Why?by Charles Tilly
Why? is a book about the explanations we give and how we give them--a fascinating look at the way the reasons we offer every day are dictated by, and help constitute, social relationships. Written in an easy-to-read style by distinguished social historian Charles Tilly, the book explores the manner in which people claim, establish, negotiate,/i>… See more details below
Why? is a book about the explanations we give and how we give them--a fascinating look at the way the reasons we offer every day are dictated by, and help constitute, social relationships. Written in an easy-to-read style by distinguished social historian Charles Tilly, the book explores the manner in which people claim, establish, negotiate, repair, rework, or terminate relations with others through the reasons they give.
Tilly examines a number of different types of reason giving. For example, he shows how an air traffic controller would explain the near miss of two aircraft in several different ways, depending upon the intended audience: for an acquaintance at a cocktail party, he might shrug it off by saying "This happens all the time," or offer a chatty, colloquial rendition of what transpired; for a colleague at work, he would venture a longer, more technical explanation, and for a formal report for his division head he would provide an exhaustive, detailed account.
Tilly demonstrates that reasons fall into four different categories:
- Convention: "I'm sorry I spilled my coffee; I'm such a klutz."
- Narratives: "My friend betrayed me because she was jealous of my sister."
- Technical cause-effect accounts: "A short circuit in the ignition system caused the engine rotors to fail."
- Codes or workplace jargon: "We can't turn over the records. We're bound by statute 369."
Tilly illustrates his topic by showing how a variety of people gave reasons for the 9/11 attacks. He also demonstrates how those who work with one sort of reason frequently convert it into another sort. For example, a doctor might understand an illness using the technical language of biochemistry, but explain it to his patient, who knows nothing of biochemistry, by using conventions and stories.
Replete with sparkling anecdotes about everyday social experiences (including the author's own), Why? makes the case for stories as one of the great human inventions.
Tilly gives us . . . a good read, a book that calls our attention to a prevalent human phenomenon and raises the importance of investigating its nature. . . . The book also suggests that we sit down and begin to examine the nature of reason giving in our society--why we spend so much of our time doing it, what effect it has on our social relations, and . . . what effect it has on our own behavior and emotions.
Kristian Berg Harpviken
"[A] persuasive book. . . . It is obvious that the cancer specialist talks differently to his colleagues from the way he talks to his patients: exactly what he might be doing in talking differently is Tilly's concern."Adam Phillips, London Review of Books
"We need to impose order on chaos, not by disregarding complicated realities, but by understanding what those complicated realities mean for us. Why? is a stimulating contribution to our thinking about this problem."Dolan Cummings, Culture Wars
"[Charles Tilly] argues convincingly that reason-giving always takes place in a social setting structured by the social relations of the persons in that setting. This [book is] eminently readable and interesting."Leon H. Brody, Library Journal
"Tilly gives us . . . a good read, a book that calls our attention to a prevalent human phenomenon and raises the importance of investigating its nature. . . . The book also suggests that we sit down and begin to examine the nature of reason giving in our societywhy we spend so much of our time doing it, what effect it has on our social relations, and . . . what effect it has on our own behavior and emotions."Kurt Salzinger, PsycCritiques
"While Why? may be a frustrating read to the social scientist looking for methodological innovation, it is warmly recommended for anybody who is simply curious about the central role of reason giving."Kristian Berg Harpviken, Journal of Peace Research
"Tilly's book is insightful, easily accessible to any audience and worth reading."Richard Findler, European Legacy
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By Charles Tilly
Princeton University PressCopyright © 2006 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHY GIVE REASONS?
The first observers simply tried to figure out what was happening. On the morning of September 11, 2001, at 8:19 AM, flight attendant Betty Ong called American Airlines' Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina. She phoned from American Flight 11, which had left Boston for Los Angeles at 8 AM. In North Carolina, Ong reached Nydia Gonzalez. Ong told Gonzalez that hijackers had taken over their flight, had stabbed two other flight attendants, had killed at least one passenger, and had sprayed her and others with a substance that made their eyes burn and gave them trouble breathing (9/11 Report 2004: 5).
At 8:27, Gonzalez relayed Ong's call to Craig Marquis, duty manager at American Airlines' operations center in Forth Worth, Texas. At about the same time, air traffic controllers reported that the flight had made a sharp turn south near Albany, New York. "'They're going to New York!' Mr. Marquis remembers shouting out. 'Call Newark and JFK and tell them to expect a hijacking,' he ordered, assuming the hijackers would land the plane. 'In my wildest dreams, I was not thinking the plane was going to run into a building,' Mr. Marquis says" (CBS News 2002: 47). Veteran duty manager Marquis reasonably mapped thehijacking of Flight 11 into vivid previous episodes during which captors had demanded money, asylum, or release of political prisoners. They had grabbed the plane, he supposed, to hold the aircraft, its crew, and its passengers hostage for concessions. At nearly the same time, Boston air traffic controllers were telling the Federal Aviation Administration's Command Center that hijackers had probably taken over the plane (Duenes et al. 2004: A16). Continuing her whispered chronicle of events aboard the aircraft, at 8:38 Betty Ong reported that the plane was descending. Her call was cut off abruptly at 8:44 (9/11 Report 2004: 6).
The hijackers of Flight 11 soon proved Craig Marquis's reasons wrong. Two minutes after Gonzalez lost phone contact with Betty Ong, chief inspector Kevin McCabe of the U.S. Customs Service was looking east from his office window in Elizabeth, New Jersey. "He was sipping coffee and talking on the phone at 8:46," he later reported to Steven Brill, "when he saw the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Because he had seen how big the plane was, he thought it might be an attack. He flipped on the television, then called the Customs office in New York, which was at the Trade Center, to find out what was going on" (Brill 2003: 1).
A few minutes after McCabe's call to headquarters, Bryant Gumbel was broadcasting for CBS News from Manhattan. He had just heard that an unidentified plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At 8:52, his first eyewitness on the line was Stewart Nurick, who was waiting a table in a SoHo restaurant when "I literally saw a ... it seemed to be a small plane I just heard a couple noises, it looked like it bounced off the building, and then I just saw a huge ball of fire on top of the building. And just lots of smoke and what looked to be debris or glass falling down" (CBS News 2002: 16). A moment later, Wendell Clyne, doorman at the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel, spoke to Gumbel:
GUMBEL: Okay, so you were standing outside. Tell us what you saw and what you heard.
CLYNE: I heard first an explosion. And I just figured that it was a plane passing by. Then all of sudden, stuff just started falling like bricks and paper and everything. And so I just kind of ran inside to get away from the falling debris and glass. Then when it kind of stopped, I heard a guy screaming. Where I looked over, there was a guy that was on fire, so I ran over and I tried to put the fire out on him. And he was screaming. I just told him to roll, roll, and he said he couldn't. And then another guy came over ... and put the flames out on him. (CBS News 2002: 17)
It was about two minutes past nine.
Gumbel switched to a third eyewitness, Theresa Renaud, who was watching the World Trade Center from her apartment at Eighth Avenue and Sixteenth Street, about two miles north of the Center. "Approximately ten minutes ago," reported Renaud,
there was a major explosion from about the 80th floor-looks like it's affected probably four to eight floors. Major flames are coming out of the north side and also the east side of the building. It was a very loud explosion, followed by flames, and it looks like the building is still on fire on the inside.
Oh, there's another one-another plane just hit. [gasps; yelling] Oh, my God! Another plane has just hit-it hit another building, flew right into the middle of it. My God, it's right in the middle of the building. GUMBEL: This one into [Tower 2]?
RENAUD: Yes, yes, right in the middle of the building That was definitely ... on purpose.
GUMBEL: Why do you say that was definitely on purpose?
RENAUD: Because it just flew straight into it. (CBS News 2002: 18)
Filmmaker Jules Naudet, who had been producing a documentary on a downtown Manhattan fire company, had gone to the scene with the battalion chief after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. He was filming firefighters' actions in the lobby of the North Tower, the first tower hit, when the second aircraft struck the other tower: "Suddenly we heard an explosion coming from outside, and as I turned to look out the windows, I saw flaming debris falling in the courtyard and then heard a radio call announcing that Tower 2 had been hit by another plane. Any thought that this was simply a terrible accident vanished: New York was under attack" (CBS News 2002: 23). Washington, D.C., was also under attack. A perplexing calamity had begun.
When commandeered commercial aircraft crashed into New York's World Trade Center, Washington's Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field that September morning, people across the world began asking for reasons why. Why had someone perpetrated this vicious violence? Why had they targeted the United States? Why hadn't American authorities prevented the assault? Observers quickly shifted from simply making sense of what was happening to seeking reasons for the disaster. Direct participants faced the double challenge of finding reasons both for the terrible episode as a whole and for the specific incidents they had suffered, witnessed, or caused.
On the scene, emergency workers activated their routines without asking too many questions. Only as they worked did they start searching seriously for credible reasons for the disaster they were seeing. New York Fire Department Paramedic Gary Smiley, for example, was working overtime in downtown Brooklyn when the radio in his ambulance broadcast word that a plane had hit the 110-story North Tower (Tower 1) of the World Trade Center. The call had come at 8:48 AM. Within a few minutes, Smiley's crew rushed across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan.
Smiley set up a triage area between the two towers. He was carrying an injured woman who had just left Tower 1 across the street when the woman started shouting "Plane." He looked up and saw the second aircraft hit the South Tower (Tower 2). It was 9:03 AM, just seventeen minutes after the first crash. Debris began falling on them, so partway across the street he pushed the woman to the ground and threw himself on top of her. A severed, burning human arm scorched his back. "It was chaos," he later reported. "Everyone was running around. Then it clicked in my head. I knew exactly what was going on. I was there in 1993 when they bombed the building. I ended up taking care of a hundred people across the street in the Millennium Hotel. So I knew this was an attack. That's what we started telling people, and that's what got them moving" (Fink and Mathias 2002: 33). Smiley first figured out his own reasons for what was happening, then told other people those reasons. By his account, people not only accepted his reasons, but also acted on them at once. He moved his ambulance to a safer location, evaded the falling bodies of people who were jumping to their deaths from the highest floors of the North Tower, and started into the tower for rescue operations. At that point (9:50 AM) the South Tower fell into flaming ruins.
Soon after the South Tower fell, Smiley was going to the rescue of other paramedics who were trapped in the tower's rubble. That work, however, ended fast. A rush of air from the sudden collapse (at 10:29 AM) of the North Tower picked Smiley up and slammed him to the pavement. He crawled under a truck, thinking he might die in the suffocating dust. Then, according to his recollections, he grew angry as he remembered how his father had died in a random street robbery three years earlier, and reflected on how his own death would hit his two children. Again a click:
My mind just switched at that point, and I think that's really what gave me a desire to get out of there. Something just clicked, and I thought, I know I'm not going to die today. I'm going to get out of here.
You know how people say, "God had other plans for you." I think it was my father who had other plans for me. He had to be looking out for me, and I just started digging. I don't know how long I was under the truck before I figured this out, but I started crawling my way out of there, digging through the rocks and the debris. Just as I got out, a fireman who had also been lodged in the debris had gotten himself out. Both of us staggered around. (Fink and Mathias 2002: 34)
With all of his exposed skin burned, Smiley made it to a delicatessen on North End Avenue, where a number of injured police and fire-fighters had already sought refuge. There they heard explosions, and gave reasons for them: "One of the cops thought that it might be secondary explosions. When terrorists do this sort of thing, they'll put secondary bombs around to kill the rescue workers. That's an earmark of terrorism. And at that point you didn't know what to believe. Everybody had lost all concept of what was going on, and everything was up for grabs. For all we knew, they had attacked all of Manhattan" (Fink and Mathias 2002: 35). Still, by that time, many people on the spot were already sharing a definition of what was happening and what to do about it: terrorists are attacking us, and we have to defend ourselves against them.
High officials also rushed to the disaster scene and sought reasons for what they found. New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik had just finished exercising at his headquarters when aides pounded on his shower door to tell him that a plane had hit the top of the World Trade Center. Siren sounding and lights flashing, he and two of his men drove over close to the buildings, where they saw people leaping to their deaths from the North Tower. Kerik sent out orders for a citywide mobilization of police. Shortly thereafter, the second plane hit the South Tower, scattering aircraft fragments and body parts into the plaza below. (Since they couldn't see the aircraft, the commissioner's bodyguard Hector Santiago reported later, "The boss thinks it might have been a bomb. Now you think terrorist, and now he's getting into the groove" [Fink and Mathias 2002: 106].) Running for their lives, Kerik and his aides barely escaped. They took shelter behind the post office at 7 World Trade Center. Then, remembered Kerik,
I looked back out. I saw the damage. At that point, I could hear aviation and the pilots yelling on the radio that it was a commercial airliner. I realized at that minute that we were under attack. I yelled to John [Picciano, his chief of staff] to get on the telephone to call headquarters, but there was no phone service. The cell phones were down, so we're calling on the radio. I'm yelling for them to get aviation to close down the airspace. We needed air support, and I'm screaming at these guys to get me air support.
They're looking at me, like "Is there a fucking number to call for an F-16?" Like "Who do we call? How do we do that?"
But aviation had taken care of that and closed down the airspace. They had called in the military. I ordered the entire city to be shut down at that point. All bridges and tunnels closed. No entry. No exit. My main concern at that point was that there could be other secondary attacks set up on the ground. They're hitting us from above, did they do anything on the ground? Are they on the ground? My other concern was who the hell they were. Who are they? You know, as all of these events were unfolding, you're trying to put it all together. You're trying to think of so many things at once. (Fink and Mathias 2002: 110-11)
Soon Mayor Rudolph Giuliani joined Kerik. The mayor called the White House, learning that another aircraft had hit the Pentagon and that (with President Bush in Florida) the presidential staff was evacuating the White House. The New York contingent set up a command center near what remained of the World Trade Center, only to be jolted by the South Tower's collapse. They moved their temporary headquarters to the city's police academy on East Twentieth Street. That day's performances gave Kerik and Giuliani national political visibility; it moved Kerik toward nomination as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2004.
What Reasons for This Book?
As eyewitnesses at the World Trade Center and Pentagon searched for reasons, they followed an extremely general human routine. We might even define human beings as reason-giving animals. While, by some definitions, other primates employ language, tools, and even culture, only humans start offering and demanding reasons while young, then continue through life looking for reasons why.
Reasons provide organized answers to the question "Why does (did, should) X do Y?" X can be you as you tell me why you arrived late for our rendezvous, me as I explain my winning of the lottery, or the hijackers who piloted aircraft into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. X need not be a person or people; X can be God, evil spirits, Islam, communism, or just plain Them. X sometimes means individuals, groups, organizations, categories, forces, or invisible entities. X produces Y.
The World Trade Center disaster provoked reason giving at multiple levels, including:
Why did the hijackers seize the aircraft and crash them into the towers?
Why did the buildings burst into flames and collapse?
(In the case of a participant) Why did I behave as I did? Why did we (whatever the we) behave as we did? (In the cases of participants and observers) why did other people (considered as individuals or as groups) behave as they did? What causes terrorism? What causes violence in general?
Moving among multiple levels, this book looks sympathetically but searchingly at reason giving. It asks how, why, and in what different ways people supply reasons for the things they do, that others do, that happen to them, or that happen to other people-not so much grand general reasons for life, evil, or human frailty as the concrete reasons that different sorts of people supply or accept as they go about their daily business, deal with hardship, pass judgment on each other, or face emergencies such as the 9/11 disaster.
The book you are starting to read focuses on the social side of reason giving: how people share, communicate, contest, and collectively modify accepted reasons rather than how individual nervous systems process new information as it comes in. It worries little about whether the reasons people give are right or wrong, good or bad, plausible or implausible. Instead, it concentrates on the social process of giving reasons. Nor does it spend much time on general intellectual discussions of why things occur as they do, much less on how to resolve broad disagreements about reasons for big events.
Excerpted from Why? by Charles Tilly Copyright © 2006 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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