What happens when, listening to new pieces by two different composers, one detects in them the same style or the same significant purpose, even if that style has not yet been recorded, analyzed and recognized by a previous critical operation? This seems to be a case of a sort of imprecise coding, a tentative hypothetical "gesture" subsuming one or more large-scale portions of text under a given heading.
U. Eco (1976: 135)

A Brief Retrospective on the Analytical Process

We have been doing many things in the preceding chapter and it might be useful to summarize them before we move on to the next step in the analysis. As a first step, we sampled a set of local discourses about some common events in the life of the school, matters relating directly to "evaluation" as a prescribed routine and as a few actual performances (salary negotiations, reactions of teachers to these, the evaluation of three teachers). As a second step, we saw how, while individual speakers can take various positions about these matters, the set of possible positions was set before they started their performances. We also saw that most participants had an intimate knowledge of the position which they had not taken in any one local dispute. First, it could be shown that, at times, they shifted positions and, second, that their responses were always appropriate, "coherent," to the original performance in that it integrated the very elements out of which this performance had been built. The last thing we have been trying to do is identify these elements. As of yet, we have not been able to do much more than rather vaguely sketch them. It is now time to start the process of formalizing this sketch, and perform what Eco calls an operation of undercoding whereby "in the absence of reliable pre-established rules, certain macroscopic portions of certain texts are provisionally assumed to be pertinent units of a code in formation" (1976: 135).

The production of the initial sketches was organized in the following manner. First, we looked at a text and tried to notice something salient about it, a question posed by the speaker, a distinction, or an association. We then looked at another text, superficially about the same content, to see whether the same questions were posed, the same distinctions and associations made. When it was suggested that there could be two sides to one issue, and that the speaker was in conflict with somebody identified with the other side, we looked at a text produced by the person on the other side to try to determine what the conflict was about, with what one could disagree, and what was assumed. This led to the second step and the production of paraphrases of the various statements. No two statements were ever phrased in the same manner in their surface. I talked of "formulae" at one point because, in one set of performances (the formal teacher evaluations), the same words did reappear consistently in the same order at the very surface of the performance. But in most cases, the content of statements, and their exact place within a dialogue, inevitably led to different surface realization (for the same reason that phonemes vary in their realization depending on their immediate environment). When I talk about two statements that are the "same," or (functionally) "equivalent" in the rhetorical structure, I am never talking about surface similarity, but about the fact that the statements have the same "value" within a symbolic structure.

There is, of course, no such thing as pure equivalence. Equivalence is only from a certain point of view after certain elements have been abstracted. These elements, given a shift in point of view might become highly powerful in differentiating the two forms precedingly treated as equivalent. None of my statements about the functional equivalence of two forms, should be taken as definitive statements of absolute similarity. Two statements are never more than "relatively" the same, or different, in certain settings, and for certain purposes which it is the goal of the analysis to specify.

The demonstration that two forms can be considered equivalent from the specified point of view is dependent on the observation that they appear in similar contexts, i.e. that the placement of the forms in relation to other forms is stable. Once it appeared that a position within the rhetorical structure could be bounded, I tried to label it through a paraphrase that would be suggestive (to an American reader) of the content of the position. This is a first step. The paraphrases rely on abstract words to set off concrete features but they do not yet consist in the description of the actual signifying features. More work is necessary to reach this stage. Before we continue the analysis, let us take stock of what we have learned.

The Logic or Monetary Rewards

Let us go back to the disputes that surrounded the question of the proper organization of the rewarding of teaching. Three elements were involved: amount of work (production, effectiveness), quality of work ("good" or "bad" teaching), and rewards, essentially material rewards (a smaller or larger salary). The sequential organization of these elements, as we can construct it at this time, can be represented by the following set of propositions starting with the general principle:

Several intervening principles influence the possible expanded realizations of this statement (into the set of performances which would lead to the writing of a larger check to a particular teacher, for example):

This leads to the basic propositions:

  1. Teaching (as quality) cannot be rewarded monetarily (whether positively or negatively);
  2. Teaching (as quantity) can be so rewarded.

The second proposition can be elaborated further through shifts in the temporal/causal stance from a future, prospective, orientation to a past, retrospective one, so that:

    1. In order to increase work, one must reward;
    2. If one works more, one should be rewarded.

There were no disputes in the school about the appropriateness of this set of complex associations and propositions. what varied among the participants was the final identification of a particular event or set of events (as good or bad, quality or quantity). The same event could be identified differently by different persons. The same individual could change his identification: One person who invoked "quality" at a certain time might invoke "quantity" at another.

Both teaching and rewarding are "human" activities. They are related, but they are also radically differentiated both in their substance (teaching is not rewarding, and vice versa) and from the point of view of the people who perform the activity. Teachers and rewarders are always different people (there are, in fact, explicit rules saying that this should be so). What is interesting is that none of the speakers ever ceased to assume that the activity was performed by different persons. The two activities are complementary, even though, as we see extensively later, the relationship between the activities and the associated position is anything but symmetrical.

Since rewarding is an activity, all that can be said about teaching as an activity can also be said about rewarding. Rewarding can, like teaching, be a matter of quality or a matter of quantity; it can either be based on image management or on the performance of fully specifiable acts. It may not be evident at first that rewarding would have a "qualitative" side. We only have to remember the scandalous nature of any rewarding that involves appearances, whether it is the appearance that appropriate acts had been performed, or the rewarding of appearance. However, it must be remembered that quantitative rewarding can only reach quantitative teaching and that the quantitative aspects of teachings are generally the devalued ones. It is also assumed that the perception that somebody is a qualitatively good teacher can only be based on a direct intuition and cannot really be the result of the systematic observation of specific performances.

Activities are performed by actors. We saw that actors are differentiated in terms of the specific activity with which they are identified. But the actor is not treated as an undifferentiated unit. Two sets of oppositions have emerged. First, there is the opposition between the way an individual appears to others and the way he "is" both in relation to a certain type of activity and in relation to his "self." Someone can be at the same time a good teacher in terms of being able to teach a certain subject matter, and a poor teacher in terms of "relating" to other people, either teachers or students. Ideally, one should be equally good on both counts. But these are two, separable, counts. Second, there are the three positions which we identified in the principal's comments about Price: Price as coordinator, Price as actor in a formal scene and Price as person in relation other persons.

All this can be put together, albeit rather tentatively at this stage. People are. People relate. They are/relate in two ways: First, in terms of a formally defined activity and, secondly, in terms of themselves, so to speak. People "are" teachers (for example), and they "are" "themselves.") [ftn 1] As teachers, they have certain attributes and they use these attributes in a certain manner. While it is recognized that any person is all of this concurrently, it is also assumed that people can be talked about in various ways, about various aspects of their singularity. People can be taken apart.

In summary:

1)Activities have
definite attributes
rewrite as /role/
(e.g. [teaching])
2)The people who
perform specified activities carry the attributes of these:
rewrite as
(e.g. [teacher])
3)/Actors-in-role/ coordinate their
activity with those who perform the same. One can talk of them as of one:
rewrite as /actor-in-role set/
(e.g. [the teachers])
4)People have "selves" which go beyond the attributes given them by the role they perform: rewrite as /person/
(e.g. [Hugh Price])
5)People as /persons/ can coordinate their actvity with that of other people as /persons/: rewrite as /person-in-relationwith-person/ (e.g. [friends])[ftn 2]

The most fundamental distinction that is made in the rhetoric is the distinction between substance and relation. It applies to both persons and roles.)[ftn 3] It also applies to the process of deciding whether an event belongs to the realm of substance rather than relation or vice versa. To the extent that no event in the world is unambiguously /actor-in-role/ or /person/ (person as [teacher] or person as self), it must continually be decided how the event is to be treated either retrospectively ("what are we going to do with what has just been done?"), or prospectively ("how am I going to mark what I am going to do?"). This is the place where the matters of image and reality, quality and quantity come into play. An image, we might say, is a reality projected to another person. Thus, image is an aspect of relation. "Reality" is an aspect of substance though it can only be reached through an image and one can never be sure that it has in fact been reached. It is, however, a definite location if only because one can argue that one always experiences at least one reality, one's own. Now, specific acts ("quantity"), to the extent that they are visible, can be recorded and evaluated as objects. They are matters of image. The "quality" of an act is its "reality" and, as such, not specifiable in terms of apparent quantity.

The above can be summarized in still another way. All the people manipulate a system which makes the following distinctions when dealing with an adult member of the human species. A person can be treated as:

  1. The performer of a role;
  2. A unique person;
  3. A member of a friendship group.

The system also maps the process of getting to know (relate with) another adult. In interaction, specific acts are observable which represent the image which the actors are projecting. These images ambiguously reflect a reality (substance). The system makes it necessary for one to wonder whether the image that can be constructed out of observable, quantifiable actions, is a direct representation, or is designed to hide the reality. The reality, however, can also be attained directly, independently from observable actions, through an intuitive process that is legitimate only in the context of certain identifications: Reality must be reached through imaging concrete actions when dealing with someone as the performer of a role. It must be reached through intuition when dealing with someone as a friend.

Naming the Rainbow: Some Theoretical Comments on the Process of Discovering Significant Rhetorical Units

The preceding summary is still very closely tied to a vocabulary derived from the content area that we have been looking at. While I have arranged it in a manner that is not usual, I am still talking of such things as teaching, administering, producing, evaluating, etc., words that are not of direct relevance to many of the other things that happen in the school, both among adults and among students. In other settings, other vocabularies are used. And yet, as I will show, the organization of these vocabularies is homologous to the organization of the 'administration of teaching' vocabulary at which we just looked. It is only by looking at these other vocabularies and their pattern of use that we will discover properties of this one that might otherwise remain hidden.

This must be at issue to the extent that I am not taking here the theoretical stance associated, since Malinowski (1935, 1946), with the various functionalist approaches to the interpretation of symbols. For the functionalists, it seems unproblematical to assume that the 'meaning' of a symbol lies in the nonsymbolic object to which it happens to refer in particular instances of actual use. Symbols, and rhetorical forms, are useful as means to deal with non-symbolic objects. But this usefulness does not explain why a symbol leads or points in one direction rather than another. It does not explain what is now known as its "indexical" power (Silverstein, 1976).

It is always tempting to look for non-symbolic anchor points to ground an analysis of cultural practices. Most typical perhaps are the theories used, in anthropology, by those who have developed the componential analysis of kinship vocabularies. As Scheffler and Lounsbury summarize it (1971), symbols have "primary" meanings. This meaning (the significatum) is determined by selecting, from within all the possible usage of the symbol among a certain population, the usage that most directly refers to an objective event in the non-symbolic world. Thus, of all the possible usages of the term of address "mother" in English it is decided that one is primary (when the term is addressed to the speaker's genetrix) and that all the other are instances of metaphorical extension and perhaps rhetorical manipulation (when the term is addressed to a religious person) or evidence of confusion (as when a very young chid in the early stages of language acquisition says "mom" to all adult females he meets).

This method has been severely criticized (Schneider, 1968, 1972; Boon and Schneider, 197.0 essentially on the grounds that the analyst has to b,- the one that decides what is the event in the world to which a symbol would refer. Another type of criticism may also be made. When we move away from the analysis of limited vocabularies about apparently well bounded events in the world (such as kinship, plant or illness classification, etc.) to much more amorphous and yet more powerful symbolic activity, as we have been doing here, the objective world to which the symbols might be said to refer disappears. "Supporting the teachers" cannot easily be specified in terms of a specific activity that would be its primary meaning. Indeed, the activities to which the words may refer at any one time are always so amorphous that other speakers may use them as specifying reference to an alternate symbolization. We cannot write rules of equivalence between such symbols and the world. We cannot say that the symbols "map" the world. At most, they map a world.

We are dealing here with the creation of a world through symbolic means. The process is a practical one in so far as it is one that continually leaves physical traces in the world which are then "always-alreadythere" as what future action will have to deal with. The world that is created is a world of objects, if not an objective one. This world is signified by the distinctions which are operated within the physical streams (including words, syntax, movement and objects) that can be manipulated by human actors. The distinction between /person/ and /role/ cannot be explained in terms of a postulated primary significatum of each unit. Each unit exists only as an interpretative potentiality, i.e. as one of the possible symbolic realizations of an event in the world.

The extra-symbolic world can now be re-introduced in our analysis though in a different position. This world is not the referent of the symbolic structure. It is the occasion of its use. The non-symbolic requires the development of rhetorical/symbolic systems. Such systems are part of the genetic potential of the human species which probably determines their deepest structure. Our biological survival is dependent upon the presence of a symbolic system that can organize social cooperation. Given the presence of a developed symbolic system competently manipulated, the world, in its historical development, confronts participants with incidents about which something has to be done cooperatively through symbolic operations. Historical events, such as incidents between a teacher and a student, are the occasions for the use of a symbolic system through which the events can be handled even as they are transformed.

What is relevant here is that, as the painter Magritte once graphically expressed, a drawing of a pipe "is not a pipe." Even single objects, when they are held up as illustrations of the meaning of a word ("This is a pipe!), at that moment, are transformed into a symbol--a representation of a semantic class in still another medium. And yet, the conjunction, in illustrated dictionaries or in children's word books, of the drawing of an object(a symbolic representation in a certain medium) with a word that is often used to refer to it(another symbolic representation in another medium) is a tremendously effective exercise without which we probably could not ever synchronize, teach or learn our various symbolic systems. The different media are like mirrors to each other. No medium has a privileged access to the ultimate reality of the meaning/object. We can only succeed in approaching it by playing with the various mirrors.

It is in this sense that I understand the concept of "use." My commitment to a symbolic analysis that searches for signification in the interplay of symbols rather than in their postulated relationship with a physical nonsymbolic reality, is not a commitment to "pure idealism." It is a commitment to looking at all the possibilities for expression of experience, those that the informants use while performing the task in question, those that they can use to describe it later, those that other observers can also use, and those that they would never use because they do not seem to apply.

The Rhetoric in Use: Shared Values, Paradoxes and Dilemmas

These general principles should help us understand some of the most striking aspects of the life of the school, particularly its unsettled and unsettling aspects. The participants "share" an enormous amount as far as information and as far as the proper organizing of information is concerned. And yet, they never exhibit themselves to each other, or to outsiders, as at peace in a well-ordered world. I have emphasized conflict from T1 onward to demonstrate that cultural analysis is not dependent upon assumptions of unanimity or consensus. I have also emphasized conflict because life in the school was one of continuous, if generally low level, conflict. We saw, for example, how evaluators and evaluateds are always different people. It would seem natural that they should be in conflict since their interests so obviously differ. We also saw that this dispute soon took other overtones. Protagonists could agree on the usefulness of the notion of production, or on the proper relation between an approach to the evaluation of teaching and a type of rewards, and still disagree sharply on whether a particular experience was, or was not, evidence of production, was an aspect of quantity or quality.

We will discuss several other such situations (see particularly Chapter XIV). From them, I will try to develop a dialectical theory of cultural structure that can deal with the fact that members of a population that use the same culture are continually involved in serious disagreements and conflicts around what would seem to be the very symbolic identifications that are at the core of the culture. These conflicts and disagreements cannot be ignored.

The main implication of the above is that we must be wary of statements which make a symbolic system dependent upon the active will of the individuals who use it. It is evident that the symbolization of some of the things that take place in the school (such as teaching, rewarding, etc.), does not have much to do with "values," stricto sensu. Nor is it a matter of "belief." At the level of conscious value and belief, what is most striking in the matters we just examined, is the amount of skeptical questioning of individual decisions. One might even be tempted to question the usefulness of the concept of "sharing" when dealing with the rhetorical structure. The concept conspires to redirect the analytical operations toward the individual actor who "shares," and away from the mechanisms which the actor may use while he has no control of the structure.


1) This distinction is structurally isomorphic to the one which the students make between their "reality" as associated members of a clique and their "reality" as unique persons inherently different from all other members and from the image projected by the stereotyped representation of the clique (see Chapter XI). back to text

2) The full analysis of this category of interpretation is done in Chapters VIII and IX. See also Schneider, 1968; Varenne, 1977: Chapters VI, VII. back to text

3) If this argument sounds familiar to certain American readers, it is because most American psychology, social psychology and sociology is based upon the same distinction which the various fields formalized, sometimes under the guise of the "discovery" of universal, natural structures of the human condition. Whether they are indeed of universal validity or not, it is certain that American natives with minimal competence in the sacred performances of academia seem to operate within a framework formally homologous to the one used in the behavioral sciences. back to text