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Category Manipulation in Global Dialogue


It may be fruitful to explore the different contexts in which category manipulation is practiced in relation to social change intiatives. Such "manipulation", whatever it may be taken to mean, may be conscious and deliberate, casual or unintentional, or completely unconscious. It may also be difficult to detect and a challenge to comprehend, since obviously we think and communicate through categories that may well be subject to such manipulation.

"Manipulation" may also be taken to be a pejorative label for a process that may be undertaken with good intentions -- although those intentions and the process may be considered questionable by those subjected to them, or a witness to them. Varieties or arenas of category manipulation

Ideological propaganda (totalitarian style): This has been well-documented in relation to Communist regimes, especially with regard to educational processes and constant reinforcement of political education (notably in China).

Psychological operations (military and covert style): This has become standard practice in relation to modern military operations, both in the field and in relation to external media protrayal of a conflict. Variants are also extensively practiced as "covert operations" by intelligence agencies, whether within their own country (to undermine support for unwelcome perspectives) or as a means of undermining support for unwelcome factions in other countries.

Behaviour modification (interrogation style): This has been well-documented in relation to interrogation techniques, originally in Communist countries, but increasingly as a recognized interrogation practice in sensitive security situations (Northern Ireland, Middle East, Latin America).

News management (political style): This is now considered a virtual necessity for any political campaign and to ensure day-to-day popular appreciation of the process of governance. The role of "spin-doctors" is increasingly acknowledged.

News management (corporate style): Corporations engaged in practices that may receive bad publicity that undermines their capacity to do business or to maintain share values increasingly require extensive public relations support. The process has been recently redefined as "reputation management". The response in the USA to "food disparagement" is one example.

Indoctrination (religious style): Belief systems, however institutionalized, have long devoted attention to the manner in which their believers can be be reinforced in that belief. Believers are encouraged to affirm those beliefs and to recognize their merits over those of alternative belief systems (which may well be demonized).

Education and training (parental): The process of education of a child is naturally one in which the child tends to brought up to see things in the manner of the parents (or in direct opposition to them).

Education and training (peer group style): Children, students and adults are subjected to contextual pressures, often severe, that encourage them to perceive in particular ways. This may be considered a normal process of socialization.

Advertising and concept promotion (media style): Immense resources are devoted to promotion of products, services and "concepts". The techniques involved are well-documented. The packaging of those techniques into targeted campaigns have been extensively explored. Market research has successively segmented society into potential markets. Data gathering in support of this has now become continuous.

Prosyletizing and conversion (religious style): The commitment of many religions has long been  to disseminate their essential message and to engage people in such a way that they are persuaded to change their attitudes and lifestyles.

Language inculcation (jargon acquisition): Whilst a language or jargon may be voluntarily acquired, this is often closely associated with pressures towards socialization and socio-economic survival. It may also be associated with psycho-social survival and development of identity. Acquisition of a language, a jargon or an accent, is not a neutral process. It encourages certain patterns of thought and inhibits others.

Role modelling (personality cult): In many situations individuals are effectively encouraged to model themselves on the behaviour and attitudes of others.

Issue framing (advocacy style): Advocacy groups are obliged to find ways to frame "positively" the issues they support, and those that represent them, whilst framing "negatively" alternative perspectives and their supporters.

Community development: This process, often perceived as essential to social change, may be framed in terms of the need to change attitudes, abandoning acquired attitudes that are defined as ill-adapted to modernity or simply dysfunctional.

Entertainment: Essential to much entertainment is offering a suspension of reality, persuading people for a time of some other reality. Much humour derives from recognition of the contrast between the engendered abnormal reality and that of daily life. Entertaining ourselves to death...

Interpersonal relationships: Many interpersonal relationships are based on persuading another of the validity of a particular perspective or course of action. Courtship behaviour is but the most obvious example. Encouragement to subtance abuse is another.

Personal rationalization: The ways in which people can reframe situations for themselves, to justify a course of action, has been extensively explored. This is especially the case with respect to justification of substance abuse or any form of what might otherwise be termed "indulgence".stification of substance abuse or any form of what might otherwise be termed "indulgence".


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