Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Outside my thought collective...

I find Fleck’s presentation of thought collectives fascinating. It reminds me a lot of the study of organizational culture, in which the accepted set of norms, beliefs, and ideas structure how individuals in an organization react and interact with internal and external forces. In any given culture, possibilities are only considered possible in they fall within the parameters of thought held by the organization. This makes sense to me, and the comparison validates Fleck’s argument in my mind.
There are a few components of Fleck’s argument, though, that I don’t entirely get. First, if cognition is the product of a social collective, how does one influence change? Can the individual do it? Trenn and Merton note that “Fleck lays stress upon the collective that even the individual can be understood only in collective terms” (p. 160), and Petersen complains that Fleck “underrates individual creativity” (p. 164). Fleck does use the comparison of a soccer team, and that a game couldn’t be understood based on only the kicks of one individual (p. 46), but one player can change the whole disposition of a team. Second, I can agree that not all change in a thought collective will be progressive, but it seems really post-modern to assert that there is no progression and only equally viable thought styles. Connecting syphilis to blood as a fact fits the framework of social cognition, but has the change produced improvement in the way the disease is treated?
I’m sure these questions show that I didn’t understand Fleck as well as I’d like to think I did. Maybe I struggled because his assertions are impossible in my current thought collectives….


Blogger mdl said...

Hello--I had a similar response to Fleck, where I am at once fascinated and convinced, especially with chapters 2 and 3, but found myself stumbling through an issue or two. I decided that much my particular problem is that I am trying to bringing too much of my own theoretical background to my reading of Fleck's framework, and that, as you state in your title: I'm not inside this thought collective yet. In fact, I had to laugh because my posting claims that a certain move Fleck makes sortof "begs the question." I had to chuckle to myself that this is exactly how outsiders respond to an "alien collective," according to Fleck: "principles are...if noticed at all...felt to be arbitrary and their possible legitimacy as begging the question." Now that's definitely not how I read Fleck (I feel his observations and scrutiny of the wasserman reaction is anything but arbitrary or illegitimate!), but it was a funny coincidence.

6:30 PM  
Blogger asw said...

You raise an interesting point regarding cognition and how can one influence change from a social collective standpoint?

I guess I am wondering here if the change is not considered a change when you have a thought collective since everyone is going along the same path so the changes are just the natural route the thought collective would go?

And perhaps another way we can view Fleck is that there is no original individual thought or change since it all originates from another person or another group. The influence for a change or thought is always there like a domino effect. One individual influences a thought or change that influences the next and so forth...

9:30 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I don't think Fleck diminishes the role of the individual at all. Rather, I see him trying to undo a tradition (thousands of years in the making?) that locates agency only in the individual. For Fleck, it seems that people can bring change, but they can't necessarily know all the consequences of that chance. Does that stop us from acting? Of course not. However, understanding the process in this way gives us a better framework for studying cognition and the "genesis of fact." I see Fleck as providing us with a useful method for the study of cognition. His method explains the motives of the individual not in terms of some overarching narrative (saying "I'm going to cure cancer" and then doing it), rather he sees motives much, much more complicated.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Anthony M. said...

I want to add that I think Fleck isn't denying the ability of the individual to do something. Individuals do things all the time, but what they try to do isn't necessarily always the same as what gets done. What Fleck adds to the idea of individuals acting is the idea that what exactly an individual tries to do depends in a very significant way on the social/thought context that they are within. What they try to do is always a response to whatever else is going on in that context.

Furthermore, the outcome/implications/consequences of their action (whatever it is they tried to do) also depends on their context. That is, what actually gets done is a function not only of what they tried (or thought they tried) to do, but also of a variety of other factors contributed by their context.

4:48 PM  

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