Binary Oppositions and Research Creativity


If your research involves a topic that has been categorized in two opposing classes or types, you may be looking at a “binary opposition.”  Consider the virtue of challenging a "binary opposition" with evidence that there is an "excluded middle term."  Some binaries, like electron spin (+ or -) and magnetic poles (again + or -) are pure, no middle ground.  Most cultural binaries, like maleness and femaleness, are not pure, lots of middle ground and no real "normal" position other than what popular prejudice or ideology tries to enforce.  To put an excluded middle position into action in a scholarly debate will almost always generate important new ways of seeing the entire topic. 


Cultural binary oppositions, because they are almost always ideologically enforced, come with "privileged" and "privative" (high-status, low-status) positions.  The astute researcher can sometimes see opportunities to "flip" the binary privilege by seeing advantages in the privative position that the privileged position lacks.


Consider the excluded middle terms of these binaries which might appear in your papers on fiction or films:


light         vs.         dark

alive        vs.         dead

male        vs.         female

hero         vs.         villain

good         vs.         evil

legal         vs.         illegal

married     vs.         unmarried

young       vs.         old

innocent     vs.         guilty

innocent     vs.         wise