Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

In Praise of Irrationality: Self, "East" and "West" in Greek Teachers' Speeches on National Day Commemorations

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

In Praise of Irrationality: Self, "East" and "West" in Greek Teachers' Speeches on National Day Commemorations

Article excerpt


The paper deals with the speeches delivered by Greek teachers at school on national day commemorations. Focus is on the "social creativity strategies" through which group members can improve their social identity. The main research questions concern the way the past events are presented: What may particular choices mean from the speakers' point of view? How can these choices serve to maintain a positive self-image for the group? After discussing the concepts of comparison, social creativity strategies and reference group, I report research findings on (a) Greek society and (b) Greek schoolbooks in relation to the concepts discussed. Then I briefly describe the school context in which the speeches are delivered as well as the methods used in data collection and analysis. Finally, I present relevant aspects of the speeches and discuss the findings, concluding with a few thoughts about pedagogical, social and political implications.

Conceptual Framework

Comparison and Reference Groups

People experience relative deprivation when they perceive they are "so obviously deprived relative to what they deserve and others get" (Hyman, 1960, p. 388). The social and psychological outcome of comparison is dependent on the reference group employed in the process of comparison (Hyman, p. 587). A reference group may be a truly existing group of people in which the actor participates directly, such as a family; it may be a social category, such as an ethnic group or a social class; lastly, it may be imaginary, such as humankind or posterity. Reference groups "constitute the structure of expectations imputed to some audience for whom one organizes his conduct" (Shibutani, 1955, p. 565, Emphasis added).

Self-Enhancement and Social Creativity Strategies

It is assumed that people need to have a positive view of self. When comparison leads to a feeling of inferiority, conscious or unconscious cognitive strategies are activated that counter the perceived threat. Such mechanisms, referred to as social creativity strategies (Hogg, 1995), may be activated at intrapsychic, interpersonal or intergroup level, each level influencing the others (Dragona, 1996). When a group is evaluated negatively compared to others, the social identity of each of its members is potentially threatened. Members may thus carry out the comparison applying new criteria, gaining a new perspective on the situation. By switching the frame of reference the group can thus maintain a positive self-image and enhance selfesteem (Turner & Brown, 1978, as cited in Dragona).

The "West" and the Rest

Broad social categories such as "the west" and "the east" evoke a set of stereotypical traits that are assumed to be ordinary and natural for the members of each of these categories. Thus a sharp line is drawn between, among others, modern and traditional, civilized and uncivilized, rational and irrational, reason and emotions (McDonald, 1993). The "west" is assumed to differ from the rest of the world as the site of scientific and technological inventiveness, logic and bureaucratic rationality and rational government (Herzfeld, 1992). Eastern peoples, instead, have been described as lazy, uncivilized, underdeveloped, backward and irrational. At the opposite end of this schema, in which the most human quality is human rationality, romanticism instead assumes and extols the uniqueness of each people and its Volksgeist, (1) which manifests itself not in reason but rather in passion, emotions and feelings (Wolf, 1994, p. 5).

The Greek Nation and the "Others"

Reference Groups and Comparison in the Greek Context

For the purpose of this paper we can consider two basic reference groups: the Ottomans/ Turks and the westerners/ Europeans. Within the nationalistic discourse of modern Greece, "barbarity" sums up the Turks' supposedly inhuman and rapacious cruelty and their alleged lack of religion, where religion is defined as Christianity (Herzfeld, 1997, pp. …

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