Monday, January 16, 2017

Creel Froman's Language and Power

Lewis Acrelius (Creel) Froman (1935-2014) was a professor of political science in the School of Social Sciences at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). He earned a B.A. in political science from Yale University in 1957, and a Ph.D. in political science from Northwestern University in 1960.  He became professor of political science at UCI in 1965, and served as the Dean of the School of Social Sciences from 1971-75. He retired in 2004. His publications include The Manuscript of Hugo Potts: An Inquiry into Meaning (1973), Congressmen and Their Constituencies (1974), The Two American Political Systems: Society, Economics, and Politics (1984), and Language and Power (4 volumes: Books I and II, 1992; Books III, IV, and V, 1993; Books VI and VII, 1995; and Books VIII and IX, 1997).
      In Language and Power, Froman argues that language is power, in the sense that language creates power and power creates language. Language both constructs power and is a construction of power.1 Power structures are “languaged,” in the sense that their construction/representation in language is controlled by those in power. Knowledge/meaning/reality is constructed/represented in language, and whoever controls language also controls the construction/representation of knowledge/meaning/reality.
      Language may be described as a structure of meaning and of knowledge/reality creation, while power may be described as a structure of inequality and of positional and distributional advantages provided to various individuals and groups within social units.
      Power maintains itself through control over descriptive and structural language. “The language of the whole” (the language of power) treats each member of society as part of a larger structure, but as a result of the asymmetry of positions within social structures, some members of society are empowered, while others are disempowered.
      “Language is a product of the powered conditions in which its construction takes place,” says Froman, and it thus “reflects/represents/incorporates the interests of those who construct knowledge/meaning/reality within it.”2 The language of power, which is misleadingly promoted as “the language of the whole,” serves the interests of power not only by ignoring/justifying the relative positional and distributional disadvantages of the disempowered with respect to the structure of social institutions, but also by masking/justifying the relative positional and distributional advantages of the empowered.
      “The language of the whole” consists of both a structural language of inequality and an individual language of merit or just desert justifying that inequality.3 In structural language, positional and distributional inequality is seen as a matter of structural relationships between the advantaged and disadvantaged, while in individual language, it is seen as a matter of individual merit or just desert.
      Power in individual/liberal language is understood as being dispersed among individuals, based on a fair and equal opportunity to participate being offered to all, rather than as concentrated in structures of unfair and unequal positional and distributional advantages.4
      Power is manifested socially as inequality between the empowered and disempowered with respect to how any given group or social institution is structured.5 Because the language of the empowered (who are promoted as “the leading part” in the structure of the whole) becomes hegemonic in its ability to define what knowledge/meaning/reality is, alternative languages arise in response to the disempowerment of some individuals and groups. Alternative (resistance) languages call attention to structural inequalities that are seen as just in conventional language (“legitimate language,” according to the empowered), but that are seen as unjust in alternative (resistance) language.6
      Conventional language (power’s language, or “the language of the whole”) is authorized or legitimized by those in power, while unconventional (resistance) language is discouraged or delegitimized.
      However, power is based not only on the control of language, but also on the division of society into criterial groups (according to race, gender, class, and age) or structural parts. This division of society into criterial groups establishes relations of inequality (with, for example, non-whites seen as unequal to whites, women seen as unequal to men, and the poor seen as unequal to the wealthy). Power/language is thus the construction of knowledge/meaning/reality on the basis of criterial inequalities established by institutional structures.7 Criterial groups are ways of understanding persons not as individual, unique persons, but as raced/gendered/classed/aged “heterohumans.”8 Structural language constructs persons "heteronomously" as being in unequal relations of power (dominance or subordination) to one another.9
      Power languagers attempt to mask/justify/ignore/deny structural inequalities by their use of individual/liberal language. Resistance languagers, on the other hand, use the already present structural language in power’s language to assert that reality does indeed consist of gendered/classed/raced/aged kinds of persons, and that these “heterohuman” categories unfairly assign unequal positional and distributional advantages or disadvantages to various individuals within the (social, economic, and political) structures of the social unit.10
      While “the language of the whole” (power’s language) may propose, or be based on, the unequal distribution of (social, economic, legal, or political) advantages to various individuals within a social unit, alternative (resistance) languages may propose alternative distributions of advantages. While the language of power may treat (social, economic, legal, or political) inequalities as merited and just, resistance languages may treat them as unmerited and unjust.
      Froman explains that “social units are divisions of labor which locate their members unequally with respect to positional and distributional advantages, based on/in a powered language of inequality.”11 Social units include the empowered (“the leading part”) and the disempowered (“the other part”). “The other part” includes “the languaging class” and “the non-languaging class” (“the oppressed”). “The languaging class” consists of those individuals who control the language of institutional structures (structural language, or “the language of the whole”), thus acting as agents for “the leading part.” "The non-languaging class" consists of those individuals for whom “the language of the whole” is least suitable, since it creates/reinforces/justifies institutional structures in which they are positionally and distributionally disadvantaged.12
      Language controllers are also problem controllers, insofar as their control over language gives them the power to tell the rest of society whether there are problems (in language, or in the world), what the problems are, and how they are to be solved.13
      “The languaging class” includes those persons (such as teachers, administrative personnel, lawyers, government officials, journalists, writers, and professionals of all kinds) who benefit, in terms of positional and distributional advantages, by (knowingly or unknowingly) serving the interests of those in power.14 “The languaging class” promotes “the language of the whole,” and it discourages alternative or resistance languages.
      Power’s language asserts that social inequalities are justified, because of differences in individual merit or just desert, but resistance language asserts that social inequalities are unjustified, because of illegitimate structural asymmetries in the positional and distributional advantages afforded to various individuals and groups.15 Justice as individually merited inequality (power’s morality) thus comes into conflict with justice as structural equality (resistance’s morality).16 In the language of power, justice is impossible without social inequality, but in the language of resistance, justice is impossible without social equality.17


1Creel Froman, Language and Power: Books VI and VII (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1996), p. 71.
2Ibid., p. 12.
3Ibid., p. 2.
4Froman, Language and Power: Books III, IV, and V (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1993), p. 84.
5Froman, Language and Power: Books I and II (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1992), p. 4.
6Language and Power: Books III, IV, and V, p. 87.
7Language and Power, Books VI and VII, p. 75.
8Language and Power, Books III, IV, and V, p. 116.
9Ibid., p. 121.
10Ibid., p. 125.
11Ibid., p. 91.
12Ibid., p. 91.
13Language and Power: Books I and II, p. 38.
14Language and Power, Books III, IV, and V, p. 91.
15Language and Power, Books VI and VII, p. 33.
16Ibid., p. 2.
17Ibid., p. 3.