A Membership Categorization Analysis of the Waco Siege: Perpetrator-Victim Identity as a Moral Discrepancy Device for 'Doing' Subversionby Jonathan Clifton
Sociological Research Online 14(5)8
Received: 28 Apr 2009 Accepted: 19 Nov 2009 Published: 30 Nov 2009
AbstractThis paper seeks to build on previous work on the doing of politics as a members' practice. More specifically, it seeks to add to the growing work on perpetrator-victim identities by explicating how perpetrator identity is projected from individuals to the morally self-organized group 'the government', and so, in this way, subversion is achieved. Using membership categorization analysis (MCA) as a research methodology and data of naturally-occurring talk-in-interaction taken from recordings of the negotiations between the FBI and David Koresh during the Waco siege, this paper explicates how Koresh invokes perpetrator-victim identities to 'do' subversion. Findings indicate that this is achieved through his self-avowal of victim identity and consequent ascription of perpetrator identity to the FBI agents. Through this category work, Koresh is able to set up a moral discrepancy between the de jure rights and responsibilities of law enforcement officers and de facto actions of the FBI agents. This identity work is then transferred to the government which becomes an integral, rather than incidental, part of the interaction. In this way, Koresh does subversion and is able to turn the world upside down by proposing a revolutionary theocratic, rather than democratic, moral order.
Keywords: Membership Categorization Analysis, Identity, Moral Discrepancy, Victim-Perpetrator, Subversion
Introduction1.1 Membership categorization analysis (MCA), developed by Harvey Sacks' (1972a, 1972b, 1979, 1992) in the 1960s and early 1970s, analyses the way in which people and places are categorized by members in order to make sense of the social world. In one of his seminal articles on categorization, Sacks (1979) analyses the way in which categories can be used to challenge the existing social order. Yet, despite this early observation, little work has been carried out into the way into which members categorize in order to 'do' politics as a locally accomplished and occasioned matter (though see, for example,Mazeland 2003, Housley 2002, Housley and Fitzgerald 2001, 2003, and2009, Leudar et al. 2004, and Eglin and Hester 1999 and 2003). Situated within a cumulative paradigm of social research, this paper seeks to add to previous research which uses MCA to explicate members' procedures and methods through which the relationship between the government and the governed is locally accomplished. More specifically, by building on Housley's (2002) and Housley and Fitzgerald's (2003and 2009) work on moral discrepancies, this paper examines how the mobilization of moral discrepancies, related to the victim-perpetrator standard relational pair (SRP), is used to 'do' subversion. The paper is divided into four parts. First, MCA as a research methodology is discussed. Second, background information on the Waco siege is provided. Third, two sequences of talk-in-interaction, taken from audio-recordings of a telephone conversation between Koresh and the FBI are analyzed. The paper closes with conclusion and observations.
Membership categorization analysis2.1 Harvey Sacks (1972a, 1972b, 1992) developed MCA in order to explicate the way in which members use categorization as resources to make sense of everyday life. In perhaps his most famous article on categorization, the so-called 'the baby cried, the mommy picked it up' article (Sacks 1972a), Sacks asked the question: why is it that we hear that it is the mommy of the baby who picked it up? He proposed that categorization is essential to understand the utterance and he sought to make visible the apparatus that allows an understanding of 'what is going on'. The apparatus that he proposed consists of membership categorization devices, such as family, which contain categories (i.e., classifications that could be used to describe people) that 'go together' such as mommy and baby. Sacks then specified rules of application that explicate how the apparatus works and which allow us as members (or as analysts) to understand that it is the mother of the baby who picks it up. In short, it is the fact that the mother and baby come from the same devices ('family' and 'stage of life') that allows members to link the categories together and so understand the utterance as being themother of the baby who picked it up. Moreover, in the same article Sacks developed the notion of category-boundness (i.e., certain activities are bound to certain categories such as crying is bound to the identity baby). Therefore, in the instance 'the baby cried' we know it is a baby from the stage of life device since crying is normally associated with babies and not adults. Furthermore, Sacks (1972b) pointed out that categories often exist in standard relational pairs (e.g. husband-wife, parent-child, victim-perpetrator) and that such relational pairs constitute a locus for a set of rights and obligations which act as constraints and resources for allowable contributions to interaction. Members design their talk and actions according to the recipient's in situ identity and so orient to the accountable nature of allowable contributions. Thus, in the example Sacks (1972a) gives, a mother has a moral obligation and right to pick up her crying infant. Consequently, when a member is ascribed, or claims, membership of a particular category this also gives him or her access to certain socially approved resources (such as picking up a child). The use, or non-use, of these resources is a morally accountable matter (cf. Garfinkel 1967) and through using categorization to orient to the moral accountability of interaction, members orient to a presupposed (yet reified) social/moral order which is in fact reflexively reproduced in the course of the activity.2.2 Since Sacks' death in 1975, MCA has been refined and developed by numerous researchers. Significantly, researchers have criticized Sacks' notion of categorization for being too ambiguous as to the indexical and situated nature of categories. For example, Hester (1994: 223) and Hester and Eglin (1997a) claim that whilst Sacks was obviously aware of the indexical nature of categorizing, his analysis of the baby cried, the mommy picked it up, can be interpreted in terms of members making use of pre-existing categories to make sense of social action. This research and others (e.g. Jayyusi 1984, and Housley and Fitzgerald 2002) has sought to clarify this ambiguity and has placed a greater emphasis on the occasioned nature of categorization, and consequently it 'eschews the analytical location of categories within specific, stable culturally defined collections' (Housley and Fitzgerald 2002: 68). This perspective, therefore, stresses the fact that categories do not reflect pre-discursive entities that are 'out there somewhere' and which members use to make sense of what is happening. Rather, what constitutes a category, and the predicates (i.e., expectable features, characteristics, behaviors, states of mind etc) that accompany categories, are locally produced and are designed to 'do' social actions. Jayyusi (1984: 37), therefore, makes the distinction between category-bound features which conventionally accompany a particular category and category-generated features which are situatedly achieved through their tie to some category. But even having added this refinement to Sacks' notion of category-boundness, it is important to note that the formulation of predicates that are considered to be 'conventionally accompanying' a category is also an in situ achievement and there is nothing a priori about the association of certain predicates with certain categories. A further refinement to Sacks' notion of MCA, which is crucial to the general thrust of this article, is that of the transpersonal projection of category features so that predicates ascribed to, or claimed by, one member can be transferred to other members of the same a morally self-organized group (Jayyusi 1984, Coulter 1996). A morally self-organized group is defined as a group which is 'specifically constituted by its members round some set of moral-practical beliefs, commitments, codes, values, interests, concerns, etc' (Jayyusi 1984: 48). Jayyusi (1984: 50) gives the Ku Klux Klan as an example of a morally self-organized group since membership of the clan is constituted through rule-bound elective membership and membership also presupposes agreement with the avowed beliefs of the clan. Predicates linked with clansmen and the clan are thus reflexively linked so that an action of an individual clansman can be made to represent the character and activities of the clan as a whole and, similarly, beliefs of the clan as an organization can be considered to be predicates of individuals who claim, or who are ascribed, clan membership. In short, individuals within the clan and the clan (as an organization) can be said to be mutually constituting. This reflexive relationship, therefore, allows for the transpersonal projection of predicates whereby actions performed under the auspices of the group can be morally ascribable to group as a whole. Similarly, this paper argues that law enforcement officers can be seen as part of the morally self-organized group 'government'. Firstly, this is because swearing-in ceremonies, passing out parades, oaths of allegiances and so on which are often part and parcel of initiation into some forms of government service both display rule-bound elective membership crucial to morally self-organizing groups and such ceremonies also presuppose agreement with the avowed beliefs of the government that they seek to uphold. Secondly, the actions of law enforcement officers can be seen as those of the government when, situatedly, their activities are formulated as being performed under the auspices of the morally self-organized group 'the government'.
MCA, the social order, and politics2.3 As various authors (e.g., Sacks 1979, Jayyusi 1984, Coulter 1996,Hester and Eglin 1997b, and Housley and Fitzgerald 2002) have pointed out, social order is constructed in part through the practices of members doing categorization. This is because social structure is made up of categories of people who have rights and responsibilities vis-à-vis each other. The myriad of moral rights and responsibilities, which constitutes the moral order, is not external to talk in some pre-discursive fashion. Social order, realized through categorization, is invoked in an occasioned manner as a resource for carrying out everyday social actions and, through being oriented to, social order is reflexively talked into being as a social fact that constrains and allows social action. From this perspective, social order is thus inexorably a members' accomplishment and has nothing to do with the Parsonian rule following judgmental dopes of traditional social theory. As Wilson (1991: 27), from a broadly ethnomethodological perspective, argues, 'social structure consists of matters that are described and oriented to by members of society on relevant occasions as essential resources for conducting their affairs and, at the same time, reproduced as external and constraining social facts through that same social interaction. Thus, we must abandon any standard Durkheimian conception of social structure that takes externality and constraint for granted as methodological stipulation'. From such an ethnomethodological perspective, in which Sacks' notion of categorization is firmly rooted, there is no prediscursive social structure that is 'out there somewhere' and which constrains and allows social action. Rather, social order is a members' achievement which is realized, inter alia, through categorization. Consequently, since there is no prediscursive social order, categorizations, and the social world that is talked into being through such categorizing, are both open to resistance as well as acceptance. This observation that categorization creates, and is created by, the social world and thus can always be organized differently, is summed up by Sacks (1979: 9) when he states that, 'roughly, we could say that what the dominant categories basically own is how it is that persons perceive reality. And there's an order of revolution which is an attempt to change how it is that persons see reality'. Sacks (1979) shows that, by using their own category 'hotrodder', teenage drivers challenge the adult world's categorization of them. This, Sacks (1979) argues, is revolutionary because such a challenge could change the way in which teenage drivers are perceived. And, since the rights and responsibilities expectably associated with 'teenage driver' and 'hotrodder' are fundamentally different, such categorization work proposes an alternative perception of social order. Should 'hotrodder' ever replace 'teenage driver' as the stable and the normative categorization then a revolution could be said to have occurred. In short, then, as Sacks (1979: 13) says, the fact that teenagers orient to their own categories means 'that more or less fundamental attacks are being launched against a culture which is stable by reference to everybody seeing the world for what it is, without regard to whether it is pleasant or not, whether they come out on top or not, and not seeing that they can do anything about it'. For social change to take place, a change in how categories are oriented to in talk and the predicates that are morally invoked by the use of such categories would be required, and if such category work becomes a stable reference rather than the categorizing of minority self-organized groups, then it would be truly revolutionary. In this sense, categorization can be used subversively to attack a hegemonic social order and to propose a revolutionary alternative.
2.4 Eglin and Hester (1999and 2003), provide an exemplary analysis of how categorization is an essential element in attempting to subvert the existing moral order. In their analysis of media coverage of the Montreal Massacre, they point out that the gunman's categorization of his victims, 14 female engineering students at l'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, as being 'a bunch of feminists' simultaneously anonymizes and politicizes them. Of the many possible ways of categorizing his victims, he chooses to ascribe to them the category feminists who, according to his suicide letter, have the predicates of seeking on the one hand to keep the social advantages of being women but on the other hand to have access to areas traditionally restricted to men such as jobs in engineering. Placing the victims of the massacre in a political categorization device allows the killer to also categorize himself politically and so claim for himself the identity of an anti-feminist counter revolutionary seeking to redress injustices in Canadian society that have been implemented through the government's tacit support of feminists by legislating discriminatory benefits for women, allowing them to enter professions traditionally reserved for men, and so on. As Eglin and Hester (2003: 55) conclude, by invoking a political membership categorization device, the killer 'provides instructions for making his actions rationally accountable as political.'
2.5 More specifically, in terms of subversion, this paper draws on Housley's (2002) and Housley and Fitzgerald's (2003 and 2009) notion of moral discrepancy in political debate. Moral discrepancy can be defined as making relevant a discrepancy between two categories that are normatively tied together. For example, Housley (2002) discusses the moral discrepancy between intention and action in debate concerning the banning of fox hunting in the UK, and Housley and Fitzgerald (2003 and 2009) discuss the mobilization of a discrepancy between blame and punishment as a way of clouding political accountability in the BSE/mad cow disease debate. In the spirit of cumulative social enquiry, this paper seeks to add to the notion of moral discrepancy by analyzing the occasioned use of a moral discrepancy between what is situatedly formulated as category-bound (de jure) and category-generated (de facto) predicates of government in political debate. More specifically, this paper explicates how moral discrepancy can be used as a political truth engine to 'do' subversion by ascribing perpetrator identity to government and victim identity to the citizen and so the moral discrepancy device can become a discursive resource through which (hegemonic) 'collectives may be questioned, disbelieved or undermined' (Housley and Fitzgerald 2009: 355).