Labels, Stereotypes and Schools

As usual, I'm grateful to James Bach in commenting on my last post. in a wide-ranging statement, he defends the value of schools of thought. I agree entirely that schools of thought have value. Partly they allow one to compare and contrast aspects of a discipline, particularly where there are differences of opinion, thought, belief, behaviour etc. and heaven knows there's plenty of variety in that regard. Schools also provide a focus for people who think in certain ways, allowing them to share ideas with people of like-mind.

Patiently, James sets out his case for them and there is much to agree with. In this post, I want to express my concerns with clarity.

In the first paragraph, James uses the terms camps, religions, paradigms, community and then says "we call them schools". I do understand the spirit of the statement, but these terms refer to different things and are a distraction.

Here, I am discussing what I understand to be schools of thought (in testing). I am most surprised at the references to religion. "These camps are like religions of software testing". I don't find that helpful at all.

The schools as defined, are stereotypes or labels devised by the context-driven school. I understand that.

In civilised society as a whole the use of stereotypes and labels is decried when one group labels people or other groups who do not agree with them, as stereotypes.

These stereotypes tend to be insulting and offensive. (Have in your mind, as an example, racial, gender or religious bigots). The labels tend to be offensive precisely because they are stereotypical. Individuals who never believed they were part of some group are labelled by others who they never met. Quite naturally, labels tend to be phrased in terms that the labelling group reject (otherwise, why label them?). The labelled group are stigmatised within the group that assigns the labels in the first place.

Groups who label others naturally emphasise the different "beliefs, speech and behaviour" of other groups. But surely it is for these other groups to label themselves, if they ever choose to even form a group in the first place. Labels tend to be used by groups who are blindly and obstinately attached to some creed or opinion and are intolerant toward others. I believe this: I believe that labels are wrong. People should be allowed to define their own creed, beliefs, ideas, school, whatever. And that's an end to it.

If people choose to debate their ideas with others, and they also choose to debate as a school, they should be given the courtesy of being allowed to define their school for themselves. It is (to put it mildly) counter-productive to behave in any other way.

I think the schools that Bret set out are of interest as a discussion point. But it seems unlikely that many people would use a label for themselves that was defined by a different school.

If people do choose to align themselves with one of those labels, it's their call, but I won't be one of them. I will not be defined by a 'label' - I am a human being.

Intentionally offensive or not, I think this is a truly dangerous precedent and I urge you to not use labels.

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paul gerrard's picture

Hi Bob, thanks for your comment. It's interesting to me to hear you talk about the various modes. I understand exactly - that's sounds like a typical project for me. It's hard to think of a project where one mode of thinking is ever sufficient - and that's why I think if a school exists for me it had better allow me to think and act independently and use any mode appropriate to the context.

We are dropped into situations where the mode of testing may not be under our control. It's a given - in a contract, a company culture or relationship with a supplier for example. To me these non-negotiable scenarios are contexts and we just have to deal with them - even if they aren't comfortable (or as effective as we'd like).

In private exchanges with Michael Bolton, I've said I'd be a tad happier if words like mode, style or even genre were used instead of school. It takes certain connotations away.

I'm not against schools if people want to establish their own. I don't like labeling folk. I just think the choice of schools is rather limited at the moment so I'll remain a kibitzer for the time being :-)

As for a 'new movement'. Er, I'm not so sure - yet.

Principal, Gerrard Consulting