Role dispossession, occasioned by plagiarism


A Dec. 6, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “College of teachers finds Chris Spence guilty of professional misconduct: Former TDSB education director, accused of plagiarism, will now face penalty hearing.”




According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Second edition, to plagiarize is

1 to take and use (the thoughts, writings, inventions, etc. of another person) as one’s own;

2 pass off the thoughts etc. of (another person) as one’s own.

The dictionary adds that the word plagiarism is derived from the Latin plagiarius – kidnapper, from plagium – a kidnapping, which in turn is derived from the Greek word plagion.

Role possession and dispossession

In a given organization, there are leadership roles that must be filled. Plagiarism can occasionally assist a person to fill such a role.

The uncovering of plagiarism can also lead to what Erving Goffman characterizes as role dispossession – that is, the loss of a role to which one has become accustomed.

The fact that plagiarism can lead to role dispossession affirms that it’s widely viewed as a form of rule-breaking that warrants severe sanctions.

Goffman brought attention to the rules of social interaction that enable the staging of social interactions to proceed. When interactions are disrupted, and attempts to address the disruptions fail, the staging ceases.

The study of such disruptions is valuable, according to Goffman, because disruptions enable us to better understand the rules of social interaction. That is, they enable us to better understand the structural arrangements of society.

Instrumental reason

With plagiarism, as I understand, the rules are pretty clear. With other means by which a person can acquire roles – including marketing, advertising, branding, and public relations, by way of example – the rules aren’t as clear. When we speak of means, we refer to the application of instrumental reason.

With regard to plagiarism and related topics, Goffman’s research regarding impression management is of relevance. At times the assumption that perception is reality does not apply. Occasionally reality obtrudes. Sometime things are not as they appear to be.

We can add that scandals are a regular feature of what Manuel Castells (2009) calls a network society, in which, as an online blurb notes, “politics is fundamentally media politics – and the politics of scandal is its epitome. That fact is behind a worldwide crisis of political legitimacy that challenges the meaning of democracy in much of the world.”

Update: It may be added that the concept of a networked society is appealing but has limitations. [End of update]

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Second edition, defines epitome as a typical example of a person or thing embodying a particular quality, class, etc.

Chris Spence’s legacy

The story began with a Jan. 9, 2013 article in The Toronto Star.

“Chris Spence, director of education for Toronto’s public school board,” the article notes, “has admitted to and apologized for plagiarizing several passages in an article he wrote for the Star about the importance of extracurricular activities.”

A Jan. 17, 2013 article at StarDispatches provides a comprehensive overview of the story.

In the above-noted article Louise Brown describes how the plagiarism scandal unfolded, highlights research about plagiarism, and discusses the positive side of Spence’s legacy as an educator.

In the article Joy Mannette of York University comments that she hopes Spence is remembered for his achievements as well as his flaws.

European perspective on plagiarism

A Feb. 9, 2013 New York Times article highlights plagiarism as viewed from a European perspective. In the latter case, the narrative focuses upon the pursuit of flaws that plagiarism may reveal with regard to a nation’s character. A Feb. 10, 2013 CBC news report addresses the same topic.


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