Power, Textuality and the Double Bind [long-ish]

Dave Rindos (rindos@IINET.NET.AU)
Thu, 7 Mar 1996 12:35:28 +0800

Funny how these things work. I've just been re-reading David Halperin's
lovely little book, _Saint Foucault_, and I log in to find a series of
posts on, of all things, Power [both theory and applied :{) ].

I had been waiting to hear from Hugh (who as we all now know has been
waiting for a reply from UWA) before posting an update on the rather
remarkable developments occurring here in Western Australia, but it seems
that Professor Tonkinson's reply to Hugh's post raises issues of no small
anthropological importance (again in both theoretical and applied terms).

So rather than an update (which would be out of date by the time it
appears in any case -- that's how fast things are going here, what with
almost daily news-reports, radio coverage, etc.), I'd like to look how
Professor Tonkinson's posting intersects with my recent reading (admitting
that I sometimes cannot shake the notion that some of the people at UWA
have been using Foucault like a cook-book).

Halperin's comments on Foucault, while wide-ranging, point to several
exceedingly important issues on the nature and application of Power in
social settings, issues which seem to have been well developed by
Professor Tonkinson. And while his text is quite dense, and should be
subjected to a *detailed* deconstruction, that full task will have to be
put aside for a more formal occasion. For now, I will attempt only to
comment on one particular point, one highlighted by Halperin (pg 34):

"Homophobic discourses are incoherent, then, but their incoherence, far
from incapacitating them, turns out to empower them. In fact, homophobic
discourses operate strategically *by means of* logical contradictions.
The logical contradictions internal to homophobic discourses give rise to
a series of double binds which function -- incoherently to be sure, but
nevertheless effectively and systematically -- to impair the lives of
lesbians and gay men."

While Halperin here is placing Foucault's understanding of power into the
context of "queer theory," and speaking to the experiences of a
disempowered caste, one which has only recently discovered its community
in the context of a recognition of shared experiences as individuals, the
general observations of the mode of operation of Power-texts remains

The reason that Halperin's comments have a general applicability is easily
understood when one recognises that all theories of power and liberation
start with a similar understanding: that the contradictions (whether
material/physical or ideological/conceptual) implicit in an individual's
experiences may lead her or him to recognise that these are SHARED
experiences, and therefore are not one's "fault," but instead have a
cultural/social basis. From this insight arises the social
reinterpretation of individual experience and the development of a class
or caste which is capable of confronting the power which is newly seen to
be the cause of oppression.

Turning now to Hugh's post and the UWA reply, we can note the following:

On Tue, 5 Mar 1996, Bob Tonkinson wrote:

> as Professor and Head of the Anthropology Department at The
> University of Western Australia, which has administrative responsibility for
> the Centre for Archaeology,

thereby providing full institutional identification, a position which
implies he is in the *proper* *position* to speak about

> the subject of yet another posting by Hugh Jarvis.

Yet does he? Clearly not (as has already been noted by others who have
replied publicly to his post). Instead he appears, from the beginning, to
attempt to more-or-less daemonize Hugh.

This is done by portraying him as the kind of person who, merely by
quoting and commenting upon factual matters in the public domaine has
produced a

> particularly reprehensible communication.

Personalities already under attack, we begin to develop the discourse of

> The
> remarks made about Professor Bowdler in that posting were derived from
> selected documents tabled in the Western Australian parliament. These
> statements were protected by parliamentary privilege,

[what is said thus far is true, but then the text uses a turn, an
interpretative slight of hand, as it were and continues]

> which means that,
[but does it????]

> according to Australian law, Professor Bowdler cannot respond to them
> legally or by any other means.


Sorry. Professor Bowdler, or any other party, including Professor
Tonkinson is perfectly free to comment or respond to the comments as made
in the Parliament. Indeed, the University has responded to the comments
on numerous occasions (including the rejoinder by Professor Tonkinson
itself). And each case, they have used the same language of ambiguous
finger-pointing indulged by Professor Tonkinson here ("innacurate"
"misleading" "scurrulous" "protected" &c &c). But as we shall note, this
approach provides a necessary part of the development of a power-filled,
incoherent, discourse.

First, we see (again) ritualistic inovcation of the Power Posture, a
social gesture somewhat akin to the inflation of the probiscus by an
elephant seal:
> As I write, the University's Senior Legal
> Advisor is testing the posting for possible libel and defamation in the
> context of the appropriate legal frameworks.

Then, we finally get to the general claim, the "rejoinder" as it were to
Hugh's post:

> Most of the conclusions drawn from the tabled documents are patently
> misleading, as is Hugh Jarvis's version of events at this University in
> relation to the Centre for Archaeology.

"Most" conclusions ("which conclusions?" one might ask) drawn from a given
data base are not only "misleading" but "patently" so. The same is true
of Hugh's "version" of the events. Of course, we do not know which
"version" stands in counter-point to "his" versions, but incoherence as a
tool of power requires just such discourse. (This incoherence, in part,
arises, as Foucault has discussed, from the close connection between
secrecy and power, but consideration of this aspect of the text is here
largely put aside).

> The comments by Hugh Jarvis pertaining to missing files are misleading and
> erroneous. These files contained basic administrative documents relating to
> such matters as leave and conditions of employment. They contained no
> documents relevant to the tenure review process or to Dr Rindos's academic
> performance. These are stored in a separate set of files, and Dr Rindos has
> already gained access to most of them under the provisions of the Freedom of
> Information Act.

This is a particularly delicious bit of flummery where obfuscation meets
pontification leading to incoherence most profound.

The written regulations of the University go into immense detail regarding
the Personal Files of staff members, highlighting their importance,
providing the manner in which they may be viewed by the staff member,
listing who else in the University may see them, providing clear
regualations on what may be included in this file, how sheets are to be
numbered, and even going so far as to give the conditions governing their
transport from one office to another. In brief, the Personal File is
SUPPOSED to contain the full university case regarding the treatment of a
staff member.

And, for almost a year, now, the University at least ACTED as if this file
is a VERY significant one. I found it essential to access the whole file
in order to finalise an appeal (now accepted) to the State Ombudsman
regarding my treatment, and to work on my appeal to the University Visitor
(long story there, but not relevant here). After many months of stalling,
the University hired a Private Detective (no, ladies and gentlement, I am
*not& making this up!), who spent an immense amount of time attempting to
locate my file, without success (by the by, his Report to the University
concluded that the file was most likely hidden or destroyed by a party or
parties unknown either the "embarass" the University or to cause me

And the Freedom of Information Commissioner also seemed to think the
contents of the file might be pretty important too. When I had what would
normally be confidential documents released to me last July, this
happened, in large part, because the University could produce no
convincing evidence from my Personal File for poor performance or
counselling for same.

So why the sudden and extreme devaluation of this file? What FUNCTION
could this shift serve in terms of the discourse?

It would seem that, especially given the rather supercilious tone adopted,
Professor Tonkinson would seem to have us believe that Jarvis doesn't know
what the hell he is talking about. It's rather as if the text were saying
"Jarivs is so out of touch with the way things are REALLY done at UWA that
he doesn't even understand the oh so very insignificant nature of the
Personal File."

This, of course, should come as no surprise since Jarvis, unlike
Tonkinson, is unable to draw upon the wealth of knowledge (only) available
to a Person With Power.

The allegation that (the already somewhat demonized) Jarvis is totally
misinformed permits the creation of the double bind (one that has already
been given sharp teeth by the invocation of threats of legal action
against him).

> Our earlier protests to Hugh Jarvis via the anthro-l list, regarding his
> failure to crosscheck any of his information or to attempt to provide a
> modicum of balance, went unheeded. Jarvis is a willing participant in what
> appears to be an orchestrated campaign aimed at destroying both the career
> of an excellent scholar and the good name of this University.

Here the subtext reads to this effect:

"We've already tried, again and again, to show this poor uninformed Jarvis
the errors of his ways. We've been oh so polite yet he keeps passing on
mis-information. He is the kind of guy who doesn't value our *shared*
*academic* *values* -- important values like the need to crosscheck
information or provide a balanced treatment in what he writes. You really
can't blame us for protesting this kind of behaviour, can you? You must
agree with us, right?"

Yet, this very stance leads to a problem (and here is where the
double-bind comes in). Given that Jarvis (and others like him) are so
willing to act against the basic, universally-held, High Standards of
academic discourse, then he must have a hidden agenda! He must be a
"willing participant" in an "orchestrated campaign". One that has as its
goal the destruction of The Good Things We All Value (like fair discourse,
balanced treatment, academic careers and the reputations of innocent

Here, an analogy to the attack by the radical right on lesbians and gay
men seeking equal treatment under the law would not be misplaced: rather
than accepting the simple explanation (that many people believe that ALL
people should be treated in the same manner under the law), a secret and
distasteful "Gay Agenda" is proclaimed. This, of course, serves as a
means to protect the existing power structure of inequality. The
alternative is to accept that an allegedly shared value (equality under
the law) has led to a serious contradiction in the face of society's
treament of some of its members.

Now the double bind becomes apparent:

Many people believe that events at UWA over the past 5 years or so seem
to lead a contradiction -- The data cannot seem to be made to fit with
UWA's continual claims that they have done everything properly and that,
by means of full due process, a result fully in keeping with justice has
been been obtained.

Now if you do not attempt publicly to speak to this issue, you can never
be sure if, in fact, you have understood the issues clearly. You are
stuck with the very problems of "balance" and "cross-checking of
information" noted by Professor Tonkinson. You simply cannot be sure
WHAT is happening.

Yet, if you DO speak publicly, and speak to very observable
contradictions, then Power gains even more Power by displaying its
Superior Knowledge of the events ("if you only knew the WHOLE story").

Here, Power displays its knowledge of your ignorance of its knowledge.
Its power is maintained by a steadfast unwillingness to part with any of
the "facts" of the case, such facts being, of course, the privilege of
power, and therefore unnecessary to share. That anyone should dare to
point to contradictions merely provides an opportunity to increase this
same power -- "Well, of course, it might LOOK like that to YOU, but those
of us who have the FULL story know otherwise [wink, wink]."

By means of this process, Power turns any open display of questioning into
something that MUST of NECESSITY be tied to some other kind of secret --
here membership in a covert organisation with an agenda most disreputable
indeed. Given that knowledge is power, and power must know, it is logical
that those in power should also know the secret agendae of those who stand
in opposition to it. Hence, the double bind becomes complete.

If one remains silent, one remains trapped in their explanations, in their
textuality, and the incoherence and contradicitions which reside therein.
But if one opens up and starts to question, then Power can claim, once
again, to know the REAL reason for said public displays of opposition.
Their control over knowlege and the "facts" is actually increased.

The idea that Hugh Jarvis is a member of some sort of secret society
dedicated to the overthrow of decent academic standards and basic social
standards like fair play is certainly bizarre. "Nutty," one might even
say. But it is just such incoherence, as we have already noted, which
serves to reinforce the text that "The Powers Must Know All Such

And therefore cannot be surprised to we read the warning, one which must
be given to any and all who would abandon the Proper High Academic
Standards of the University of Western Australia and think of joining
themselves with those who would question the Power that Knows.

> I appeal to the international archaeological and anthropological scholarly
> community for a continued exercise of good sense in assessing what appears
> to this University to be a biased and ill-informed representation of a
> complex set of issues.

Having show what will happen to those who speak out publicly, full credit
is here given to those who have remained silent thus far. They are
recruited into, and claimed, by implication, to have been supporting UWA's
public position. They have show "good sense," the "continued exercise" of
which is clearly desirable.

The alternative, the one already meted out to Hugh Jarivs, is clearly
undesirable (and will reflect poorly upon you should you dare to publicly
speak). The bottom line is that invoked by Power in all situations which
threaten it: Trust me. Don't fall into the trap of "biased and
ill-informed representations." Trust the Powers which have the ability to
understand what a "complex set of issues" are being dealt with here.

It is a lovely business indeed!


           Dave Rindos         rindos@opera.iinet.net.au
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