Saturday, September 24, 2005

More about individuals

I hope we can discuss how the conception of learning that results from their theory is different from Lave and Wenger's LPP. I can't quite sort it out in my mind....

This book seems like such a significant departure from the last three. I can still see it as within the field of complex systems theory (if there is such a field), but it applies this kind of thinking directly to individuals (as embodied minds???), which maybe are not common in this field. The book basically claims that the human mind is a complex system that can be relatively accurately mapped by connectionist models....

Part of S and Q's contribution to anthropology, I guess, is that you can't understand have a complete picture of culture without an understanding of people/individuals/minds. But I sort of think that you could use a theory like Butler's or Lave's to describe various reiterations and resistances to cultural meanings and behaviors at the level of individuals. To keep consistent with a post-structuralist/constructivist approach and you would probably talk about 'the competing discourses in/by/through which the subject is constituted.' If you wanted to use Lave and Wenger’s LPP approach, you might talk about 'the great variety of groups in which any given individual is simultaneously a legitimate peripheral participant.' It’s possible that the language of either of these approaches might get clumsy when you get too close to an individual, and a theory like S and Q’s might make the description smoother.... I don’t know.

This is all sort of vague, perhaps, so, shifting gears....

Strauss and Quinn agree with Roy D'Andrade that culture is not a thing, that "We could keep the term 'culture' … if we stopped thinking of cultures as independent entities" (6-7). I like this. That is, I agree. It’s a mistake to reify the concept "culture." But I would have to say the same thing about "meaning." It seems to make even less sense to imagine "meaning" to be some-"thing", that "lives" or "is" "out there" "somewhere." But S and Q seem to imply that they think this is the case when, in the course of their critique of Geertz and his followers, they ask where meanings rest (18). Their critique leads them to claim that meaning "rests" or "is" in the individual person, in his/her "thoughts, feelings, and motivations" (20). Ok, I follow their critique here, and I am beginning to sort of understand the need for them to reassert the "individual" in the context of the debates they are a part of. I just think that they are making the same mistake they previously criticized; instead of "culture," thought, they reify "meaning," saying that meaning has to "Really" "be" some-"where." Is "meaning" anymore of an actual entity than "culture"? I might concede a claim similar to theirs but more upfront about its theoretical-ness. That is, I might not mind admitting that (at least in certain cases or for particular purposes) the concept of "meaning" cannot stand, does not make sense, or is (ha) meaningless, if it is not related to some conception of the "individual." This is different than saying meaning must live somewhere and that somewhere is the individual mind.
I guess I would be more inclined to accept the former (convoluted, I suppose) statement because I think science is (or should be or should recognize it self as) what Fleck argued it was. Scientists (those who study humans as well as those who study elementary particle) should always remember that what they actually do is offer various descriptions of things in the world; that they never show the world as it Really is. It may be tough to remember that scientific "facts" in the social and human sciences (e.g. meaning or the individual) are just as constructed and "untrue" as "facts" of a physical, chemical, and biological nature (e.g. the atom). This brings us back to Fleck. It may be quite easy for people in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and related fields to accept that a "fact" like the disease syphilis or a "fact" like this disease's relationship to the Wasserman reaction.

I hope I didn't get vague again....

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