Sunday, March 27, 2011

PUAs and discursive social psychology 1: Speech acts

In my early twenties I read some social psychology to improve social skills, which I already knew to be a problem. The books didn't aid me, as they were very abstract or focused on leftist goals of dealing with social problems, for example by analyzing interactions between a government agency and a victim group. However, they made me familiar with social constructionism, a postmodern sociological theory guiding modern social psychology.

Back then, this blog was named Rakentumistyƶmaa, a construction yard for the social construction of reality. (In Finnish, the work rakentaa means physical construction of buildings and the word rakentua means the social construction of reality.)

One thing that appeals to me in Roissy's writing is that it fits perfectly to this earlier understanding of social life. I can leave my fundamental ideas unchanged and merely supplement them with extra chapters on how women behave and what I should aim at to get where I want to go.

Austin's theory of speech acts [1, s. 14]

The parts of the long quote that matter have been bolded.

Words as deeds: speech act theory
It is important for a clear understanding of Austin's ideas to have some indication of the situation in phiolosophy which he was both reacting against and commenting upon. His main target was the logical positivist view that sentences which cannot be verified, that is sentences for which there is no way of checking whether they are true or false, should simply be treated as meaningless. From this view points, for instance, the statement "God does not exist" should be treated as nonsensical since the truth of the statement can never be validated. In addition, Austin's argument was directed at a wide swathe of views of language which take it to be an abstract system whose central function is the description of states of affairs. What Austin set out to do was to undermine the notion that an understanding of 'truth conditions', states of truth and falsity, is central to an understanding of language.

Stating versus doing

Austin began with the observation that there is a class of sentences which are principally important for what they do, not because they describe things. For instance, the sentence

I declare war on the Philippines

is not a description of the world which can be seen as true or false but an act with practical consequences; ... Austin called sentences of this kind performatives. ... Austin contrasted these kinds of sentences with others whose primary role did appear to be the description of states of affairs, naming them constantives.

The general theory of speech acts

The general theory does not distinguish between sentences which do things and sentences which say things, between performatives and constantives, but casts this distinction in a different way. The fundamental tenet of the theory is that all utterances state things and do things. That is, all utterances have a meaning and a force. In fact, Austin suggested that with any utterance a speaker is simultaneously doing three sorts of things.

First, the speaker is uttering a sentence with (1) a specific meaning - it has a certain sense and may refer to specific events, persons or objects. Second, the sentence is uttered with a particular force. We know what the words 'shut the door' literally mean, but they can be used with (2) the force of an order, a request or even a question. Force is thus an element of utterances which is dissociated from their meaning, although it is often indicated by the use of a certain verb: promise, order, state, and so on. The third feature refers to (3) the effects or consequences of the first two. The sentence 'shut the door' may be uttered with the force of an order but it may have the effect of making the hearer shut the door or it may simply make the hearer annoyed.

Speech acts in seduction

For example, Roissy recently wrote about The "I can leave you if you want" shit test. He met a girl at a nightclub and teased her about her accent. The girl feigned indignation and asked "Do you want me to return to may friends?".

According to speech act theory,
  • The meaning of the sentence is to ask about his mental state; whether he prefers her to return to her friends or not.

  • The force of the sentence is either a question or a show of indignation

  • The effect of the sentence is to execute a shit test. If he is eager to keep her close, then he considers her presence an exceptionally good deal and he has a weak negotiation position. If he eagerly advices her to indeed return to her friends, then he is used to the company of girls like her and has a strong negotiating position.

In Roissy as in discursive social psychology, all utterances are speech acts. What matters are the deeds and effects people want to achieve with them.

[1] Potter and Wetherell: Discourse and Social Psychology: Beyond Attitudes and Behaviour


Aretae said...

Very useful to read. Thanks. I consider this the primary thing not understood by geeks like me about communication. Posted about it recently. This is much clearer. Thanks

Alrenous said...

I've posted some questions at Aretae's link to here. I mainly want his answers, but if you want to answer too - well, more is better.

If so, I'll see the answer at either blog.

Simo said...

Aretae: glad you liked it. I agree that those books have a lot of room for summarizing just the essential.