chapter  13
17 Pages

Whose illusion? whose reality?

If people define a situation as real it will be real in its consequences. When W.I.Thomas coined the aphorism he was pointing to the power that beliefs could exercise over the actions of individuals and groups. Sociological and anthropological research contains many illustrations of the dictum, from the protestant ethic to cargo cults. We can recall the events at Jonesville (named after the religious leader Jim Jones) in Guyana, when a whole community defined a situation in a way that led them to participate in a mass suicide. Yet to define a situation as real is to say nothing of the truth or falsity of what is being stated, believed in or acted upon.