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California State University, Dominguez Hills
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Created: April 1, 2003
Latest Update: April 1, 2003

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Site Teaching Modules Traditional Classes and Illocutionary Discussion

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, March 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

On Tuesday, April 1, 2003, Shaheen Brown wrote:
Subject: Shaheen Brown-Sociology of Reality

Hi, Jeanne. It's a shame that I attend a university that is too rigid to allow students to participate in illocutionary discourse in all their classes. Everything is based on a timeline and professors are so stuck to their syllabus that they will not even acknowledge the fact that we are at war. This is history in the making and not one of my professors has even mentioned the war nevermind allowed us students a chance to voice our opinions. Why are some professors so rigid? Its like they can't think with out a lesson plan or a textbook. College should be more than textbooks, notetaking, and memorization. We as students should have a right to stray from the normal lesson plan during times such as this. At least 15 minutes should be given every class session to discuss the major crisis our country is facing.

On Tuesday, April 1, 2003, jeanne responded:

I agree, Shaheen. This war holds enormous importance for the whole world. And we all need to enter some illocutionary discourse about it. I think it would be asking quite a stretch of th corners of some minds to relate physics and chemistry to the war. And yet, everyday I see applications in Scientific American that bear on the war all the time. This link just came in over my e-mail: Nimble-Fingered Neandertals by Kate Wong, March 27, 2003. E-mail arrived and link added April 1, 2003.
" According to one school of thought, Neandertals may have lost out to our kind in part because they lacked the manual dexterity necessary for crafting sophisticated tools--an assertion based on earlier studies of the anatomy of the Neandertal thumb and forefinger. . . . . [T]hese hominids were probably just as nimble-fingered as we are, capable of the tip-to-tip contact that gives us our all-important precision grip. . . . .

From a summary in Scientific American of a study reported in Nature.

* * * * *

"Palaeontologists had previously doubted that Neanderthals had the manual dexterity to make and use tools such as the shafted axes favoured by early modern humans. Neanderthals were thought to be unable to form the 'precision grip' that we use today to manipulate delicate items such as pens and tweezers.

Not so, says Wes Niewoehner of the University of California in San Bernadino, who led the new study. "Neanderthals had the capacity to produce the same grips that we can."

His team created a computer model . . .

From a summary in Nature Magazine online. Link added April 1, 2003.

I'm sure there are science classes and social science classes in which stories such as this could help illustrate the constant need to review our theories and assumptions. Computer simulations are developing sophistication, and can help us re-interpret old data.

In terms of the meaning of such data for sociology, as we relate our theory to the war with Iraq: For a long time we thought we knew about the Neandertals. But we may have well been wrong according to Dr. Niewoehner's new study. Now, as we go to war with Iraq, we think we know Iraqis well enough to base predictions of their behavior on our own. But the first weeks of the war have proved us not wrong, but overly confident in failing to grasp both their culture and their situatedness in that culture. Many of our unstated assumptions are proving false.

The first and most obvious assumption was that the Iraqis would welcome the coalition forces. Wrong. They didn't. Perhaps they don't welcome us. Or perhaps they were threatened and intimidated by the Feyadim. Or perhaps they were discouraged by our previous failure to support the Basran revolution in the Gulf War. Or perhaps the East/West perception of Orientalism, as Edward Said expresses it, matters far more to the Iraqis than we understood.

Another assumption we seem to have neglected is that people will understand that we don't mean to kill them' we just mean to kill the regime. Killing is killing when you are the victim. We may rage at Al Jazeera for displaying unpleasant images of civilians, including children, dying or wounded. But unless the images are staged, there is collateral damage in any war. Innocents are killed. That's part of the message of the peace groups. But we assumed they would forgive us the unintentional and sometimes unavoidable killings. But then we're making assumptions about what is unintentional and what is unavoidable.

This kind of knowledge about the Iraqis may be as important today as the knowledge of our differences with the Neandertals. Each makes us realize that we need to know more about the Other, whoever he/she my be, if we are to act humanely and suppress the violence rampant in the world.

So, yes, Shaheen, I sympathize with your wish that each discipline would consider the relevance of its theory and praxis to the war. The more we consider these conceptual links, the greater our skill in understanding the complex issues that led us into this war and will someday lead us into a more stable peace.

More soon. jeanne