Gladwell Power of Context Analysis

Published: 2021-07-02 01:13:37
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Category: Psychology, Behavior, Broken Windows Theory

Type of paper: Essay

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Common belief in todays society would most likely base an individuals behavior on factors such as genes, upbringing, personal convictions, a persons history, personality, etc. These factors seem like reasonable and logical conclusions, but which is most significant? Is there anything missing? Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for The New Yorker and author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference, has a special desire to come up with an answer to this question.
In the chapter “The Power of Context: Bernie Goetz and the Rise and Fall of New York City Crime” Gladwell examines this interesting question and comes up with an answer of his own. According to Gladwell the different conclusions listed above do play a role in determining how one behaves but are not the most significant factors. Gladwell believes that the immediate environment has the most significant influence on ones behavior, also referred to as his Power of Context theory.
Although Gladwell understands that this theory might sound a bit crazy to most he stands by his belief by offering different means, both directly and indirectly, to help persuade his readers into accepting this “radical idea”. Gladwell presents a number of different studies which help substantiate his claim. He begins the chapter by discussing the transformation of the New York City subway system that took place in the late 1980’s. In the years leading into the transformation conditions on the subway were extremely poor with crime rates at a all time high.

The Broken Window Theory, based on the same premise as the Power of Context according to Gladwell, was put into effect resulting in a dramatic decrease in the crime rate. Another study, held at Stanford University, examined what causes prisons to be such a nasty place; “was it because prisons are full of nasty people, or was it because prisons are such nasty environments that they make the people nasty? ” This study concluded that certain situations are powerful enough to “overwhelm people’s inherent predispositions. In other words, the participant’s surroundings caused what we consider mentally healthy people to crack and break down. In addition to the previous two studies mentioned, Gladwell also cites another study conducted by Princeton University. This study suggested that what you hold in your heart and your thoughts are less important in guiding your behavior than the immediate context; disproving the idea that personal convictions guide the way one behaves. Evidence is effective in Gladwells effort to convince readers that the immediate environment influences behavior significantly, but is not his only means in doing so.
In addition to providing evidence to validate his claim, Gladwell also employs the use of rhetorical strategies. Rhetorical strategies are efforts made by an author to help persuade their readers into accepting their main argument. Recognizing such strategies is crucial when effectively examining and analyzing texts because it gives readers the power to decide how they choose to respond to an authors (Gladwells) view. Without this valuable knowledge readers are more susceptible of falling victim to this strategy and are more willingly ready to accept his claim.
With that being said, it is essential to recognize the rhetorical strategies used by Gladwell to properly examine and evaluate his argument. In an effort to sway reader into accepting his claim Gladwell links his Power of Context Theory with the Broken Windows Theory. Gladwell makes the decision to connect one another when discussing the success of the Broken Window theory in the transformation the New York subway system; asserting that they “are one and the same. Gladwell understood that he was likely to meet much opposition in respects to his claim, especially from those who do not believe the environment plays a role in determining ones behavior. A majority of people would concur that other factors play a much more significant role when determining behavior; as he himself even acknowledges his claim to be a “radical idea. ” Such resistance would greatly threaten Gladwells attempt in persuading his readers. Gladwell attempts to undermine opposition by linking his theory to another, one in which has already been proven to be successful.
Doing so not only allows Gladwells audience to see his theory applied in real life situations but also helps build credibility to his claim as well. This strategy is quite clever in his attempt to persuade the reader; without doing so his audience would likely still have some doubts regarding his claim and whether or not changing the environment plays a key role in shaping personality. Evaluating this strategy leads to the conclusion that showcasing the relationship between the Broken Window theory and Gladwells claim helps better his chance of persuading his readers.
Another persuasive strategy used by Gladwell is citing scientific evidence from different prestigious universities around the country. Gladwell discusses studies including the prison study done at Stanford and the Good Samaritan study done at Princeton as well. Gladwell anticipated that many people would not accept such a “radical idea” if he was the only one who has working to prove his claim to be true. By citing such universities Gladwell effectively removes the opposition from those who might not believe this is an important topic and would simply ask, “Who cares? By stating these major universities held studies it helps persuade readers that this topic is not only important in the academic community but to a degree also to be important to our country as a whole. Gladwell understands most of his readers are assumedly intelligent so citing such information might help sway the hesitant into believers. Essentially, Gladwell implies that his claim is one of great importance without coming right out and saying it.
Without doing so many people would stick with their convictions and hold the belief that this topic is not one of any importance; leading to a rejection of his claim all together. Finally, another strategy used by Gladwell in his text was acknowledging other factors indeed play a role in influencing ones behavior. Gladwell does so after citing both studies done at the different universities, stating in one instance “This does not mean that our inner psychological states and personal histories are not important in explaining ones behavior. By acknowledging other factors as playing a role he avoids the resistance of those who believe that those factors are the only factors that influence our behavior. Gladwell refers to his idea as being hard to accept on numerous different occasions throughout his text, leading one to believe he anticipated resistance from those who had trouble accepting his claim about environment playing the biggest role in influencing behavior. This aspect of the text increases reader’s likelihood of accepting Gladwells claim because it shows that he is not rejecting common belief, but adding his take on it.
Rejecting a person’s belief will not only anger them but also decrease any chance at getting them to accept your argument. Gladwell understands this fact and hopes to avoid this problem by agreeing with what he assumed his readers would be feeling. If Gladwell decided not to do so I belief he would face a bigger challenge in changing the way people think about behavior and might not have been as successful in his attempt to persuade his readers. As evident throughout this essay, Gladwell offers different means, both direct and indirect, to help persuade readers into accepting his claim.
Gladwells direct use of evidence sets a solid foundation on which he can place his argument that the environment significantly influences ones behavior. Providing evidence helps substantiate his argument while his use of different rhetorical strategies assists his efforts in persuading his readers to accept it. Identifying such strategies is beneficial because it allows you to make an informed and educated decision on whether or not you agree with Gladwells .

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