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Unstated Assumptions

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Latest update: October 21, 2000
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The Danger in Unrecognized Premises

  • Wicked Little Unstated Assumptions
    Brief summary of Minow's definitions of unstated assumptions, and application to story of the yawn. Link added on October 21, 2000.
  • May He Yawn in Good Faith? - Difference and Its Meaning The story of the yawn.
  • Chapter on Unstated Assumptions from the Law Handbook
  • Banal Nationalism and the Internet
    Emory University's Postcolonial site on the power of unstated assumptions.
  • Power Goes to School: Teachers, Students, and Discipline Covaleskie's discussion of sovereign power versus disciplinary power, when the disciplinary power is based on unstated assumptions.

  • Book Sources

    Wicked Little Unstated Assumptions that Damage Discourse

    May He Yawn in Good Faith? tells the story on which this analysis is based.

    Martha Minow approaches the issues of how communication is affected by difference and privileging in Making All the Difference: Inclusion,Exclusion and American Law. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1990. She blames some of the difficulty on our hearing each other on five unstated assumptions we make about "differences."

    (1) We assume that differences are "intrinsic." That somehow Kornblum's yawn was telling about Kornblum himself, and particularly, Kornblum as an American.

    (2) We assume that that "the norm need not be stated." That simply everyone knows what a yawn means, particularly when an American Ambassador yawns at a vice president of the German Parliament.

    (3) We assume that "the observer can see without a perspective." That what the vice president of the German Parliament saw was what "there was" to be seen. That the infamous yawn felt to the ambassador as it looked to the vice president.

    (4) We assume that "other perspectives are irrelevant." That we don't need to know the perceptions or the context in which the ambassador's yawn occurred. We don't need to hear the ambassador's story.

    (5) We assume that the "status quo is natural, uncoerced, and good." That there are no other competing theories, no world tensions, no illness, no overloaded schedules, nothing but the here and now with no competing claims on our attention, our energy, our fervor. (Minow, op. cit., at pp. 50-78)

    Minow argues that the fact that these assumptions go unstated means that they underlie much of our communication without our even being aware of the extent to which they interfere in our good faith hearing of one another's validity claims. We need to state our assumptions, bring them to the discourse table, so that we can identify the miscommunication that derails our efforts at community.

    Martha Minow Making All the Difference: Inclusion, Exclusion, and American Law. Cornell University Press. 1990. At pp. 50-78.

    Banal Nationalism and the Internet

    Banal Nationalism and the Internet This Emory University Site on Postcolonialism discusses the extent to which the Internet represents another and greater risk to identities. What does electronic globalism suggest for the future of national identity?

    "Billig uses the term "banal nationalism" to describe "the ideological habits which enable the established nations of the West to be reproduced" (6). His primary example is the ubiquity of the American flag, with which he illustrates the methods by which "national identity in established nations is remembered because it is embedded in routines of life, which constantly remind, or 'flag', nationhood" (38). However, he points out, it is precisely because these reminders are not consciously noticed (and thereby opened to questioning or interpretation) that they are powerful."

    Billig, Michael. Banal Nationalism. London: SAGE Publications. 1995

    On this issue consider also Covaleskie on POWER GOES TO SCHOOL: TEACHERS, STUDENTS, AND DISCIPLINE
    by John F. Covaleskie, Northern Michigan University. 1993.

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