2019 Steve Campsall



This will become easier to grasp if we go back to a word we met early on, the word coward.

As was said earlier, if you consider and reflect upon the meanings, associations and attitudes to this word, you will recognise that these are created by our sense of the word that is actually its 'cultural opposite', the word hero. Each of these two words are, in essence and in deeply ingrained and important cultural ways, reliant for their meaning on the existence of their opposite: their binary opposite.

  • Of course, the word 'hero' is not a real 'opposite' of the word 'coward' (that would be 'un-hero' if the word existed); but a person who is labelled a 'coward' is judged negatively precisely because he or she has failed to show qualities of 'heroism'.

  • Perhaps a more accurate definition would be that these two words exist in cultural opposition to each other.

What should become clear is that within our culture, we each subconsciously apply a system of binary opposites to shape our interpretations of many words and ideas. These oppositions seem entirely natural and too obvious to question; but they are anything but: such 'opposites' exist simply because our culture deems it to be so. Here are some common 'binary pairs':

  • Can you see how our perception of one thing is deeply implicated with our sense of its binary opposite? And how we judge one half of each binary in a more negative way?

  • Can you recognise the importance of this and how binary oppositions feed each other - it's as if meanings are bound up together. For example, can you connect the binaries hero/coward with the binary masculinity/femininity and recognise how this feeds stereotypes and attitudes?