GUIDE TO: Fowler R, Hodge B, Kress G and Trew T (1979) Language and Control, London: Routledge Kegan and Paul.
Chapter five (Hodge, Kress and Jones) 'The Ideology of Middle-Management', 81 - 93
Language expresses ideologies in the form of particular categories rather than universals. This study is about how one particular category of individuals responds to ideological conflicts and problems -- the middle manager -- and how language orders their social world. The study arose in the context of a management training course.
One concern seem to be who is called what and who does what. These are interdependent. There seemed to be no actual names for roles, and participants identified themselves using terms such as 'part of our management', rather than a specific manager. This leaves a certain useful ambiguity.
The abstract noun 'management' is actually used in a number of constructions (with more detail on page 83), for example: (a) to deny a 'syntactic agent', to permit the use of passive verbs, to imply that a team plays a part rather than nominated individuals specifically; (b) to permit individuals to locate themselves relationally rather than in terms of a specific job function, alluding to all sorts of practices to establish consensus rather than to reveal any sometimes messy politics of decision-making; (c) to dehumanize or reify procedures, into the extent of talking about 'X that does Y 'rather than 'X who does Y' (87).
Thus managerial newspeak has rules which govern certain linguistic formations and in particular ensure that 'the spatialization of the ideological problem pervades the syntax' (88). Activity is recoded in spatial terms, and matter of who reports to whom. This produces for example the 'line-management' metaphor, which avoids any notion of division between managers and others. Management appears as a group, and much of its activity focuses on cohesion and identity rather than any internal divisions.
This is seen in the way the questions are answered, for example about the precise role of middle managers and what makes them different from other employees. What happens is that there is an elaboration and transformation, for example into lines of responsibility and groups. In these activities, 'ideological and linguistic processes are... acting together': the construction of new metaphors for the organisation can produce new possibilities for such ideological and linguistic transformation [compare this to the wonderful account of what managers do in the HEA Change Academy, where they seemed to be insisting that changing metaphors and narratives actually changes organizations, not just ideological and linguistic transformations of existing divisions of power].
Pronoun usage is also important. It is common to talk about 'our' management, rather than 'my' or 'their' management. There is a common shift in terms from 'they' to 'we', as a 'covert attempt [by middle managers] to gain power'. When senior management employ these devices it is to conceal their dominance.
There is the use of 'modal verbs', such as 'can'. When managers say they can do things, there is a useful ambiguity involved, referring both to the ability to do something and permission to do it. [As in 'I'll do what I can'] There are mental process verbs such as 'think': this can be used to soften a decision, to offer an opinion rather than a fact [such as 'I think I can see a way forward']. There are also distancing devices such as 'that would be difficult', or 'if you look...'. And there are stalling devices, which gives the speaker time to think ('errm') [and I also like the strategic stutter, which also has the benefit in the UK of implying an early prep school education -- as in 'I, I, I, can see what you mean, but, but, but,...']. Stalling devices also alert the interpreter that 'an extra amount of editing was [allegedly? ] applied by the speaker to the bit of speech that follows' (92).
There is equivocation in the use of the present tense, which implies certainty, and a common 'complex weaving of uncertainty'. This 'linguistic equivocation mirrors the tension of the real situation... the reality and actuality of uncertain status and function' (92). [It would need a lengthy example to demonstrate this, but anyone listening to a middle manager and trying to get a decision from them will be familiar with the general tendency, to want to appear confident and authoritative, while simultaneously realizing that they need to cover their back and not promise anything too specific].
Thus ideological problems can be seen as affecting speech, and once they are put into spoken form, some kind of resolution becomes possible. It requires a certain skill to do this [I have known many academics who have had to withdraw for a week or two before they have come back as fully fledged managers and fluent management bullshit speakers -- sometimes they have to go off for training, of course]. Middle managers have to learn, for example, to reclassify labels, to fit general labels to specific contents and contexts. They have to be able to manage 'syntactic potential', so that, for example, descriptions somehow substitute for activities [as in 'I am your programme leader'... which leaves open the question 'But what do you actually do? What are your responsibilities, and what are my rights?']. Reclassifications like this often occur as responses to specific threats, which can include new management enthusiasms, such as a wave of 'human relations or job enrichment' approaches. Since middle managers are always open to these threats, there is a constant need for them to reclassify [which certainly explains the furious pace of change from one job description to another, from line-management to matrix management, to the creation of new posts and so on].
[Trew, in the next chapter, is going to suggest that this linguistic strategy is common to theory as well as to ideology. This reminds me of Lyotard and his argument that even science does not actually have any external goals these days, but spends quite a lot of its time in 'parology'-- attempts to generate something new]
Chapter six (Trew) 'Theory and Ideology at Work' (94 - 116)
It is important to be have to deal with 'awkward facts 'or anomalies, especially in terms of social ideologies. Common strategies involve denial, suppression or reinterpretation [including at hominem suggestions that anomalies arise from the personal motives of troublemakers].
A particular kind of discourse is required to manage such anomalies, and examples can be found in areas such as the law, or the media and how they manage to transform a story [as in realism]. Discourses like these proceed by categories involving agents, processes, effects and circumstances (100). One tactic is used different verbs or adjectives to show developments, such as leaving out the agents The example here is a news story about policemen shooting black protesters in what was then Rhodesia; the follow up simply switched the agents from policemen to Africans [suggesting that African protest was what led to the events, that the protesters had somehow deserved to be shot]. There is also an example of 'denominalization' in the next chapter]. Much depends on the angle of the story, the words used, and the tenses of the verbs.
Chapter 10 (Fowler and Kress) 'Critical Linguistics'
This is the name for the general approach which attempts to link linguistic forms and social forms, through the use of the term discourse. Critical linguistics does not just focus on the formal characteristics of language and its social uses, as in Chomsky, but tries to develop a theory of communicative competence. The argument is that social context is coded in language -- for example, in other languages like French, there are both polite and familiar uses of words such as 'you', and using the familiar term to a stranger can indicate power over them.
Critical linguistics looks especially at five areas of actual language: '(a) events/states, processes, grammar of transitivity; (b) interpersonal relations between speaker and hearer, and the grammar of modality; (c) the manipulation of linguistic material, including transformations; (d) linguistic ordering, such as the grammar of classification; (e) the coherence, unity and order of the discourse' (198).
Particular grammatical features are then highlighted. Transitivity refers to the use of active or passive linguistic forms and agents. Modality refers to interpersonal relations between speakers and others, indicated by matters such as the user for more or familiar names, pronouns (where 'we', or 'you' can refer to anyone, or an assumed addressee -- such uses occur to refer to indirectness and distance, and thus code power relations). Transformations involve in particular nominalizations and passivizations (207) Nominalization is indicated by a part of the sentence rather than expression, 'involving a verb or adjective' (208), for example 'French moves in international dispute'. Such a term depersonalizes and demodalizes, and loses its tense. It also objectifies. Passivization displaces agents, as in terms such as 'black demonstrators were shot', rather than 'policemen shoot black demonstrators'.
Transformations can also include 'raising', where a constituent from a subordinate clause is lifted to be a constituent in the main clause. For example, negatives can be raised as in 'we do not want to say more', or noun phrases, such as 'miners are expected to return to work' (rather than 'the Prime Minister expects miners to return'). This helps gain attention [and adds emphasis?]. Another transformation is extraposition, as in 'it is now clear that x had left', rather than simply 'x had left'. Here, the subject noun phrase is moved or extraposed behind the verb [I'm not clear what effect this is supposed produce, except to dramatize again or to claim some expert overview?].
Classifications can include neologisms [management-speak is full of these, of course, with terms like 'drivers', 'rolling out initiatives' and the like. Presumably, these neologisms have the function of indicating who is 'in' and who isn't, and justifying management control by appealing to some esoteric vocabulary which is allegedly more precise and specific, and alludes to some powerful management theory].
Finally, attempts to make discourses coherent also give the impression of 'an implementation of the conception of the inner order of materials' (212) [a way of avoiding responsibility for events that have their own logic and development sequence, or possibly another claim to expertise, that policy is based on some expert grasp of how events actually work?]