Fourth, and relatedly, Davies indicates how we need to engage in moral and philosophical critique of discourse. This is not, however, to assert our moral superiority or ascendancy over others but it is to more fully understand how truth is constructed at different points in time and in different discourses. Gee (1996) points out how contestation over meaning always invokes moral argumentation. Thus with conceptually contested terms he comments that ‘it is pointless to ask what they ‘‘really’’ mean. What is to the point is to say what you choose to take them to mean, after careful, thoughtful, and ethical reflection’ (ibid.: 16). In this Gee offers two principles that he argues should form the basis of ethical human discourse. These are that we should ensure that any conceptualization that we choose should not harm someone else and that we have an ethical obligation to make explicit any tacit theory if we have reason to believe that this theory will give us an advantage over another. This means that we also need to make our conceptualizations known to those with whom we work. As we have learnt we cannot assume that we share the same meanings of particular concepts. Indeed, as Lankshear et al. (1997) comment, we can usually safely assume that such meanings are not shared. It is, therefore, important when people, particularly from different backgrounds or discursive traditions, come together to work collectively. Lankshear et al. note:
This is especially important where words which have positive connotations and generate strong allegiances across discursive borders are being employed in discursive contexts where projects of willing visions into reality are being enacted. In such contexts there are real dangers of being co-opted into agendas we might subsequently wish we had resisted, but where we could/did not resist because we failed to appreciate the extent to which the meanings of others were not our own meanings; possibly we did not even realize exactly how others with the power to ensure that their meanings prevailed were, in fact, framing what appeared to be shared concepts. (ibid.: 92)
For example, many feminists have had an enormous commitment to equality and have worked with a variety of policy-makers and organizational leaders to realize their visions. However, they have commented on how the ‘business’ case, rather than the ‘moral’ case, has been far more persuasive as a reason for organizations to become involved in equal opportunities work. Thus, Shaw (1995: 224) comments: ‘A feature of the 1990s has been the attempt to show that a wider sense of social responsibility makes good business sense.’ The ‘business’ case argues that ‘the workforce consists of a diverse population of people [and] harnessing these differences will create a productive environment in which everybody feels valued, where their talents are being fully utilised and in which organisational goals are met’ (Kandola and Fullerton, 1994: 8). Here, therefore, feminist equality discourses come together with the needs of capitalism. As research in the equal opportunities, and diversity management, fields indicate the focus has been on ‘glass ceiling’ work that has been mainly beneficial to middle-class women working within professional and management fields. As Shaw remarks:
[M]uch equal opportunities work is irrelevant to the bulk of women who are nowhere near managerial grades. The individualistic strategies advocated for potential high-fliers may be effective, but they do not touch the working conditions of the majority. Indeed, if they did, there is a good chance that they would be abandoned, for equality of opportunity, in and of itself, implies no commitment to equality. (1995: 215)
The implication of this in terms of conceptual literacy and critical language awareness is that we must ask what constructions of equality are operating within each field and what are the consequences of these. To do this we need to tease out the various sets of meanings of socially contested terms. This will enable us to raise questions and issues for debate and dialogue and will deepen our understanding of the ‘values and ideological loadings that are at stake in any Discourse’ (Lankshear et al., 1997: 93). This will also help us to understand the grounds that exist for making, or indeed not making, common cause in the creation of a more socially just world (ibid.).