Heise, David R., Cultural Meanings and Social Institutions

Reviewed by Dr. George Simons at diversophy.com

Social Organization Through Language

Understanding the dynamics of language is an increasingly critical dimension of intercultural work, which makes it important for us to be in touch with research in the areas of sociology, language and linguistics. David Heise is a veteran of this field who has explored in depth foundational elements of identity and social interaction As our language defines the, delimits them, and presents them to us.

For most interculturalists, interpreting the cataloging of institutional identities extensively explored in this small book will not seem to be of great interest, however they will benefit most from a careful reading of Chapter 7. Here the author explores the meaning and power of the institutional domains which we will choose and/or be given as our identities, with the consequent shaping our social and cultural niche, and how we are led to inhabit it. Framing and constraints to performance are delivered by the force of the language which structures those roles and our conversations about them.

Classifying identities, despite the massive lexical data available – and in this case, the author was operating solely in the English language – is definitely shooting at a moving target, though most cases it moves rather slowly. This brings with it the risks that the "use by" date on the linguistic carton is normally destined to catch us unawares when it becomes no longer valid or transforms into a product different from what we unreflectively and as a matter of cultural course have bought into.

Labeling institutional domains is both a way of comprehending social structure and localizing identity. Examining the labels has every day practicality. It helps us to know what to expect to do and receive from those who bear the social identities we interact with. It will also serve us as we seek to constrain our identities to the appropriate contribution that this or that identity provides for our well-being and social cohesion.

Palgrave Pivot, 2019.Print ISBN: 9783030037383, 303003738X, eText ISBN: 9783030037390, 3030037398

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