Archive for the ‘distsipliin’ Category

Michael Agar “Culture: can you take it anywhere?”

January 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Agar, Michael 2006. Culture: Can you take it anywhere? International Journal of Qualitative Methods 5(2). Online:

Culture, then, is first of all a working assumption, an assumption that a translation is both necessary and possible to make sense of rich points. The assumption is based on observations of recurrent patterns of rich points across some common person/situation categories. The assumption is, there are shared mean-ings/contexts unknown to you. You have to figure out what they are. The classic ethnographic problem. Whatever we do with culture, it has to anchor there. Culture names the solution that you assume you can find. Culture is what you eventually show the world to explain meaning problems in terms of contexts.

Like a translation, culture is relational. Like a trans-lation, culture links a source languaculture, LC2, to a target languaculture, LC1. Like a translation, it makes no sense to talk about the culture of X without saying the culture of X for Y. Whenever we hear the term culture, we need to ask, of whom and for whom? Culture names the translation required, given contact between a particular source and a particular target.

Culture is a construction, a translation between source and target, between LC1 and LC2. The amount of ma-terial that goes into that translation, that culture, will vary, depending on the boundary between the two.

Culture isn’t a property of them, nor is it a property of us. It is an artificial construction built to enable translation between them and us, between source and target. It is intersubjective, as the jargon says. It needs to be elaborate enough to get the job done and no more elaborate than that. If source and target are already similar in meanings and contexts, it will take less cul-ture to do the job than if source and target are far apart. The translation we build is the culture we describe.

Culture is not only relational. It is also partial. We can no longer say culture in the singular when referring to a particu-lar person or a particular situation. The plural is now obligatory. A particular moment or a particular person or a particular group is never about just one culture. It is always about cultures.

Any community is about cultures now, plural, and everyone in that community has a different mix available, and everyone draws on a different subset of that mix in different ways. No person, or group, can be described, explained, or generalized completely with a single cultural label.

With bottom-up rich points, the approach changes, though, because the ethnography involves the many forms the rich point takes in different langua-cultures—in different domains and at different levels of scale. It asks the question of why that rich point exists at all, a blend of Malinowski and Foucault, what I think of as the Malinault or Foucowski approach. From Malinowksi I take the emphasis on learning a rich point by watching how it is used in a variety of different activity sequences by a variety of categories of people. From Foucault I take the question of where the rich point came from, why it exists at all, what history produced it and what political forces hold it in place?

This is a different breed of ethnographic cat. It fore-grounds chasing the rich point across domains and lev-els rather than chasing it in order to translate a specific LC2 in use at some person/activity coordinates in the social world.

[…] culture is another name for the translation between LC1 and LC2 that an ethnographer builds as a product of his/her work.


Michael Nicholson “The Scientific Analysis of Social Behavior”

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Nicholson, Michael 1983. The Scientific Analysis of Social Behavior: A Defence of Empiricism in Social Science. London: Pinter.


The Nature of Scientific Statements

Thus our theories are not in the mind alone but also in what we presume to be an external reality, which is perceived by our senses. […] Clearly from one point of view this makes the position of science precarious in that all our theories are dependent on the conceptual framework. (37)

In talking of accepted body of theory, I shall not, unless specifically drawing attention to it, be merely making a comment about what most people working in a particular area happen to believe. I shall mean a body of theory which is highly confirmed by observation and is regarded as true, subject to the validity of the conceptual framework in which the concepts are interpreted. (38)

However, language is not a totally circular system but has contacts with the real world and some things have to be defined outside the language itself. Thus, some concepts must be defined ostensively, that is, by directly connecting the words of the language with objects or events. (38-39)

The propositions of the theory, then, consist of statements whose terms (in theories expressed in natural language, ‘words’) are understood by the readers and writers, having been defined ostensively or nominally from earlier ostensive definitions (ultimately ostensive definitions, that is they need not necessarily be ostensive within the specific scientific enquiry). (39)

A theory is a set of laws, which are general statements that purport to be about the world. To see whether a law does in fact conform with the world we cannot of course observe the law, which is a meaningless phrase, but only instances of it. (40)

A statement which is about the world asserts not only that something is true but also asserts (by implication) that other things are false. (41)

Popper complains of being misunderstood on this point but I can find no clear statement of how it is that a failed test is not a refutation and how a test can be a test if it is not possible to fail it. If these two propositions are correct, then I reiterate that testing and refutation are formally the same. (42)

No form of direct observation whatever is possible in the case of the centre of gravity, not because of any limitation in the observational tools but because of the nature of the concept itself. It is inherently not observable. Its ‘existence’ is determined only by the role it plays in a set of deductions which have observable consequences, but its meaning comes only from its position in this deductive framework. (45)

The concept is ‘invented’ rather than ‘discovered’. Something is discovered if a set of observations indicates that it exists. Its existence might well have been predicted by a theory but it could (in principle) have been discovered without the theory. However, the theoretical term is invented as a means of organizing observations, that is, as a part of a theory without which the concept is meaningless and hence ‘undiscoverable’. (46)


Goals and Theoretical Terms in the Explanation of Social Behavior

The goal of an action is the end which the actor intends it to produce. At some point there must have been some act of choice (conscious or unconscious) so that some alternative goal would have been possible. We can use an alternative vocabulary and talk about action being motivated. A motive is a desire to achieve a goal and on these definitions anything which is said about motivation implies some parallel statement about goals. I shall confine myself to using ‘goal’. Goals can be conscious or unconscious; from the point of view of the analysis here it is not very important. (65)

It is the goal-seeking activity which is the theoretical term. […] Thus the goal-seeking formulation of the problem can be seen as a theoretical form. By this I mean that any statement couched in this form is necessarily a theoretical statement whose meaning and definitions lie solely in the deductions which can be made from a system in which it plays part. […] The theory is derived from a set of postulates which underlie the goal of maximization of utility. Now utility, like the centre of gravity, is definable only in terms of the theory and the maximization of utility is a useful concept only because it permits deductions to be made which themselves do not contain the term. (70)

Propositions asserting goal-directed behavior are theoretical propositions. They do not themselves have empirical reference and are testable only inasmuch as they form a part of a theory which has testable lower-level propositions. Thus the concern felt over their possibly dubious position in a supposedly empirical science is for the most part misplaced. They are propositions which are of a different form from normal causal propositions, but they fit perfectly happily within a deductive system, yielding testable propositions in normal causal form. (71)

Thus, it is the decision to try to achieve the goal, and to select a particular procedure for doing so which causes the acts and not the goal itself. (73)

Three different senses of ‘unrealism’:

1) idealization. The criterion of a theory’s adequacy requires that the discrepancy between a deduction made within the theory and the corresponding statement about the world is sufficiently small for whatever purpose is in hand. The permissible degree of discrepancy is something which is given external to the theory itself and depends on its application to some problem. (75)

2) limited domain. If a model is to be useful then its domain has to be specified. The as if  procedure is no good if it is not clear what problems the assumption applies to. […] How much it matters whether an assumption is unrealistic or not depends on how wide or interesting the domain is and whether it is clear what elements are unambiguously within it. (76)

3) verbal unrealism. It is a form of unrealism which raises problems in the social sciences only in goal directed models, though on analysis the problems can be seen to be entirely trivial. An actor in a situation frequently does not use the same concepts in formulating his conduct as the analyst who describes his behavior. This is, of course, not surprising when the actor is not using goal-seeking terms. It might appear to be unrealistic when the actor’s descriptions of the situation are phrased in goal-seeking terms, but different terms to those used by the analyst. There is then an apparent conflict between the analyst and actor. (77)

There are two completely different forms of statements covered by an as if proposition. The first are the theoretical propositions which it is meaningless to test directly. The second form of as if statements are those which are actually incorrect, such as the mathematical billiards player discussed above. Within the relevant domain it might be perfectly predictive but it is false, can be directly tested, and further outside the domain will yield incorrect deductions. (78)

An organization has a procedure for taking decisions which may be formally or informally devised. Whichever it is, the organization has a decision-making structure, which the crowd has not. This means that I can avoid the problem of analyzing the concepts involved in such phrases as the ‘crowd has decided’. (80)

The issue is to what extent the behavior of the organization as a unit within its own higher-level social system can be understood without reference to the events within the subsystem. […] Another issue which is raised in systems where groups are the unit, is whether the group chosen is the ‘proper’ unit of analysis. (81)

A social unit is a model, an abstraction with a limited domain, and can be used for answering questions only within its domain. (82)


Artificial Worlds

It is an abstract world which exists purely in linguistic or mathematical form but where the statements involved in the model are simpler, either in their complexity or number, but similar, to statements which are presumed to be true of the real world. (108)

A theory is a set of propositions which, if it is a correct theory, are propositions about the real world and hence are facts. They can properly be tested against the real world. There are no clear criteria for the construction of such models and a good model is just one that ‘looks good’. (112)

A simulation is a physical system (this includes human systems) which is investigated not for its own sake but for some presumed parallelism between it and a primary system one wishes to investigate. (117)

Peter K. Manning “Semiotics and Fieldwork”

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Manning, Peter K. 1987. Semiotics and Fieldwork. Newbury Park, London, New Delhi: Sage Publications.


Fieldwork traditions

1) The British Anthropological Tradition. […] a case-based, ethnocentric view, or what might be called an „emic“ or internal perspective that is not general and is limited in its interpretative range to that observed culture. […] a close attention to empirical data, or the facts, rather than to more abstract questions of theory. […] Since much of the work is undertaken alone, there is a degree of auto-didacticism inherent in this approach, as there is still in all forms of fieldworks. […] Is anthropology a sicentific – even in the usual meaning of social scientific – discipline that seeks generalizable knowledge in an objective fashion, or is it a literary craft, modeled on the writing style of Clifford Geertz? (14)

2) The Chicago and Neo-Chicago Traditions. […] membership preceded the analysis in many cases. In another sense, there was an attempt to be a covert or at least marginally participant member stepping bavk to look with new eyes something about which on previously knew. (15) Tactically, as was the case in the British tradition, one was to approach the group openly, and seek to inspire trust and confidence through this open approach to one’s subject population. […] The insider’s knowledge of the social world would, in fact, be partial, and reported as such; there was no assumption, interest, or belief in the idea that one would reveal to outsiders aspects of the society that were destructive to the group studied. (16 – study of underdogs, the powerless). […] Although in many respects the level of generalization was modest, there were continuous attempts to integrate the studies in a social ecological framework, the framework of work and occupations, and of collective behavior. (16)

3) The Existential Tradition. Whereas for Malinowski and associates and the Chicago school of fieldwork, the issues were matters of finding and flatly stating objective truths, the issues for the existential fieldworkers devolve from the researchers’ stance to the world and the transactional relationship between the subject and object. […] Field notes and modes of keeping them became secondary or tertiary issues, rarely discussed in detail in any of the classic sources, nor in those in the existential tradition; it is there as an issue, but seems to be relegated in the published work to questioning of relationship and meaning. (18) There is no assumption here of consensus, of cooperative subjects, or of a single unifying perspective; quite the contrary. The overall aim is to penetrate and reduce the social facades of others using the strategic and tactical weapons of intellectuals. Thus the older rules about secrecy, trust and mutual trust, protection of one’s subjects’ worlds, and, even to some extent, the editing of field reports to save the face of the researcher and the research subjects, no longer hold. (18-19)


Limitations of Fieldwork

1) Ad Hoc Problem Selection. Because the selection of problems is neither theory- nor method-driven; cumulative knowledge available in virtually any area is limited. (23)

2) Limited Domain of Analysis. The combination of ad hoc problem selection and narrowness of focus based on the single investigator model produces studies unlikely to contribute to a body of knowledge addressing theoretically selected and analyzed problems. (23)

3) Role Relationships Are Not Consistent. Field studies, as the above review illustrates, are not based upon consistent definitions of the role of the fieldworker. […] Insofar as the reflective relationship is critical to the enterprise, and that itself is unstandardized, there can be no more than moments, segments of social life, described, and a humanistic perspective displayed. (23-24)

4) Descriptive Focus. The primary rationale for field studies is that they describe a segment of the social world in some detail. (24)

5) Single Case Focus. In the absence of specific dimensions along which some phenomena are being compared, it is difficult to establish the generality of the findings. (25)



The work of semiotics is, as was suggested, to uncover the rules that govern the conventions of signification, whether these be in kinship, etiquette, mathematics, or art. It is not a descriptive technique that aims to lay out the historical or prior conditions necessary or sufficient for the appearance of a phenomenon. […] Its formal and analytic character directs attention to signs and how they signify, both the association among a series or set of signs (such as a menu, list, traffic signs, or a course syllabus) and between a signifier (such as a traffic sign) and a signified (stop; go; no left turn). Because in every sense the system precedes the individual signs, and their associations and functions, attention is directed in the first instance to sign systems themselves as systems. The purpose is then to make formal the discerned relationships. (26)

It [semiotics] is also a form of cultural analysis. All human behavior, once interpreted, is conduct. Semiotics looks at rules that govern conduct. Semiotics distinguishes performance or speech from the rules that govern it or control speech, language rules. (29)

[…] discourse and rules that govern it are seen as governing the possible forms, roles, and actions that one might imagine or impute to a “person.” Persons attain status only as elements of a signifying system. Thus semioticians might see a person as Freudians do, a bundle of symptoms (“a neurotic”), as a set of economic drives for consumption and production, as a chaos of passions as in a Judith Krantz novel, or a disembodied voice as do record producers. These are human constructions of humans, abstractions, and they make social life possible. (31)

Semiotics must proceed to isolate structures as if a definite general structure existed; but to be able to do this, one must assume that this global structure is simply a regulative hypothesis, and that every time a structure is described something occurs within the universe of signification which no longer makes it completely reliable. (32 – Eco “A Theory of Semiotics”, 129)

Social life is a field of signs organized by other signs about signs that communicate various social relations. Sociology can be seen as a subfield of semiotics. (33)

By attending to the codes (ways that content and expression are connected) that order given domains within social groups, and the meanings and social and behavioral responses that are associated with such coding, a conceptual apparatus for the analysis of culture is created. This lens permits isolating, characterizing, manipulating, and recombining elements of a cultural code in a systematic and formal fashion. (35)

Structuralist theories are glossed here as those that (a) contain focus upon binary oppositions within linguistic systems, (b) utilize some model of language as a fundamental metaphor for explaining (some) social relations, (c) view discourse as the primary focus of analysis, and (d) attempt to explain the production of discourse and texts with relatively formal rules and principles. (36)

[…] the referent is not a discriminate parameter among signs. Only their relations to each other are considered. The ideational nature of semiotics is such that even ideas are viewed as signs of a sort. Encoding, or the process of subsuming phenomena to a code is seen as both decoding and encoding simultaneously (since any sign that can be considered as such is coded in some fashion, any action of encoding involves extracting it from one code and entering it into another). Encoding is possible because codes can be combined, conflated, reversed, and layered together, that is, expression and content in one can become a sign in a secondary coding system, and so on. (39)

The actor provides the interpretant. (39)

The concept of a message is a function of a cognitively or semantically isolated text within an organizational field. (42)


Semiotics and Fieldwork

It should be emphasized that semiotics is an analytic technique, not a data-gathering technique. Most fieldwork, and much of the fieldwork literature, focuses on data-gathering. […] Semiotics is a mode of problem identification. (43)

Semiotics is a mode of pursuing the relevant units of analysis within a context. (44)

Semiotics is a way of formalizing analysis. (44)

Semiotics permits, indeed, requires comparisons. Semiotics is based on the central notions of opposition in context as the source of meaning […] This means that studies of single cases, or types, or groups, must involve implicit but perhaps unrecognized comparisons. (46)

Semiotics requires that analysis penetrate surface meaning or mere description and extract underlying modes of understanding. (46)

Semiotics assumes different perspectives on social life. (47)

Stuart J. Murray “Care and the self”

September 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Murray, Stuart J. 2007. Care and the self: biotechnology, reproduction, and the good life. – Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2:6. available:

To “examine” one’s life today is to submit to medical knowledge and techniques, to evaluations, and to normalizing judge-ments. It is to be governed by so-called experts, and to be understood in and through recent genomic and molecular vocabularies of biomedicine.

Medical discourse thus informs one manner in which the self or subject is constituted – and silently comes effec-tively to constitute itself as a subject. In this sense, medi-cine operates as a “technology of the self,” a nexus of social, political, and historical practices and beliefs that provide the very terms of the self and its self-understand-ing.

What Foucault famously called the “clinical gaze” is fast being sup-planted by the “molecular gaze” [4]; biopolitics – a poli-tics concerned with the life of the population – is being supplanted by “molecular politics” [5].

I argue that human identity is fast becoming a mat-ter of genomics, the identity of the self collapsed into its genetic identity.

[…] two sharply contrasting models of “care.” The first I call “self-care,” a model that has dominated public health policy in recent years. “Self-care” relies on a model of selfhood that is drawn from the tradition of lib-eral humanism: the Enlightened, knowing self, the self that is conceived as the source of its own agency, autono-mous, free, and guided by conceptual reason. This is the self that medical ethics typically presumes as founda-tional: rational, autonomous, and freely able to consent. […] In contradistinction, I shall pro-pose a second model of care that I borrow from Foucault’s ethics – “care of the self.” I hope to show how the Foucaultian “care of the self” is incommensurate with the care that we find in the “self-care” paradigm.

[…] while for the Greeks, the question was how to live and live well, for Rome – and for us – life is no longer the “ethical substance” or the fundamental question, but selfhood is that substance.

Today, medicine has become part of the  problem  of the self, and this becomes even more obvious in our genomic era of medi-cine: who or what am I if I am first and foremost a genetic self; what ethico-political responsibilities do I have to myself, to others, and to my offspring within this para-digm; and what subjective agency is left to me if the sov-ereignty of the Kantian “I” is displaced from a rational, autonomous self onto a sovereign genetic code that has the first and last word on who I am, what I am, and on who and what I shall become? These are the new problems of the self in a genocentric age.

Responsibility is conceived in economic or entrepreneurial terms [5,15,19]: I, as a patient, am treated foremost as a client who employs expert-providers in my own health care initiatives, to improve my health, to work on my self as if I were not the subject of my own well-being but an object in need of repair or enhancement. Here, the self-self relation is explicitly technologized, instrumentalized. The self relates to itself as through a knowledge economy – I am respon-sible to “know” my self biomedically, to take decisions and perform “best practice” actions in the project of my own well-being […]

This emphasis on the autonomous individual effec-tively privatizes and depoliticizes what are properly social and political effects, embodied historical effects whose operational power is summarily masked and disavowed by liberalism.

I prefer to imagine the “care of the self” as a self-self relation that is inventive and open, as a self that questions the norms and constraints in and by which that self is said to be a self in the first place.

So to repeat, the spiritual relation the self has to itself will inform epistemological truths and falsities, not the other way around – epistemology is not the founda-tion of the self, as it has been since Descartes. This turns modern Western philosophy and politics upside down.

So we can see that care is a relation that is directed both within and without. It is an ethical relation because it has everything to do with one’s ethos, with the way one lives one’s life and conducts oneself with respect to oneself, to others, and to the world in general. It is about the good life, not the good self.

The self relates to itself non-foundationally, non-substantially, and in this respect, we might be justified to invoke Socra-tes when he speaks of the “soul.” The soul or “psyche” is dynamic and without substance; it is neither body nor mind, as these terms are traditionally understood; it is nei-ther cognitive nor conceptual. Instead, we might call it a rhetorical device for plotting the relation between the self and itself, which includes the relation between the self and the other whose love and wisdom helps to bring that self into a caring proximity with itself.

[…] I fear that increased choice in, say, the genetic marketplace may prove detrimental to truly progressive social and political projects. Ultimately, a proliferation of choices in the genetic marketplace will not unequivocally result in greater social and political diversity, but may instead result in more stringent norms, less diversity, and greater intolerance of all forms of difference, genetic and otherwise.

But by the “care of the self,” Foucault helps us to depart from this normativity. For him, care is a way of being-in-the-world, an attitude, a chiasmatic rela-tion that constitutes the individual and the institution as two separate poles whose positions rely on dynamic power relations and norms that ought to be critiqued. Sev-enhuijsen and Tronto erroneously start by presuming the givenness of individual selves and institutions responsible for our care; this is the model of “self-care” as I have defined it. In contradistinction, Foucault does not pre-sume such a givenness.

Nikolas Rose “Neurochemical Selves”

Rose, Nikolas 2003. Neurochemical Selves. Society 41(1): 46-59

We could term these “psychopharmacological” societies. They are societies where the modification of thought, mood and conduct by pharmacological means has become more or less routine. In such societies, in many different contexts, in different ways, in relation to a variety of problems, by doctors, psychiatrists, parents and by ourselves, human subjective capacities have come to be routinely re-shaped by psychiatric drugs. (46)

This is a point that should be born in mind: the increasing worldwide dependence of health services on commercial pharmaceuticals is not restricted to psychiatric drugs and much of the growth in this sector is in line with that in drugs used for other conditions. (48)

But despite the law suits, anti-psychotic drugs had become central to the rationale of deinstitutionalization in the United States by the midsixties and to the management of the decarcerated or never incarcerated-population. The gradual acceptance of the reality of tardive dyskinesia, of its prevalence, and of its causation by drug treatment could not reverse the policy or the use of the drugs. A dual strategy took shape. On the one hand, the pharmaceutical industry met with FDA to discuss how to label the propensity of their compounds to cause tardive dyskinesia. On the other hand, the search began for alternative drugs that would not produce such damaging side effects. This track would eventually lead to the marketing of the socalled “atypical neuroleptics.” But it also underpinned other attempts to engineer so-called “smart drugs” which could be said to directly target the neurochemical bases of the illness, or at least the symptoms, with the minimum of collateral damage. (50)

In this context, drug treatment outside hospital becomes the treatment of choice, although short-term, focused, behavioral or cognitive therapy may also be funded, designed to ensure that the patient has the insight to recognize that he or she is suffering from an illness, and hence to increase the likelihood of compliance with medication. (51)

The epidemic of prescribing for ADHD in the United States seems a pretty clear example of a “culture bound syndrome.” (52)

But other factors also need to be addressed. First, no doubt, these developments are related to the increasing salience of health to the aspirations and ethics of the wealthy West, the readiness of those who live in such cultures to define their problems and their solutions in terms of health and illness, and the tendency for contemporary understandings of health and illness to be posed largely in terms of treatable bodily malfunctions. Second, they are undoubtedly linked to a more profound transformation in personhood. The sense of ourselves as “psychological” individuals that developed across the twentieth century-beings inhabited by a deep internal space shaped by biography and experience, the source of our individuality and the locus of our discontents-is being supplemented or displaced by what I have termed “somatic individuality.” By somatic individuality, I mean the tendency to define key aspects of one’s individuality in bodily terms, that is to say to think of oneself as „embodied,” and to understand that body in the language of contemporary biomedicine. To be a “somatic” individual, in this sense, is to code one’s hopes and fears in terms of this biomedical body, and to try to reform, cure or improve oneself by acting on that body. At one end of the spectrum this involved reshaping the visible body, through diet, exercise, and tattooing. At the other end, it involves understanding troubles and desires in terms of the interior “organic” functioning of the body, and seeking to reshape that – usually by pharmacological interventions. While discontents might previously have been mapped onto a psychological space-the space of neurosis, repression, psychological trauma-they are now mapped upon the body itself, or one particular organ of the body-the brain. (54)

In this way of thinking, all explanations of mental pathology must “pass through” the brain and its neurochemistry – neurones, synapses, membranes, receptors, ion channels, neurotransmitters, enzymes, etc. Diagnosis is now thought to be most accurate when it can link symptoms to anomalies in one or more of these elements. And the fabrication and action of psychiatric drugs is conceived in these terms. Not that biographical effects are ruled out, but biography-family stress, sexual abuse-has effects through its impact on this brain. Environment plays its part, but unemployment, poverty and the like have their effects only through their impact upon this brain. And experiences play their part substance abuse or trauma for example-but once again, through their impact on this neurochemical brain. A few decades ago, such claims would have seemed extraordinarily bold-for many medicopsychiatric researchers and practitioners, they now seem “only common sense.” (57)

Where Foucault analyzed biopolitics, we now must analyze bioeconomics and bioethics, for human capital is now to be understood in a rather literal sense-in terms of the new linkages between the politics,  economics and ethics of life itself. (58)

We have seen that, in certain key respects, the most widely prescribed of the new generation of psychiatric drugs treat conditions whose borders are fuzzy, whose coherence and very existence as illness or disorders are matters of dispute, and which are not so much intended to “cure”-to produce a specific transformation from a pathological to a normal state-as to modify the ways in which vicissitudes in the life of the recipient are experienced, lived and understood. (58)

So the capitalisation of the power to treat intensifies the redefinition of that which is amenable to correction or modification. This is not simply blurring the borders between normality and pathology, or widening the net of pathology. We are seeing an enhancement in our capacities to adjust and readjust our somatic existence according to the exigencies of the life to which we aspire. (58)

The new neurochemical self is flexible and can be reconfigured in a way that blurs the boundaries between cure, normalization, and the enhancement of capacities. And these pharmaceuticals offer the promise of the calculated modification and augmentation of specific aspects of self-hood through acts of choice. (59)

An ethics is engineered into the molecular make up of these drugs, and the drugs themselves embody and incite particular forms of life in which the “real me” is both “natural” and to be produced. (59)

Mieke Bal “Visual Essentialism and the Object of Visual Culture”

February 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Bal, Mieke 2003. Visual Essentialism and the Object of Visual Culture. – Journal of Visual Culture 2(1): 5-32

[…] the object of visual culture studies can be distinguished from object-defined disciplines such as art history and film studies, through the centrality of visuality as the ‘new’ object. (9)

[…] what happens when people look, and what emerges from that act? The verb ‘happens’ entails the  visual event as an object, and ‘emerges’ the visual image, but as a fleeting, fugitive, subjective image accrued to the subject. These two results – the event and the experienced image – are joined at the hip in the act of looking and its aftermath. (9)

The act of looking is profoundly ‘impure’. […] This impurity makes such activities mutually permeable, so that listening and reading can also have visuality to them. […] vision is itself inherently synaesthetic. (9)

[…] any definition that attempts to distinguish visuality from, for example, language, misses the point of the ‘new object’ entirely. For, with the isolation of vision comes the hierarchy of the senses, one of the traditional drawbacks of the disciplinary division of the Humanities. (10)

For, in the simplest formulation, knowledge directs and colours the gaze, thereby making visible those aspects of objects that otherwise remain invisible (Foucault, 1975: 15), but also the other way around: far from being a feature of the object seen, visibility is also a practice, even a strategy, of selection that determines what other aspects or even objects remain invisible. (11)

[…] the place and conception of visuality is a cultural, historical phenomenon whose transformations implicate sight itself within the object of visual culture studies. (13)

This quality, of offering apparent autonomy of distance and ‘separateness’ to the spectator, is an important feature of vision and, by extension, of visual culture, and it has contributed to the evolution of a structure of subjectivity, with specific consequences for the cultural representation of sexual difference. (14)

[…] visuality as an object of study requires that we focus on the relationship between the seen and the seer. (14)

The most obvious and relevant factor of visual ‘impurity’ is the assumption that objects mean different things in different discursive settings, a staple in art-historical thought, yet not taken to its radical consequences because of the search for beginnings and origins that plagues that discipline. (15)

If visuality is no longer a quality or feature of things, nor just a physiological phenomenon (what the eye can perceive), then it entails questioning modes of looking and the privileging of looking itself, as well as the idea that looking is based on one sense only (vision is not visual perception). (16-17)

[…] culture must be situated, polemically, between global and local, retaining the specificity of each, as between ‘art’ and ‘everyday’, but using that specificity in order to examine the ‘patterns determining the  aetiology of cultural misunderstanding’. (17)

Instead, perhaps we would be better off with a qualifier that deictically points to an undefinable-because-‘live’ domain. (18)

But ‘culture’, like visuality, cannot be pinned down by definitions, however differentiated and subtly intertwined. Instead, it can be mobilized within a number of different discourses, ‘sets of words, things, practices, beliefs and values that provide contexts of use for the construction of meaning’ (Barrett, 1991: 123–9). Hence, understanding ‘culture’ requires understanding the discourse within which the word or its derivatives, synonyms, or affiliates are used. In this view, isolating visuality according to the objects that are visual itself partakes of a strategy of domination. (19)

Any attempt to articulate goals and methods for visual culture studies must seriously engage both terms in their negativity: ‘visual’ as ‘impure’ – synaesthetic, discursive and pragmatic; and ‘culture’ as shifting, differential, located between ‘zones of culture’ and performed in practices of power and resistance. More succinctly, the negativities of our two key terms can be articulated as tensions, and tensions, while not allowing clear-cut distinctions, help specify domains even if none can be delimited. (19)

Rather than describing concrete artifacts and their provenance, as art history would do, or describing whole cultures, as anthropology would, visual culture studies must critically analyse the junctures and articulations of visual culture and undermine their naturalized persistence.40 It must focus on the sites where the objects of a – often primarily but never exclusively – visual nature intersect with the processes and practices that streamline a given culture. This immense task can only be hinted at. (21-22)

1)      […] visual culture studies should take as its primary objects of critical analysis the master narratives that are presented as natural, universal, true and inevitable, and dislodge them so that alternative narratives can become visible. (22)

2)      […] to understand some of the motivations of the prioritization of realism. The goal of the promotion of realism is to stimulate mimetic behaviour. The dominant classes set themselves and their heroes up as examples to recognize and follow, and it is barely an exaggeration to say that this interest is visible in the cult of portraiture.41 This shows the real political  interests underlying the preference for realism. It promotes transparency: the artistic quality mattered less than the faithful representation of the achiever. (22)

3)      […] to understand some of the motivations of visual essentialism, which promotes the look of the knower (Foucault) while keeping it invisible. I can think of three reasons why this task is urgent. The first is because the impervious ‘objects first’ that art history and elements in visual culture studies share distracts from the primacy of understanding; but understanding comes first, followed by the perception it guides. In this view, the relationship between individual looking and interpretive communities changes. The second is because of the gendering of vision mentioned earlier, which results from the primacy assigned to looking. And the third is because of the compelling need to expose the operations of the rhetoric of materiality. (22)

In my view, the key activity that must break through both the problematic legacy of art history and the generalizing tendencies of visual culture studies enthusiasts is  analysis. (23)

[…] the so-called empirical object not exist ‘out there’ but is brought into existence in the encounter between object and analyst, mediated by the theoretical baggage each brings to that encounter. This transforms the analysis from an instrumentalist ‘application’ into a performative interaction between object (including those of its aspects that remained invisible

before the encounter), theory and analyst. In this view, processes of interpretation are part of the object and are, in turn, questioned on the side of the analyst. (23-24)

A second, related consideration qualifies the nature of interpretive practices. In a visual culture studies that endorses – as I think it must – the  critical  task of the movement, such practices are also both method and object of questioning. This element of self-reflection is indispensable, although it is always at risk of self-indulgence and narcissism. (24)

A third principle of method is the continuity between analysis and pedagogy that results from the performative view of the former. Any activity in visual culture studies is simultaneously a moment of visual literacy education, a training in receptiveness to the object without positivistic veneration for its inherent ‘truth’. (24)

A fourth methodological principle is the historical-analytical examination of visual-cultural regimes such as embodied by the key institutions and their still-operating features. This form of historical analysis does not reify one historical state in the past but looks at the present situation as a starting point and searchlight. (25)

Jobst Conrad “Limitations to Interdisciplinarity …”

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Conrad, Jobst 2002. Limitations to Interdisciplinarity in Problem Oriented Social Science Research. – The Journal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies vol. 1, no. 1. kättesaadav:

Practical (social) problems rarely are in accordance with disciplinary boundaries. Therefore scientific knowledge, if superior at all, has to be taken from different fields and combined. So open questions have to be investigated in a problem oriented manner, when external, non-theoretical purposes tend to dominate. Problem oriented research, as opposed to basic research, is less interested in gaining new general scientific findings, but more concerned with the utilization of general knowledge for practical (social) problems which are not structured according to disciplinary categories and limitations. This implies inherent uncertainties and the necessity of (problem oriented) interlinkage of disciplinary knowledge. (3)

Problem oriented research differs from applied research. The latter is oriented towards the specification and application of available scientific knowledge (analytical models, conceptual schemes, techniques, instruments) for relatively clearly specified purposes. In contrast problem oriented research must, in principle, deal with uncertainties related to prognosis, complexity and contingency in order to legitimize decisions which have no certain foundations, but typically cannot wait until basic questions of a scientific field have been solved. (3)

Interdisciplinarity may well be considered a valuable ideal of integrating (theoretical) concepts and methods in a common framework, but rarely a realistic aim in terms of developing a new common theory. Perhaps a common new context is all that can be hoped for. Typically, this would be at the level of system building within an integrated (and reflexive) theory. (4)

Since problem oriented research is almost by definition not oriented towards theory building, it can hardly involve interdisciplinarity. Thus, corresponding empirical analysis of problem oriented research should evaluate how far it satisfied the various criteria of competent multidisciplinary scientific cooperation indicated above but not its genuine interdisciplinarity. (5)