The Politics of Naming

In “The Persuaders”, a great PBS Frontline documentary (first broadcast in 2004), we learned that fostering the use of “climate change” instead of “global warming” was a key achievement of some sort of political marketing (“warming” is bad, but “change” is cool). In a most interesting and controversial article titled “The Politics of Naming” (London Review of Books, March 8 2007), Mahmood Mamdani showed that naming something a “genocide” instead of a “civil war” is of great importance in the market for political ideas (the first is better if you want an external military intervention).

The topic of the politics of naming is of interest in general, but also appropriate, in particular, to understand at least part of what is going on in France with the strikes (see for instance “French officials stand ground as civil servants join strike”, International Herald Tribune, November 19 2007). There were things called “retirement rights” (“droits”) that are now insistently being called “retirement privileges” (“privilèges”). Things known as “strikes” (“grèves”) are now referred to as “blocking” (“blocages”). Things named “social contributions” (“cotisations sociales”) are now named “social charges” (“charges sociales”). That’s a great marketing achievement. (Whose?)


  1. Dementine

    Great post. I do totally agree with you. Another example of the importance of packaging to marketing, more dramatic though. Because it is not only about marketing, but about plain politics.

  1. 1 Of the Unfriendly Kind « Test Society

    […] in other, less crude cases of political semiotics (see The Politics of Naming), the use of the words is crucial here. Especially of “democracy” because, as Kovalev […]

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