Social change theorists and activists are paying increased attention to the role that discourse plays in processes of social change. In brief, a discourse can be conceptualized as an evolving way that people think and talk about a given aspect of reality, which influences their perceptions and social practices in relation to that aspect of reality.
Discourses contain properties, such as interpretive frames, that determine their influence on social perceptions and practices. Struggles for peace and justice can therefore be understood, in part, as struggles to reframe significant public discourses – such as discourses on governance, the economy, or human rights.
The dominant frame in many public discourses today can be understood as a “social contest” frame. This interpretive frame employs war metaphors, market metaphors, sports metaphors, social Darwinist metaphors, or fight metaphors to make sense out of virtually every aspect of social reality.
The social contest frame is so ubiquitous that many people have uncritically internalized it as a “common sense” interpretation of social reality. Thus it is widely employed in media discourse, political discourse, academic discourse, and even everyday speech. But as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, this frame is proving deeply maladaptive because it reinforces dysfunctional social perceptions and practices.
Interdependence is the defining feature of the century we have entered. The logic of interdependence finds its fullest expression in the metaphor of the “social body” – a metaphor that I explored in a previous blog post.
In an interdependent social body, the well-being of every individual or group depends upon the well-being of the entire social body. This collective well-being cannot be achieved when social relationships and institutions are framed as contests. Rather, collective well-being can only be achieved through a recognition of our organic oneness, and through efforts to translate this recognition into a new social reality.
At this critical juncture in human history, struggles for peace and justice will therefore need to reframe significant public discourses according to the logic of the social body frame. This is a powerful form of agency and change. If you are interested in exercising this kind of agency, read on…