Multiple perspectives-models-stories in fiction and science

AfterEllen.com - The L Word's Vanishing Bisexual
The L Word’s representation of bisexuality reflects popular and sometimes opposing ideas about bisexuality. One belief--represented best on the series by Jenny--is that those who identify as bisexual are merely experimenting with their sexuality before they choose to identify as strictly heterosexual or homosexual, thus suggesting that a “bisexualâ€? identity is at best a transitional identity, and at worst a false one.

The second is the belief that everyone has the potential to be attracted to people of either sex; in other words, everyone is at some level bisexual. This has been most clearly expressed by the character of Shane (Katherine Moennig), who stated in the second episode, “Sexuality is fluid, whether you’re gay or you’re straight or you’re bisexual, you just go with the flow.â€?

Third is the stereotype that bisexuals are sexually promiscuous or indecisive, with the added threat that a bisexual woman could, at any moment, leave her female lover for a man. While Alice is not promiscuous, she is framed by the other characters--particularly friend-turned-lover Dana (Erin Daniels)--as indecisive. In the pilot episode, Dana demands, “When are you gonna make up your mind between dick and pussy?â€? Alice responds, “Well, for your information, Dana, I am looking for the same qualities in a man as I am in a woman.â€?

This  is an interesting analysis of how the TV show the L-Word portrays bi-sexuality. Two things stand out to me about it. First, and largely incoseuential, I'm struck by how common this type of analysis seems to be in the homosexual discourse. My other favorite place for literary analysis online, the Kittenboard (on the lesbian characters from Buffy) is certainly, if not full then, not alien to this kind of approach to narratives. Similar perspectives can be found in discussions of Xena/Gabrielle. This begs the speculation whether this is a function of the type of perspective a certain social footing gives you or just the fact that some very smart and incisive people happen to be writing in these contexts, and I happened to come across them. I suspect a combination of both (but I hate third ways so I'll come down on the second).

What is more interesting is the identification of competing frames/models/stories/implicit theories of how bi-sexuality is represented. This may seem obvious in the case of sexuality but these procedures of conceptualization and conceptual integration are probably central to most of our cognition (and probably also quite a bit of 'affection'). Here's another example I wrote earlier for my thesis (this is a reference to cookery shows, btw):

Another important aspect of models is their partiality and availability to switching. There are a number of models relevant to education that are currently often applied in education debates. Let us take an example from discussions of the responsibilities of decision making and planning (where the two opposing poles are central vs. local planning decision making). This is a complex conceptual area impossible to describe in detail but there are several salient features that will exemplify the need for the concept of a cognitive (or in general a mental model). There are essentially two models of decision-making topology available to discourse participants. These are then blended in online conceptualization. Let us first examine them from the locus of decentralized control. On the one hand, there is the "local expertise" model. It is built around a schematic scenario of neighborhood residents having specific local knowledge acquired through long experience and carry on conversations about issues. This conversation is further facilitated by their personal acquaintance which breaks down communication barriers. These people know what their needs are and can agree on the best way of meeting them. They may have to face interference from disinterested, overly confident and ill-informed "experts" from a center of power, who seek to impose possibly well-meant but ultimately self-defeating solutions on problems that may not even be real. This model is popular in development studies, where much money has been spent on educating local communities in how to conduct their localized decision-making. There, the centralized power is the donor of large sums of money to the government (e.g. the World Bank or USAID). But this model is also used in the context of reform within organizations and very frequently in debates on educational reform. For instance, Michael Howard's insitence of tackling discipline problems through giving power to head teachers over that of expulsion tribunals. However, this model has a counterpart which in the British context may best be called the "post-code lottery" model. This model is centered around a scenario in which local decisions are taken against the grain of accepted universal standards and quite possibly because of ill-informed local decision makers who do not have access to examples of best practice and recent "scientific" knowledge about a specific problems. The two areas in which this models (in this particular guise) is most often invoked is health-care and very prominently education. A recent example of the blending of these two models, is the idea of "superheads", successful headmasters brought in to fix local schools.

What I'd like to investigate more, is why these models usually come in pairs. I'm worried that it may be just me polarizing the issues or making things easier for myself. That's why I was interested to find another author look at a subject and find three models (although, it seems to me the third one is subsumed in the first). But maybe this is not a bad thing as long as it is seen for what it is. George Lakoff in Moral Politics also identified two overarching metaphorical models - strict father and nurturing parent - but the details of his analysis were much more reflective of the multiple layers in the discourse than many reviewers gave him credit for. Deborah Tannen, speaking about frames (another word for models) as expectations spoke about the multiple levels in the context of Goffman's concept 'footing'. But she was talking about this with reference to the structure of the conversation. These models, in a way, add yet another layer. For instance, in writing about this I'm reflecting the expectations of the genre, the format, the intended audience, etc. as well expectations about the content. All of that is happening at the same time. But if I only look at the conceptual background I often see only two competing models (with increadibly rich  internal structure and fuzzy boundaries, of course). But in fact, at any given time a multiple models are applied at a different level of magnification (when I use the word level, I usually mean this).

Now, there's a third question here, as well. And it is how do we know that these models are actually at play and what cognitive (conscious) status do they have? Tannen suggested some types of acceptable evidence for conversation (such as re-statements) but we will probably always remain dependent on one exegetic approach or another. The one employed by the author of my quote is probably just as good as any other. But it will bear further investigation.