Manipulation and Society

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Manipulation and society
To understand and analyse manipulative discourse, it is crucial to first examine its social environment. We have already assumed that one of the characteristics of manipulation, for instance as distinct from persuasion, is that it involves power and domination. An analysis of this power dimension involves an account of the kind of control that some social actors or groups exercise over others (Clegg, 1975; Luke, 1989; Van Dijk, 1989: Wartenberg, 1990). We also have assumed that such control is first of all a control of the mind, that is, of the beliefs of recipients, and indirectly a control of the actions of recipients based on such manipulated beliefs. In order to be able to exercise such social control of others, however, social actors need to satisfy personal and social criteria that enable them to influence others in the first place. In this article, I limit my analysis to social criteria, and ignore the influence of psychological factors, such as character traits, intelligence, learning, etc. In other words, I am not interested here in what might be a ‘manipulating personality’, or in the specific personal way by which people manipulate others. Social conditions of manipulative control hence need to be formulated – at least at the macro level of analysis – in terms of group membership, institutional position, profession, material or symbolic resources and other factors that define the power of groups and their members. Thus, parents can manipulate their children because of their position of power and authority in the family, professors can manipulate their students because of their institutional position or profession and because of their knowledge, and the same is true for politicians manipulating voters, journalists manipulating the recipients of media discourse or religious leaders manipulating their followers. This does not mean that children cannot manipulate their parents, or students their teachers, but this is not because...
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