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1.1 Who’s in authority? Advanced

Authority in the community

To what extent are we the authors of our own lives and our own texts?

Authority is a difficult concept to discuss as there are different kinds of authority – authority over others, authority over ourselves and authority, in the sense of being authors, over our own creations. Authority implies that the right to exercise power is justified. A person or group may have authority over others through a set of laws (government bodies), through custom (hereditary peerage) or from personal charisma (celebrities). As adults in a democracy, we have authority over ourselves and what we produce. But this authority comes with the responsibility to exercise it with regard to the freedom of others to do the same.

In the case of government institutions there is usually a clear authority structure in place. 

While an institution like the Centre for Road Safety is responsible to the government and must abide by its rules, the government is responsible to the people who elected them. This means that any texts produced by such ‘authorities’ have to engage the interest and goodwill of the community while sometimes telling them what they do not want to hear and may be reluctant to do.

Road safety advertisements are a case in point. Driving is an important new source of freedom for many adolescents who are no longer dependent on being driven or taking public transport. The job of the Centre for Road Safety is therefore a difficult one: how to convey a message that is for the good of the community and does not fuel resentment about being controlled.

Authority of institutions

Authority in democratic societies involves complex interactions. Those that have authority bestowed upon them are themselves duty-bound to others in reciprocal relationships. Nothing can proceed without agreement, or at least acceptance, from the other groups. 

So where does authority lie in producing texts - with the Centre for Road Safety, the government, pressure groups who act on all the bodies or the people of NSW? 

In pairs: 

  • discuss this question, and 

  • draw arrows between each circle to represent the relationships that work to produce road safety advertisements. Explain your decisions and share your ideas with the class.

Class Discussion: When we compose our own texts, what ‘authorities’ do we need to consult to make our compositions have their intended effect?

Return to the opening question and compose a blog style comment on:

To what extent are we the authors of our own lives and our own texts?

Last update: 23rd January 2019