requiem for certainty

Practices, Problems, Sites

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As a philosopher I have standard discipline-anxieties whenever confronted with some rather usual (but nonetheless perplexing) social scientific questions concerning how one should conceptualize, represent, and present one’s research where one take as their material for inquiry actually-functioning practices.  A great talk by James Clifford at the Center for Cultural Studies at UCSC the other week provided me with a much-needed bit of confidence in the face of my ongoing difficulties with these questions.  Clifford unashamedly noted that problems such as those I have been wrestling with are ones that he too faces in his present work even if they were not posed to him as problems back when he was a graduate student.  In short, my problems concerning these matters are not just my problems as a philosopher interested in taknig up social science into my work, but these are the problems which anyone in a similar position faces (or at least ought to face if they are sufficiently self-reflective).  A few notes, then, on these problems as they’ve been foisting themselves on me in recent months.  Provoked this time by Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life.

The following scribblings were provoked by Chapter IV (on Foucault and Bourdieu).  After scrawling them I broke into Chapter V.  Immediately I found on pp. 62-3 ideas that I think much better get at the problem I was provoked to phrase by Chapter IV.  In any event here is what I wrote.  Clearly it is, like this post, halting and stammering.  But one should never be ashamed of one’s experiments:

Note: Do not privilege research ‘sites’.  This will lead not to an outline of problematizations or reconstructions so much as to attempts to establish or discern the coherence of the site being inquired into (at least for me).

Privilege instead series of practices (maybe: multiplicities of sites?) in which the emergence of problematizations and reconstructions can be discerned as the effect of the intersection of the various elements (i.e., vectors) constitute the series in question.

The goal, then, is not to make sense of what is going on in some provocative and perplexing ‘site’. The goal should rather be to conceptualize and articulate the emergence of broader problematizations and reconstructions which can never be specific to a singular site.  These broader problems and responses are best seen as articulated on the level of ‘culture’ rather than ‘site’ (but I prefer not to descend into specifying that word here).

A key difficulty is always that of conceptualizing and articulating these broader problematizations and reconstructions insofar as these form the conditions of possibility of a series of sites. The real difficulty is to do this without turning these many ‘sites’ into reduced examples of some argument or thesis. A caution, then, should be to not merely use the sites inquired into in order to example forth some more general conclusion (this is a standard mode of philosophy as uninformed by social science). Rather one should aim to focus those sites which help conceptualize and are in turn explained by the problematizations and reconstructions which inquiry will enable one to discern.

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Written by Colin Koopman

October 31, 2008 at 2:53 am

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