What are perspectives? How are they communicated and shaped in texts? And, why is considering perspectives important?
Perspectives is a tricky concept, and frequently misunderstood by students when they analyse texts. Often confused with voice, tone and representations, to break down perspectives we must first consider the purpose of texts. Authors, of all text types, often construct their works to express opinions and viewpoints of the world and society - many of which are driven by their experiences and context. To achieve this purpose, they adopt one or several perspectives.
Think about your viewpoint and opinion towards some key issues in society (e.g. climate change). This is your perspective. Now consider why you have this perspective? It may be because of your experiences (social background, location etc.), your demographics (age, gender etc.), your values or from the social ideologies that you have been exposed to.
It follows that perspectives are a position, that is informed by one or more contexts, through which an issue can be viewed or considered. Ultimately, an author’s perspective is driven by their context (socio-cultural, personal context etc.) - where through their context, they develop values, attitudes and embrace certain ideologies that translate into perspectives. In responding to perspectives, it is crucial that you consider the inter-relation to an author’s context, and the values, attitudes and ideologies embedded in a text.
Some important questions to ask when identifying, analysing and comparing the perspectives in texts are:
Who is privileged in a text (characters, social groups etc.). How does this shape our response to the privileged groups’ perspectives in a text?
Who is marginalised in a text (characters, social groups etc.). Does this disempower or diminish the perspectives of these groups?
Which values and attitudes are dominant, naturalised and criticised in the text? How does this reflect an author’s perspective on society? How might this relate to the context surrounding an author and a text?
How do deliberate uses of language, style and mode construct viewpoints in a text? This is how you will evidence your analysis of perspectives.
Let’s apply our understanding and this approach to analysing perspectives in a written text:
This is an excerpt from a 2022 article ‘Nature is striking back’: flooding around the world, from Australia to Venezuela by The Guardian, Australia.
While floods are indeed natural phenomena, a longstanding result of storms, the human-induced climate crisis is amplifying their damage. Rising sea levels, driven by melting glaciers and the thermal expansion of water, are increasingly inundating coastal areas, while warmer temperatures are causing more moisture to accumulate in the atmosphere, which is then released as rain or snow.
The perspective towards flooding events in this text is apparent when we consider the function of language and tone in the extract. Emotive and forceful diction such as ‘amplifying’, ‘driven’ and ‘inundating’ is used to describe the impacts of the ‘human-induced climate crisis’. This creates an impassioned and confident tone in the text, and privileges the viewpoints of climate scientists and research that are endorsed in the passage. Note that the viewpoints of ‘climate-deniers’ are omitted.
Hence, we can deduce that the text’s perspective is that climate change, driven by human action, is responsible for recent flooding events. We can account for the contexts driving this perspective by considering the urgency and damage of the flooding events - the impact on human lives and homes evokes a need for change and support, which the author views as addressing climate change.
Through analysing perspective in this text, we witnessed how certain viewpoints can be empowered to achieve a purpose and represent the author’s attitudes and values. This supports us as critical readers, and allows us to analyse the purposes, ideological references and forces, and influence of context behinds texts.