Sunday, 20 October 2013

Becoming sensitive to things, 'outside' and 'inside' perspectives

In the comments on a previous post I wrote:
[...] We can't step outside our senses and see things 'as they really are' but we can increase our sensitivities and the number of pathways that lead from them. This can lead to qualitatively improved knowledge as well as superior plurality in a political sense. [...] we need to be so sensitive to nuances in our subject matter.
I'm asked:
how does an "increase our sensitivities" make "us more uncertain, more hesitant as to our next step...makes us a little bit more 'lost' in our moment"?
Good question.  Inasmuch as I understand myself, I think the two things - sensitivity and lostness - come together.  Perhaps 'lost' is overstating it.  Given a choice we become temporarily lost, momentarily lost, we're hesitant because a choice has to be made.  We're lost in the sense that things become regularly unfamiliar and there's a pause, a hiatus before we can make them familiar again, if that makes sense.  It's a matter of making our experiences more regularly, rhythmically problematic.

If one has only one metaphysic, one sensitivity, one mode, one discursive frame (or whatever) to choose from (e.g. an ontology of actor-networks) and if that apparatus covers all cases (which, presumably, it must) then there's never a choice to be made as to which apparatus to apply.  There's only one.  Therefore the question of the fitness or unfitness of the apparatus is unlikely to arise - (a) because it's such a broad church that it can accommodate everything pretty much by default and (b) because one becomes unaccustomed to even asking that kind of question.

Contrariwise, if there's more than one then a choice must be made every time: which tool is right for the job?  The fitness/unfitness of the apparatus becomes a regularly worked problem.  The more the choices one has the more difficult the decision becomes because a greater plurality of qualities and nuances present themselves and have to be accounted for before deliberation is closed.  The more these qualities are portioned out and distinguished in multiple frames the more likely they are to clash and contrast with each other when applied to a particular case; thus, the more likely one is to notice the unique specificities of the case (and the inadequacies of the frame) if they do not fit with one's presuppositions (and if they do fit - great!).

Although, having said all of that, the rationalist imposition of a 'frame' or 'mode' from the outside is certainly a limited metaphor and I'm not totally convinced of my own words.  Here's another attempt to make basically the same point - through Plato, believe it or not.  That post reads much more like an anthropologist's method: immersion in a culture, gradually figuring out the contours by slow acculturation.  But the goal is the same: becoming sensitive to a wider range of nuances in the world.


  1. not sure that this is how it actually plays out when we are working on actual projects, part of why I think we need other folks to raise differing interests/ points-of-view, differing ways of working, and have some way that we can make room for varying prototypes (and or eventually hybrid/bricolaged models) to see what produces what (we cannot know ahead of time when we will be taken in by something new and so should make allowances for such possibilities even if we rarely are converted)
    Part also of why when our means allow we need some more experimental research that isn't as constrained by time and other resources as a public works project, or medical procedure, or such might call for.

  2. I think it very much depends on the subject matter. My interests, as I mentioned before, tend towards the global/international. To even think the global is to invoke a panopticon of sorts - a vantage point from which we 'see everything' but see it very partially, very badly. Different kinds of abstraction are needed for different knowledge practices. Ethnomethodology isn't always self-sufficient and the 'architect's desk' is a place where we have to spend some time if we are to think e.g. the global. There is no other way to create 'portals' to the local and concrete across large distances - no other way of linking the pixels of the map to particulars of the world.