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California State University, Dominguez Hills
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Created: November 11, 2001
Latest Update: November 11, 2001

E-Mail jeannecurran@habermas.org

Comments on Rigney's
The Metaphorical Society

On Monday, November 26, 2001, Julie Kim wrote:

Hello Jeanne,

Hope you had a great thanksgiving and a restful break.

About Rigney's 8 Metaphors. I really enjoyed the lecture on this. However, there were things that I did not understand fully. When you said that, when you use Rigney's metaphors you have to be careful of the assumptions you make, and that they can't walk, they can't be adversarial.. what does that mean by "can't be adversarial"?

jeanne's comments:
I'm glad you posed this question, Julie. Let's see if we can figure out what I said. One does have to be careful when using metaphors. Rigney is very emphatic about that. And one of the reasons is that there may be underlying unstated assumptions. If, for example we are using the metaphor of society as a machine, we are assuming that parts of the machine are fungible. One cog is as good as any other cog. One spark plug as good as any other spark plug. But in societies, human beings are not fungible. We are unique in our differences from one another. Rigney is saying that we must be careful not to make that assumption of fungibility when we use the metaphor of society as a machine.

Does that help? Talk to me. Let me know if this makes sense to you.

Society as a machine: "Parts are replaceable" : Students (that's us), how school treats us as if we were in a factory. That even though we're not "learning" we are somewhat put through a revoloving "belt" hm, like those things at a factory, where we are not looked upon as individuals, but a "thing".. as long as we come out of the machine without giving them any trouble.. that's what they want. I'm not sure if I'm clear on what I'm trying to say. They( school or institutions) are just interested in making the "final product" regardless of whether we learn or not. Am I going about the right direction?

jeanne's comments:
You certainly are. You took very good notes.
I agree with this metaphor. Not only in schools but every institution. For instance, I took SAT classes back in high school, and it cost my parents a lot of money. They were not interested in the students and whether we learned or not. All they were interested was the money.

I felt as if I were in a "factory", the teachers, I felt were not really "interested" if we listened to their lectures, they were not aware that most of us were "lost", they didn't stop to ask if we completely understood the subject. I guess someways, it was OUR responsiblity to let the teachers know if we did not understand it completely, but at the time, we felt that the teachers did not really care. All they cared about was getting their pay, and in a way, just putting in their time.

jeanne's comments:
I am a little concerned, Julie, about the pessimism or maybe even cynicism I hear. You're right. Often people who are paid to teach or serve us are just "putting in their time." But recall that interpersonal relations are interdependent and depend on the social context. In a lifeworld in which the teacher is expected to just put in the time and turn out the fungible products, there are big problems with the underlying assumptions. But the teacher may not understand that complexity. The teacher might just respond to the normative expectations, the dominant discourse.

Not for a moment do I think that you students carry the responsibility for this state of affairs. That's where I differ with Duncan Kennedy in his attacks on the traditional hierarchy in the educational institution. Although a little student rebellion would be nice now and then, it's the faculty who have the power and the faculty who should have the theoretical and political knowledge to break the hierarchy of arrogance and "satisficing" that harms the students on many levels.

Now, of course, if the faculty forsake their job, at the very least your study of theory should help you find the courage to say to yourself: "I will not be colonized. I will not accept the complicity of their denial. I know I have the right to expect more, and I will not blame myself for this debacle. Then take the course, and the SAT, and then search for mentors who will respect your dignity as a learner.

It somewhat feels that way, like people are just "putting in their time," at the workforce too. We as employees ARE replaceable, if we don't do what we are expected to do. They don't care, if we enjoy what we do, they don't have to KNOW us personally. All they want is their work done. There are other people out there to replace you at the blink of an eye, if you don't meet the "quota".

In Living systems: Parts are NOT replaceble. Is this where "family" comes into the picture? Where being a "team player" is important?

Family: we are NOT replaceable. that would be sad if we were replaceable. Doesn't the church always emphasize that we are "part of the body" that we have to "work together"... that if one part goes wrong the whole body fails? Like, if the heart stops, everything falls apart and there's no turning back?

jeanne's comments:
Yes, it would be sad if we were replaceable parts. That would take away the unique human spirit each of us possesses. But we're not replaceable, and our human spirit does live partly in the family and/or community groups with which we develop close interpersonal ties. It is those ties which make us special. The whole will survive if one of the parts is lost to us, but it will survive differently; it will know of its loss.

Hopefully, I grasped the concept correctly.
Also Jeanne, hope you're feeling better. I'll see you in class tomorrow.
Julie Kim