Strategic Formation

“The media is right to go after [Brian] Williams like this. Imagine if you let lies slip into news stories, like a huge pile of them that was disseminated in say the New York Times, and meet the press, and sometimes in the New York Times just so that the administration could go on meet the press and say this… And the crazy thing is, the Bush administration are the ones who planted the fucking story in the New York Times in the first place!” —John Stewart

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Strategic formation is a way of analyzing the relationship between texts and a way in which groups, types, genres of texts acquire mass and referential power among themselves (Source). Edward Said introduced the idea of strategic formation in the introduction to Orientalism. Just as everyone who writes about the Orient, he wrote, must be either associated with the West or the East (strategic location), anyone who considers the Orient must create a basis for whatever argument or position they assume (strategic formation). The intellectual basis of their position is composed of referential knowledge that relates to other works (Source).

In other words, by amassing an authoritative body of literature on a subject (such as the Orient) and referencing those works, you can create a self-referential web with the trappings of academic rigor and scientific rationality, but no accountability to acknowledge other viewpoints outside of that textual discourse or to accurately describe reality.

We can see strategic formation majorly at work in the American political landscape, as John Stewart noted in his show last night. We also see it in my field, educational development. A couple months ago I signed up for an online course called “Educate Girls,” sponsored by Teachers Without Borders and now offered as a “free public course” at Johns Hopkins. I was immediately turned off when I saw that every item on the reading list was either authored by the founder of the organization Teachers Without Borders or by one of the major Western international development NGOs. “Educate Girls” was not a course on the educational situation of girls and what’s best to be done–that was a course on what a narrow segment of the world, analyzing the issue through a particular ideological frame and solipsistically turning inward to each other for authority, thought of that issue.

Of course, one could say the same for all of academia.

For more on girls’ education and strategic formation in development, see Frances Vavrus’s Desire and Declinequoted above. For more John Stewart quotes, see the Daily Show.

 

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