jueves, 24 de marzo de 2016

Searle on Institutions and Power

Searle on Institutions & Power

From his book The Construction of Social Reality (Penguin, 1995), a work which starts out from the distinction between "brute facts" and "institutional facts" sketched out in Speech Acts:

"The priority of process over product also explains why, as several social theorists have pointed out, institutions are not worn out by continued use, but each use of the institution is in a sense a renewal of that institution. Cars and shirts wear out as we use them but constant use renews and strengthens institutions such as marriage, property, and universities. The account I have given explains this fact: since the function is imposed on a phenomenon that does not perform that function solely in virtue of its physical construction, but in terms of the continued collective intentionality of the users, each use of the institution is a renewed expression of the commitment of the users to the institution. Individual dollar bills wear out. But the institution of paper currency is reinforced by its continual use." (57)

"Now this pattern, the creation of a new institutional fact, usually by the performance of a speech act, where the speech act itself imposes a function on people, buildings, cars, etc., is characteristic of a large number of social institutions. Property, citizenship, licensed drivers, cathedrals, declared wars, and sessions of parliament all exhibit this pattern. The pattern, to put it in a nutshell, is this: We create a new institutional fact, such as a marriage, by using an object (or objects) with an existing status-function, such as a sentence, whose existence itself is an institutional fact, to perform a certain type of speech act, the fact of whose performance is yet another institutional fact." (83-84)

"In general status-functions are matters of power, as we will see in the rest of this chapter. The structure of institutional facts is a structure of power relations, including negative and positive, conditional and categorical, collective and individual powers. In our intellectual tradition since the Enlightenment the whole idea of power makes a certain type of liberal sensibility very nervous. A certain class of intellectuals would rather that power did not exist at all (or if it has to exist they would rather that their favorite oppressed minority had lots more of it and everyone else had lots less). One lesson to be derived from the study of institutional facts is this: everything we value in civilization requires the creation and maintenance of institutional power relations through collectively imposed status-functions. These require constant monitoring and adjusting to create and preserve fairness, efficiency, flexibility, and creativity, not to mention such traditional values as justice, liberty, and dignity. But institutional power relations are ubiquitous and essential. Institutional power—massive, pervasive, and typically invisible—permeates every nook and cranny of our social lives, and as such it is not a threat to liberal values but rather the precondition of their existence. (94)

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