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Discourse is a game

By suspendedreason
    2021-04-17 18:07:38.872Z

    In trying to re-factor the signal and correctives frame, I wanna first lay out a theory of the "game" that is discourse. This is a first attempt at laying out the ways in which discourse is a game, and the core criteria that define a given discursive game.

    Every discursive move defines, implicitly or explicitly, its situation and orientation—that is, the game in which it constitutes a move. This is important because a given move is fitted to the game context to which it is designed or chosen—the rules and history of moves which constitute a “game state,” which together create the constraints, affordances, and goals players optimize moves with respect to. Therefore, to understand a move’s quality, motivations, consequences, and all-around “true character,” one must understand the move relationally and contextually.

    (Unfortunately, discursive moves are constantly being taken out of context, and what’s worse, may try to seize maximum explanatory “turf” for itself through totalizing claims—“X is,” rather than “One facet of X…”)

    The two crucial, defining aspects of a discursive game are first, who is playing (in the context of a given move, who, and whose moves, are being responded to), and second, who is judging moves’ quality (where the public gamic meaning of a move is determined by the sensibilities of judges and the rules of judgment).

    In some games, these criteria are relatively stable over time, such that the game is considered “a discourse” (that is, it has a stable identity either in public or among players), and perhaps given a proper name like “analytic philosophy,” “rationality,” “feminism,” or “the Intellectual Dark Web.” These discursive contexts are sometimes pre-existent—a “school” with dedicated journals and conferences, or a deeply interconnected Twitter network. There is a fairly stable group of players playing mostly among themselves and, especially in the case of “autonomous” field like the avant-garde, where producer and consumer populations bear considerable overlap, for one another.Other times, the game is defined post-hoc by those who opposite its dominant frame, such as the “high modernism” of James Scott’s Seeing Like A State.

    In stable games, the judicial sensibilities and game state (shared play history) is widely and commonly known by participants, such that a given participant can be reasonably confident that another given participant will share a set of reference points. This allows more compressive, efficient, and high-fidelity communication (via occluded common ground). There is a shared sense of what is obvious (can “go without saying”) and what is original, and what approaches or players are under- or over-rated, that is, niches under- or over-saturated. Participation is bounded institutionally and/or paradigmatically—players have jointly determined or agreed that certain questions, approaches, techniques, and thinkers are promising, while others are dead-ends—and will only consider a player part of “their game” if that player is in accord with the vast majority of the governing paradigm. (Institutional training functions in large part to initiate a player into a discursive game: its history, present state, values and sensibilities, and key players.) One can challenge one sacred tenet of the game, perhaps, but only one at a time, and typically only if one has already been recognized as a player of the game (e.g. via previous, more paradigm-affirming work, or via strong interpersonal/institutional affiliation.) We can call this the “n+1” principle of intervention: one strongly affiliates with a stable, established game and then updates or extends it in a novel way. Something similar occurs in artistic genres: one must adhere closely enough to convention to be recognized as an AbEx painter, or a metal band, while providing enough novelty to be interesting instead of redundant. (See also Murray Davis’s concept of “the interesting”: the balance of familiar and foreign, of the affirmative and subversive, is key to our assessments of discursive moves.) This is the sense in which discursive games are Carsean “infinite games”: the production of novelty expands the possibilities of the game, prolonging its lifespan and thus allowing gameplayers to continue playing.

    • 4 replies
    1. suspendedreason
        2021-04-17 18:32:44.970Z

        Discourse is a game, and speech is 1) motivated, 2) purposive/transformative, an action whose "meaning" and purpose is the situational delta between before & after. Speech, expression, communication—these things are not value neutral maps but strategic interventions in the status quo, attempts to manipulate a world into more personally advantageous or preferable terms. It is always trying to accomplish something for its speaker's priorities (the "team" or "party" he plays for, which may or may not functionally simplify to himself, but easily include coalitions or philosophies worked on-behalf of; cf Goffman 1969). Even if this "something" is as simple as "keeping it [an interaction] from being awkward."

        It's true we "share information," as some conversation theorists argue, but again, the implication of this wording is far too neutral: the info we present to others is strategically framed ("spun"), it is edited summarized and explained, its parts chosen and modified for a variety of optimization criteria, with various weighted goals from "try to be as helpful as possible" to "conceal info that damages my standing or sabotages my other strategic goals."

        Tying this into the game frame: speech is an attempt to accomplish GOALS (a desired delta in circumstances) via a CONTEXT of affordances and constraints.

        1. In reply tosuspendedreason:
            2021-04-17 18:48:01.630Z2021-04-17 18:59:56.457Z

            From the intro to Bourdieu's Logic of Practice:

            And in "The Field of Cultural Production," Bourdieu argues that the "task" of studying a field is to construct "the space of positions and the space of the position-takings in which they are expressed." Each position, "e.g. the one which corresponds to a genre such as the novel or, within this, to a sub-category such as the 'society novel' or the 'popular' novel" is "defined by the system of distinctive properties by which it can be situated relative to other positions; that every position, even the dominant one, depends for its very existence, and for the determinations it imposes on its occupants, on the other positions constituting the space of positions, is nothing other than the structure of the distribution of the capital of specific properties which governs success in the field and the winning of the external or specific profits (such as literary prestige) which are at stake in the field."

            This is all a little too "objective" for me though—it's important to keep in mind that the properties of a genre, or the basis for the allocation of prestige, exists in human minds.


            The space of literary or artistic position-takings, i.e. the structured set of the manifestations of the social agents involved in the field—literary or artistic works, of course, but also political acts or pronouncements, manifestos or polemics, etc—is inseparable from the space of literary or artistic positions defined by possession of a determinate quantity of specific capital (recognition) and, at the same time, by occupation of a determinate position in the structure of the distribution of this specific capital. The literary or artistic field is a field of forces, but it is also a field of struggles tending to transform or conserve this field of forces.

            This to me is one of the key takeaways of Bourdieu: you have to understand a given field as a battlefield, a field of struggles for recognition (prestige, funding, influence, audience). And there are dueling forces: the mimetic temptation and the temptation to distinction.

            1. In reply tosuspendedreason:
                2021-04-17 19:26:15.791Z

                More from Bourdieu:

                the existence, form, and direction of [cultural] change depend not only on the "state of the system," i.e. the "repertoire of possibilities which it offers, but also on the balance of forces between social agents who have entirely real interests in the different possibilities available to them as stakes and who deploy every sort of strategy to make one set or the other prevail.

                He points us also to Weber's "routinization" and "de-routinization" (think Christ --> Christianity). Charisma is validated by the faith and belief of followers, an emotional link that creates a "charismatic community." This gives followers a sense of extraordinary calling or purpose, a break from routine life. Charisma is a revolutionary force that defies traditional and bureaucratic rules, establishing its supreme authority (among followers) emotionally. In this sense, charisma is a "corrective" to the dominant ideology. But, given time, the ideology introduced by the charisma begins to routinize. Charismatic authority is short-lived and unstable, eventually becoming either traditionalized or rationalized. As a previously revolutionary ("negational") ideal becomes dominant, it crowds out competitors and loses its complementary nature, becoming perverse as it is forced to stand on its own as a "positive" ideology. The parallels to discursive games, and signals & correctives, isn't perfect, but there are definitely important similarities.

                1. In reply tosuspendedreason:
                    2021-04-17 19:46:27.305Z

                    In "Why Has Critique Run Out Of Steam?" Latour uses a framing metaphor of discourse as war. He worries that poststructuralist criticisms of science are "one war late," whether the ground they responded to—the midcentury enthusiasm and belief in science—has already receded, and been replaced by (e.g.) climate skepticism, anti-vax. Hence the second part of his title: "From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern."

                    Would it not be rather terrible if we were still training young kids—yes, young recruits, young cadets—for wars that are no longer possible, fighting enemies long gone, conquering territories that no longer exist, leaving them ill-equipped in the face of threats we had not anticipated, for which we are so thoroughly unprepared? Generals have always been accused of being on the ready one war late— especially French generals, especially these days. Would it be so surprising, after all, if intellectuals were also one war late, one critique late—especially French intellectuals, especially now?

                    Do you see why I am worried? I myself have spent some time in the past trying to show “the lack of scientific certainty” inherent in the construction of facts. I too made it a “primary issue.” But I did not exactly aim atfooling the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed argument—or did I? After all, I have been accused of just that sin. Still, I’d like to believe that, on the contrary, I intended to emancipate the public from prematurely naturalized objectified facts. Was I foolishly mistaken? Have things changed so fast?

                    the danger would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact—as we have learned to combat so efficiently in the past—but from an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases! While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden behind the appearance of objective statements, do we now have to reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden behind the illusion of prejudices?
                    Threats might have changed so much that we might still be directing all our arsenal east or west while the enemy has now moved to a very different place.
                    This does not mean for us any more than it does for the officer that we were wrong, but simply that history changes quickly and that there is no greater intellectual crime than to address with the equipment of an older period the challenges of the present one.

                    In his carving, the public has traveled from naive belief in science and religion to a dismissive, conspiratorial skepticism, encouraged, he believes, by the "French generals." The whole dynamic reminds one of the American government's habit supplying arms to a rebel group ("anything but the current regime," in the corrective spirit) and then 30 years later, having to fight those self-same rebels, who have now become the regime and are armed to the teeth with American weapons.

                    What has become of critique when my neighbor in the little Bourbonnais village where I live looks down on me as someone hopelessly naive because I believe that the United States had been attacked by terrorists? Remember the good old days when university professors could look down on unsophisticated folks because those hillbillies naı¨vely believed in church, motherhood, and apple pie?

                    In France generally, Latour perceives a deep fear of being seen as naive, outdated, or gullible; these are the "worst" things one can be in Parisian society, and thus, coupled with and causing its love of revolutions (see "The Enlightenment Without the Critique"), discourse there prized, above all, for being à la mode.