What category should “the stereotype” be placed in? What status should it be assigned? Originally referring to a reproduction process used in printing, the term “stereotype” is now understood as a ready-made opinion that is repeated mechanically. Social psychology, sociology, and linguistics all offer noticeably different accounts of what the term entails. Accompanied by a host of synonyms, with “cliché” at the forefront, the stereotype presents a series of variants, each of which is found under the banner of convention. Interpretations of stereotypes are themselves varied, ranging from a complete rejection of anything that might involve stereotypical thinking to the acknowledgment that they can involve a degree of positivity.
In his introduction to the Cerisy-la-Salle conference on “The Stereotype,” Pierre Barbéris declared, regarding that “thing” that is always implicit in language itself: “‘Stereotypes,’ ‘clichés,’ ‘formulas,’ ‘sound-bites,’ ‘old saws,’ ‘familiar tunes’: perhaps we should distinguish and differentiate between these” (Barbéris 1994, 9)—and, we would add, perhaps we should first of all define them. But do we define this ceaselessly moving thing in terms of its real or supposed singularity, or in connection with the terms and expressions it is typically related to: prejudices, received ideas, commonplaces, clichés, ready-made opinions, conventions? Furthermore: whether they are understood alone or in relation to their many family members, stereotypes have been subject to criticisms from different disciplinary frameworks, from literary studies to the human and social sciences. Should we favor one of these, be it linguistics, social psychology, or sociology? Wherever they are found, whether in a social environment or a literature, people have long strived to denounce, flush out, and track down stereotypes. Today—still rather unevenly—we recognize that they also possess positive features. There are different versions of stereotypes, a whole host of variants and clear variations in the interpretation we have given them. From the point of view of communication, our task is to take into account the very transversality of this mixture of image, concept, and belief.
The first appearance of the French adjectiv…
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