Union of Intelligible Associations
Union of Intelligible Associations

Projects Overview (Explanations)
Global Strategies Project (Explanations)

Global Strategies Project: Language games

Global Strategies Project


This project is in many ways an exploration of the use of language and the effects of its use on the distinctions which are accepted in international discourse. The pertinent question is to what extent use of legitimate-sounding strategy names in practice signals the distinct existence of the named strategies. Furthermore, to what extent can strategies be effectively named and cross-related, without their having meaningful existence.

This project is on the receiving end of documents naming strategies. The names attributed may be intended to signal the existence of new strategies. But the names used may effectively imply the existence of other strategies to which analogous names have not yet been attributed (possibly because the relevant documents have not been received). These questions constitute a real challenge in any attempt to impose a greater degree of order on the rich use of language to evoke a response to concrete strategies.

1. Emerging distinctions

In a project which is designed to be responsive to the strategy perceptions of different constituencies and to the distinctions that they choose to make, the words used to denote strategies acquire a special importance. In an international context, in which many strategies have been identified, such constituencies may carefully choose an unusual combination of words to give greater precision to a strategy, or strategy variant, which they perceive others to have neglected when it has been associated with some better known strategy. In order to sharpen perceptions new variant names may be formulated, especially (and most creatively) by journalists. The question then becomes when is the word combination to be considered as naming a new and distinct strategy and when is it to be considered as a valuable synonym for an existing strategy name. The practice with newly-coined terms or euphemisms of popular currency is to add them as alternative titles to a strategy, eg "Practising safe sex" is also termed "Protecting sexual intercourse" and "Avoiding disease transmission from sexual partner".

2. Artificial distinctions

Journalists provide very good examples of creating artificial distinctions, since good journalism is in the business of reporting emergent issues and the strategies responding to them, and of naming them in a meaningful way. On the other hand, journalists are also under pressure to make recurring topics interesting by providing a new slant or angle. But the same may be said of politicians who are also in the business of naming strategies which they believe may arouse the interest of their constituencies. "Advocating job creation" took over from "Reducing unemployment" when the latter became stale after some years of depressed employment. A seemingly "new" strategy may thus emerge into the literature purely because of skills with language and not because a real distinction has been made from some existing strategy in the same domain.

3. Completing strategy sets

A related concern results from any recognition of a strategy series or set. If a set of strategies has been recognized, such as: "Monitoring steel industry", "...tourism industry", "...mining industry", etc, these may be grouped under a broader strategy "Monitoring industry" (thus naming the set). It may become apparent that there is no strategy in some other industry domain, such as "timber" or "fishing", raising the question of whether these should be included in this set ("tidying up" or opening up the database) in the absence of information indicating that the strategy "exists".

A search of the database may reveal that material has accumulated under "Collecting statistics on timber industry" or "Compiling data on industrial chemical production" or "Collating production outputs in agricultural sector". This may lead to redistributing material on all strategies using those qualifiers for every domain.

Such techniques compensate for the logistical difficulties in gathering and processing information for individual strategies. There may indeed be ongoing collection of statistical information on the entertainment industry, but it may be quite impractical to allocate resources to obtaining it. Nonetheless, a strategy can be anticipated and opened up.

4. Naming an unnamed strategy set

A related concern arises from the editorial recognition of a set of strategies in the absence of any evidence of the existence of the broader strategy. Thus in the example above, if information was available on industry sectors in the set but not on "industry" broadly, is it appropriate to create the latter strategy in order to group the others ? (see also Note 3.5 Portmanteau strategies). This raises the very interesting question as to whether an unnamed set of strategies constitutes a new strategy in its own right, and the further question of the status of the set of strategies. The unnamed set may indeed be a meaningful strategy even though at that level of generality it may not be currently recognized. It may be more appropriate to point functional cross-references to such a broader strategy rather than to duplicate such references to a number of its sub-strategies.

5. Strategy generation using sets of categories

By taking a set of subject categories or even some set of strategies, quite legitimate-seeming strategy names can be "generated". Using the above example, "Monitoring ... industry" could be combined with the complete set of industries (engineering, horticulture, etc). In the case of "Publishing international data on (a particular) industry", how many narrower strategies is it useful to open up if information on only a few sectors is readily available ? Is it appropriate to combine "Monitoring..." or "Publishing..." with other major classes of activities: science, religion, culture, education, military, etc ? In such cases it is extremely unlikely that the combination is meaningless, and quite probable that such strategies do "exist".

6. Strategy generation using regional and group qualifiers

The previous point illustrates the possibility of identifying more specific strategies by the addition of qualifiers, such as:

7. Strategy generation using gerund "operators"

The editorial process of ensuring that a strategy has an appropriately action-oriented name leads to the accumulation of strategy names with a fairly limited set of action-oriented qualifiers. These are commonly applied in the literature to members of the set of subject categories. Such action-oriented "operators" can also be used to generate strategies. For example:

However, care is needed to avoid an accumulation of strategies in the same domain using action-oriented qualifiers which are to varying degrees synonymous. This increases pressure for a more systematic approach. It may also be that use of positive actions on negative subjects may disguise a fear of direct use of a negative (see discussion of "positive" and "negative" in Note 3.2).

8. "Nameless strategies" versus "Strategy-less names"

The techniques described above provide a way of broadening the scope of the database and introducing levels of order where sets of strategies can be recognized. Given the desire to orient users to potential strategies, "opening up" strategies, in order to complete a set, increases sensitivity to information which can be usefully collected under the filing number prior to any editorial description of the strategy. But these techniques can only be used with considerable caution. Sensitivity is indeed required to the existence of "nameless strategies" implied by the relational context in the database (Note 3.5). Providing such strategies with a name so that they can be used to group already named strategies introduces order into the database. It can create a focus for real strategies on which information is scarce to non-existent. At the same time care has to be taken to guard against the creation of "strategy-less names" and against shifting the centre of gravity of the project towards what amounts to language and word games.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential