Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The tremendous power of paradigms: as a means of delimiting and transcending process

I recently got an email from one of my readers that made me think about the power of prevailing paradigms of North American scholarship: namely, that of structuralist/phenomonological paradigms in the interpretation of historical processes (especially in eskimology - if there is such a thing, and I happen to think there is such a thing whether it be history, linguistics, anthropology/sociology, administration and health care delivery systems).

This type of scholarship/research approach tends to delimit its discourse without much thought given to other possible alternative views, and proceed as if its arbitrary signifiers and templates were as "real" as Ferdinand de Saussure treated his. FdeS is considered outdated and too literal/concrete in linguistic studies, but he is tremendously influential still in the humanities and the social sciences because of his semiotics. Though I'm a great admirer of Umberto Ecco and Jacob von UexkΓΌll as far as semiotics go, I had a less than pleasant experience with a prof of semantics at MUN who took great offense to my questions and comments on FdeS.


There is an alternative philosphical perspective to what North American scholars/researchers come from: dialectics, Hegelian or otherwise, which I think is better by far in the process of searching and enlightenment. Take for example Hegel's notions of Measure:

"The identity between quantity and quality, which is found in Measure, is at first only implicit, and not yet explicitly realised. In other words, these two categories, which unite in Measure, each claim an independent authority. On the one hand, the quantitative features of existence may be altered, without affecting its quality. On the other hand, this increase and diminution, immaterial though it be, has its limit, by exceeding which the quality suffers change. [...] But if the quantity present in measure exceeds a certain limit, the quality corresponding to it is also put in abeyance. This however is not a negation of quality altogether, but only of this definite quality, the place of which is at once occupied by another." (Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1874. The Logic. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. 2nd Edition. London: Oxford University Press. §§108-109)

-hear, hear. I couldn't have said it better. I mean, something so subtle as the identity between quality and quantity is not really something that would even occur to structuralists and phenomenologists (quantity is the only real factor to them) but certainly is something that grounds the thesis, antithesis, reconciliation/synthesis of a dialectic process.

The dialectic or Socratic method of examination and reflection is an ancient Greek method of teaching and learning that has at its core the diminution of the ego as a deliberate program and that makes no definite claims to the truth of things, but seems to come much closer to it than the sophistic and disingenious approach of structuralism/phenomenology, which seem completely ignorant of its own short-comings but presents its interpretations of facts with great authority and hot-air.

Jessen Williamson's timikkut, tarnikkut, anersaakkullu has similarities with the dialectic method, at least insofar as in considering the veracity of its interpretations. Consider this passage:

"...since cultural paradigms play a significant part in constructing the answer... From one cultural paradigm we understood that that women were secondary to men, with their economic, spiritual, and social contributions evaluated in relation to men and colonial institutions. In that framework women seemed powerless, passive, secondary, compliant, dependent, and even mindless. They had no say, and in many instances their actions were omitted. On the other hand, viewed from a different cultural paradigm, we gained understanding that kalaallit women were at least on an equal footing with their men. They worked hard and delivered goods in trade and contributed greatly in matters dealing with spirituality. These insights were gained through the notion of genderlessness and the application of timikkut, tarnikkut anersaakkullu. Each perspective is obviously dependent on the eyes through which the situation is seen. For the purposes of this study, it is clear that in order to see the true picture, rather than impose a European, Western, or colonial view on Inuit life, examining this life from an Inuit perspective is far more effective." (p. 137, Inherit my heaven)

-and more respectful and fair. As we can see clearly here, ideology creeps in very easily and is often a blinder (in the guise of delimiting process) of North American scholarship/research, especially in the IQ discourse.

Don't get me wrong: I have many friends from academia and I value their friendship very highly for they have been nothing but enrichening to my life; and, I certainly am mistrustful of revisionism and try and avoid romanticization like the plague. But the structuralist/phenomonological interpretation of reality is often proved unable to deal with counter examples and quickly becomes passive-agressive when so confronted, whereas the dialectic method embraces such things in the process of discovery and in the spirit of integrity and honesty (ie, dialectic methods consider such personal and egoistic tendencies as rather too small and immature to determine the discourse).


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