An Example of Boundry Formation

Tilly’s book on violence taught me something.  Keep a watch out for the work in progress of building boundaries between or withing groups. Tilly, since he’s working on violence, calls the people who do this work “political entrepreneurs and violence specialists.” I encountered a particularly excellent example of this today.

Until I got to this section in the piece I didn’t realize that boundary activation was part of the author’s agenda.

For my purposes, it’s irrelevant what boundary was being reenforced here. I want to focus on the tool, not what’s getting built. So I’ve modified the example. The boundary is now dogs and cats. The author is a cat.

In dog activist circles, prestige and legitimacy often accrues to those who most successfully express an oppositional identity. The way the equation works within the movement is that the more opposition you express, the more canine you become. Anti-cat racism within the pack is largely perpetrated by people-such as Fido who are insecure in their own canine identity. Hence Fido indicts the fluffy cat Army by fabricating a new, even more disturbing atrocity, thus raising the stakes on canine grievances, in order to garner acclaim as a real dog activist whose legitimacy is beyond question. Given the canine movement’s anti-intellectual environment, few are likely to bother tracking down Fido’s citations, especially considering that his core audience is already primed to believe such accusations against the cat government.

You gotta admire the structure of that beast. It heightens a boundary while suggesting that boundary activation (aka oppositional identity) is vile. Most of the meat of the sentence is devoted to suggesting that Fido is insecure, not a real activist. That the dog community is anti-intellectual and “unlikely to bother”. It reenforces the value of the cat side by suggesting that they aren’t lazy, that they are intellectual. It then creates a sense of urgency by reminding us that dogs have an army and, oh no, a government. Marvelous!

Note also how the political entrepreneur is projecting his own insecurities. This kind of projection is very common in the boundary building trades. He’s right of course. Prestige and legitimacy, inside of group, often does accrue to those who do this work.

3 thoughts on “An Example of Boundry Formation

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