denperftext Notes on: Denzin, N (2006). The Secret Downing Street Memo and the Politics of Truth: A Performance Text. International Journal of Progressive Education, 2 (3) [no page numbers]

Dave Harris

[A tiresome performance text where Denzin summarises various people and has them appear as spokespersons in his 'play'. What is the point? What emergent qualities of performance are apparent? Would anything be lost if this were turned back into a standard academic text with summaries and quotations from different authors compared? Who exactly is performing here anyway? Is it Denzin the amateur playwright? Why can't we have Denzin the professional academic to save us all the bother?]

[Denzin comments on various items including secret UK memos on the Iraq war, the US No Child Left Behind Act, and, eventually, American evidence-based enquiry, SBR. He threatens to develop 'a merger of critical pedagogy with a prophetic, feminist post pragmatism']

The Downing Street Memo showed that the British public have been misled about the preparations for war with Iraq. It also showed that the Bush administration had already committed itself at least eight months before. The whole episode shows that truth has a 'politics and pragmatics', and that evidence and facts about the world have been manipulated by governmental officials. [Same as scores of investigative journalists then]. This is a performance text [there is a superscript-- the note tells us that it is to be performed on a stage with three speakers, with a narrator. The speakers assume the voices of a variety of persons and a spotlight moves to each one when speaking. A very didactic, even propagandist form. The speakers just read out Denzin's paraphrases and never act in any emergent way?]

It moves  between local and global knowledge. The piece starts with quotations from Joan Didion and George Orwell on 'the "New Normal", talking about the control of memory by the news organisations. Denzin comments that this is particularly the case in post-9/11 America with 'a President who performs scripts of fear denouncing evil terrorists'.

 A certain W Kittridge is cited to talk about the need to revise our old myths and develop new stories based on democratic values. Apparently this is particularly necessary because 'the multiple terrains of qualitative inquiry' are being affected by this politics.

Somebody called D Manning then warns that the Downing Street Memo is secret '(with some paraphrasing') — [ the whoile thing appears in a note]. J Scarlett intervenes to announce that military action is now inevitable because 'Bush wants to remove Saddam'. C suggest that the 'intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy' and that the UK attorney general has said there is no legal case. Then T Blair and G Bush are quoted as standing together and insisting that Al Qaeda and Saddam are indistinguishable.

Denzin comments that this is a chilling memo clearly saying that facts and intelligence are being fixed, that there are 'carefully choreographed presentations'of various photographs and statistics, and that Bush seems to have overcome his initial reluctance to wage war against Sadam four years earlier.

A certain A Card is quoted to say that marketing gurus know that you do not introduce new products in August, while B Woodward repeats that Bush was initiating plans for the war in November 2001. Denzin comments that we now know there were no WMD's, no links between 9/11 and Saddam, no popular greeting for invading Americans.

F Rich claims that democracy was hijacked, G Bush says that he was undertaking a campaign against the global war on terror. Examples of fake news ['staged news] are demonstrated — 'Fake newsman looking like real news men use the practices of real news programs to deliver fake news in prime-time'

Back to F Rich on the details, with a link to 'faux-journalistic analyses of the child Left Behind Act' [Rich is a journalist for the New York Times]. He says that Bush has scripted town hall meetings and manipulated the logic of lies so that it looks like truth, making his 'assertions about the real have the appearance of being truthful'.

Denzin comments on the politics of truth — 'what is truth? What is evidence? What counts as evidence? How is evidence evaluated? How can evidence or facts be "fixed" to fit policy?', What sort of research-based evidence we should pursue and how it is to be judged. He decides that different discourses define evidence and truth [Is this Rich's position as well? What makes his discourse particularly privileged if so?].

Someone called E Kaplan and Union for Concerned Scientists insist that Bush manipulation of science is unprecedented, that evidence is manufactured, and that this practice is particularly apparent 'with the endorsement of what is called scientifically based educational research (SBR). Apparently, the Act was introduced by arguing the traditional scientific methods are inadequate for educational reform, and that new evidence based models of enquiry are required: however, 'many regard [these] as inappropriate to human subject research, and nearly impossible to implement in concrete research settings'. A particular interest is the endorsement of Intelligent Design by the Bush administration, 'a full-scale attack on the logic and methods of modern science'. Their support for scientific research 'allows them to have it both ways' [it looks like this is the particular issue where modern science has made a mistake according to Bush]. SBR claims to produce 'so-called objective, generalisable evidence' from randomised and nonrandomised experimental trials and quantifiable measurement. Causal hypotheses derived from scientific theory are to be tested and evidence based on these practices are seen as being of maximum value. Any evidence that does not conform to these principles 'is not to be encouraged or funded'. As a result, many forms of qualitative enquiry are marginalised 'including critical race, queer, postcolonial, feminist, indigenous and decolonising theories'. A narrower view of science and evidence prevails, it is as if positivistic science had never been challenged, although criticisms of experimentalism are at least four decades-old [and somebody called Campbell is cited on the problems of dealing with rival causal factors]. Campbell is paraphrased to say that SBR seems to rely on naive realism and to avoid the issue of values facts and theories. It assumes a disinterested observer and this 'relies on an ethics of deception' and does not address the contexts of knowledge production nor the 'nuances of the researcher – subject relationship'. These methodological limits are clearly involved in 'the politics of truth', Denzin comments, with the 'ways in which a given political regime fixes facts and intelligence to fit ideology'. What looks like a technical matter about good and bad evidence comes to determine what is true or false.

There are three versions of SBR, one outlined by the National Research Council, a second acting as 'a simulacra' [sic] and used by the Bush administration to sell the war with Iraq. The third version 'articulates a policy and methodology of truth based on a decolonising critical pedagogy, and a feminist, prophetic ethical pragmatism' [citing himself and also Siegfried and West]

SBR one was not used when Bush decided to go to war. They used SBR two, but even there 'the intent… Was to gather evidence that appeared to have these characteristics' ['objective, reliable, generalisable evidence']. For Bush, a fact or piece of evidence is true if it: 'has the appearance of being factual;… Is patriotic;… Supports a political action that advances the White House's agenda'. Anything else is flawed and biased. The Bush administration wanted to act and so it fabricated a set of facts. Any challenges were unpatriotic and discredited and stopped people protecting Americans from violent terrorists.

[More general commentary ensues]. 'The ways in which the world is not a stage are not easy to specify'. Bush's own dramaturgical politics seem to suggest that 'everything is already performative, staged, commodified and dramaturgical' erasing any line between performer and actor, script and text, 'performance and reality'. This permits 'illusion and make-believe [to] prevail. Truthful facts are casualties under such regimes… The right people are not held accountable… Future catastrophes [are more likely]'. It looks like 'the hyperreal appears more real than the real'. We therefore require 'apparatuses of resistance and critique, methodologies and pedagogies of truth, ways of making real realities that envision and enact pedagogies of hope' [heavily compromised already by values of course — more or less tantamount just saying we need different values]. Only then can we hold regimes to account.

[Back to quoting other people]. An adviser to Bush referred to 'the so-called "reality-based community", which apparently believes that a discernible reality can be studied. He then said that the world does not work like that anymore, and that action creates its own reality. Denzin finds it hard to respond [!] And objects particularly to the politics — 'who gave them this power? Who is holding them responsible for the consequences?' Why should we have to respond to their 'experiments in reality construction?' Bush is quoted as praying for the strength to do God's will.

Denzin comments — What do these relativist statements mean? If the division between reality and appearance disappears, 'critical enquiry necessarily becomes disruptive, explicitly pedagogical and radically democratic' [shades of the old oppositional only definitions]. [He asks a lot of these rhetorical questions in hois work geberally and rarely sees aneed toanswer them,except with his commitments at the end. The different speakers atht take turnswithout interroghation but with lots ofmoralcomment have the same  results -- as Bourdieu (1988) says of Barthes:

'deploying 'peremptory subjectivism' to 'wash himself clean of the plebeian crime of positivism' (117).  He claimed to be above disciplinary divisions between science and philosophy...often to be satisfied with facsimiles of the fashionable sciences—semiologists, anthropology, psychoanalysis and Marxology

 'We need a new politics of truth. We must embrace the justice of our rage'

J Jordan and PH Collins are paraphrased arguing that there is a need to reclaim 'the neglected legacy of the 60s, an unabashed moral certainty, an incredible outgoing energy of righteous rage'. Denzin says this leads to post pragmatism. For the post pragmatism feminist there can be no neutral standpoint, the meaning of a concept or a representation 'lies in the practical, political, moral, and social consequences it produces for an actor or collectivity' [any actor or collectivity?]. These meanings 'are not objectively given but established through interaction 'and the politics of representation' all representations are shaped by 'the intersecting contingencies of power, gender, race and class'. Collins apparently develops 'an Afrocentric feminist ethical framework' stressing 'primacy of lived experience, dialogue, and ethics of care, and ethics of responsibility — for interpreting truth and knowledge claims'. We are to privilege 'lived experience, emotion, empathy, and values rooted in personal expressiveness' [only nice versions of these of course]. We build 'collaborative, reciprocal, trusting, mutually accountable' relationships with people we study. We base it on care and justice. It stresses 'shared values and norms' [shared with fascists?]. 'It privileges the sacredness of life, human dignity, nonviolence, care, solidarity, love, community, empowerment, civic transformation [and] demands of any action that it positively contribute to a politics of resistance, hope and freedom' [citing himself]. There can be 'no absolute truths no absolute principles no faith based beliefs in what is true or false', but rather 'a politics of love and care, an ethic of hope and forgiveness' [citing Pelias and Freire].

Pelias is paraphrased on how the heart learn stories that are truths, facts as 'possibilities we pretend we trust' [?]. It as a method of 'pumping, loving and forgiving' and so we must proceed with hearts first. This includes being able to 'learn how to use our rage in positive ways, to love, to struggle to forgive. We have little other choice'. Denzin goes on to comment that in a methodology of the heart the judge actions in terms of moral consequences 'and the meanings people bring to them' [a strange assumption that these two will not contradict]. Consequences are 'socially constructed'. We replace 'the concept of truth… With a consequential theory of meaning' [?]. We need to grasp experience 'through what Stuart Hall… calls the politics of representation', and this becomes 'the site of meaning and truth. Facts about the world are treated as facticities, as lived experiences'. Pragmatists examine the effects or consequences of action on 'existing structures of domination', and sees as 'morally indefensible' any action that further oppresses, denies freedom or causes people to die. [A bizarre value laden version of pragmatism — not what works, but rather what makes us feel better. Feelings are about the only way we can judge experiences going on in the real political world. These are imaginary solutions].

C West is paraphrased on post pragmatism. We need to act as a critical moral agent with political goals — 'the creation of greater individual freedom in the broader social order'. All interventions are political and must be judged always in terms of their contributions to 'the politics of liberation, love, caring and freedom' [no problem in defining these of course, or reconciling competing claims].

National-security decision-making should be 'transparent and open', not based on disinformation secrecy or selective interpretations. 'Evidence should not be doctored… Contradictory evidence should be openly discussed… Decisions "should be subjected to a robust process of checks and balance"'.

[Now an argument from authority]. Leading scientists have spoken against these abuses of science and argued for 'unfettered support of research and enquiry on ethically and politically sensitive, controversial issues. Such research yields trustworthy findings' [that's handy] and those in power might find this objectionable butt we need to maintain respect for critical enquiry and common understandings of what is at stake. We need safeguards protecting scientists from censorship repression and misrepresentation. The 'values of progressive democracy' must be to the fore if scientific advice is used for policy-making, and pragmatic consequences taken into account. Overall, we should all rally against Bush's misuse of science information and evidence.

Denzin comments on the implications of the Downing Street Memo, which exposed 'morally unethical actions', showing that Bush and his advisers were prepared to go to any length to justify war. 'They took the concept of truth as a social construction to a logical but ethically indefensible conclusion' [so we agree with the first bit but not the ethical bits — those are not socially constructed but are somehow just True].This shows how positivistic epistemology and methodology can produce findings that conform to your beliefs about reality [defended as good practice just now when it is Denzin's]. Bush's administrators thereby discredited SBR one because it is not 'full proof' [sic].

'As long as reality can be socially constructed, fraudulent versions of SBR one… will be created'. So we need some 'higher moral truth. A methodology of the heart, a prophetic, feminist post pragmatism [and its] ethics of truth grounded in love, care, hope and forgiveness '.

PH Collins is paraphrased referring to a methodology based on righteous rage pointing towards justice to make an important difference in the lives of people. Denzin concludes that 'we demand that history's actors use models of evidence that answer to these moral truths'.

Further notes remind us that no WMD were found, so new reasons for the war were advanced including the need to bring democracy to Iraq, preventing terrorism and honouring the dead who had been killed in the war. Another note argues that Saddam was not a threat to America, a did not purchase uranium oxide, that no one now wants to take responsibility for the mass destruction and murders, which include more than 2000 dead American soldiers and more than 30,000 dead Iraqi, together with 'disgrace and degradation in Abu Ghraib'

[What a non-reflexive account! Everyone else's approach is open to criticism because it's contaminated by values, but the answer is a methodology contaminated by better values. What makes these values better? Constant assertion and quoting of people who agree? How practical and pragmatic a politics is it — we can only really rely on our own feelings, and then only in university contexts]

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