester, there will be essays like this, to make the conceptual links for you on the basis of my more extensive reading. So I become temporarily the dictionary you need.

    But my explanations will be limited by my understanding which has a given perspective. In class last night, Berthena brought another perspective when she said "They wouldn't give us Tarzan, but they gave us Cheetah." And I stared at her, perplexed, and wondered out loud, "But Tarzan wasn't black, was he?" And the whole class responded, "jeanne, that's the point. . . " And one of the men, the one who brought his son last night, added " . . . and yet, he was King of the Jungle." My goodness, there are lots of wicked little assumptions running around in there, aren't there? But look at how graciously everyone accepted that I didn't get it, and helped me to see Berthena's point. You didn't reject me for not getting it, not for my age, not for my color, not for my difference in education; you accepted that I was off on another track and needed to be dragged back to the argument at hand.

    That was Mutuality, as I understand Fellman's explanation of the concept. The Tarzan incident isn't over. We shall return to that fairy tale. But already last night there was a caring sense of the class working together. And that is another of Fellman's explanations of the mutuality paradigm: that we long for the sense of community, depth, shared responsibility that mutuality produces.

    I was tired last night. But I went home smiling and content, mostly because of the sense I felt in the class that we were well on our way to creating a virtual community. It's nice to go home late at night with good feelings about school.

    So now in this incident we are beginning to get a sense of what Fellman means by adversarial, and what he means by mutuality. No dictionary could have given us that.

    Conceptual Linking

    The next step in our understanding of Rambo and the Dalai Lama is to clarify in our workshops, labs, and discussions how Fellman's paradigm fits into each of the different conceptual themes of the different classes.

    Distributive Justice is about economic, political, social justice in the distribution of the world's resources to all the people of the world. Distributive Justice is also about our collective value system on what an ideal distribution of the resources would be like. And we haven't done too well with collective value systems as a species. Fellman suggests that one way to think creatively about distributive justice, and wend our way out war and tension producing adversarialism is to begin to pay attention to our mutuality needs. To begin to notice that it's nicer to go home from school late at night with a smile on your face, and to work together to produce that smile.

    Wednesday, I'll be discussing modern social theory, and the ways in which Fellman's Rambo and the Dalai Lama offers a theoretical paradigm that can help us to new directions in understanding the social world. That means that instead of accepting that crime just happens, we could look at the underlying adversarial paradigm to see if we approach the issue of criminal justice with a mind-set and unstated assumptions that crime is a given. That's a pretty wicked little unstated assumption. Fellman urges us to look deeply at our own fears and denials. To look at ourselves through the same paradigm we are using to look at others.

    More later . . .



    Discussion Questions

    1. Why couldn't we find adversarialism in the dictionary? Is that a fault of the dictionary? Where do you turn when such problems arise?

      jeanne's lecture notes on one plausible answer:

      Since this is new theory being written, and since it is specifically social theory, it is not likely to be found in a dictionary, which is a place in which we can find general language definitions. For substantive definitions within individual fields we need to turn to texts in those fields and to professionals in the field. This means it's a good time to ask your teacher, or a fellow worker who knows more about that field.

    2. What is conceptual linking, and why do we want it?

      jeanne's lecture notes on one plausible answer:

      Conceptual linking is the process by which we link ideas across theories and disciplines. A concept developed in child development research may give us a real clue to what we are trying to understand about violence in children. By attending to more that a single discipline, we manage to gain alternative insights we might not have if we stuck strictly to our own disciplines. Read Osgood's Stealing Theory from Our Friends.