Tuesday, December 13, 2005

i think i finally got it!

a colleague writes...

"Objectivity is not mere culture. Objectivity is "making individual sensory experiences social experiences."

And this is where the rub is...how those sensory experiences are transformed into social experiences. as each of us is embedded in different social realities, mediated by differing linguistic and experiential histories, there can not be universal agreement on what those "sensory experiences" are. Furthermore, it is a SOCIAL process in which they become "social experiences," even when this occurs within us.

IMO, any SOCIAL process is inherently contextual, inherently cultural, inherently definitional — these limitations, by their definition, deny any kind of sense of universal objectivity. Now, this is not to say that we cannot suspend our own bias, prejudices, beliefs, etc., when we are conducting an analysis. Furthermore, this is not to say that others when reviewing our methods, engaging in the same suspension of these things, agree with our findings that we have not achieved something that is commonly called "objectivity." What we forget is that this notion of objectivity is defined, through cultural means — it is a process that we engage in, a process of bracketing (if you will). It is still bounded by cultural/inguistic parameters, however; if it were not, we would never know if we achieved it.

It is assumed that objectivity is a particular stance that is somehow inherent in any situation, i.e., it is there and can be accessed if one simply looks for it or aligns oneself with it. It is assumed that this stance is independent of any other considerations, a "univerally true" assessment of what is under observation. Presumably, when learning how to do science, one learns how to access this objectivity in any situation. How? By letting go of preconceived ideas, suspending beliefs, etc. Note that in order to attain objectivity, we must DO something; it is not a "natural state." In fact, it is supposedly an unnatural state, hence the need for extensive training ob how to conduct reserach. If we look at the process of how objectivity is achieved, however, we notice that we can never be sure if we have actually attained it and that others will attain the very same stance that we attained when conducting our observation.

I guess what I am saying is that it seems to me that unviersal objectivity, when considered phenomenologically (and how else COULD it be considered), is essentially what Husserl referred to as the transcendental ego. From my reading of this idea, it is purported to be something that exists independent of culture, as objectivity, in its purest definition is.

If, however, we must go through a bracekting process to get to it, and everyone else who is interested in attaining objectivity must go through the same bracketing process, how then do we know that whomever is interested in observing the phenomena that we did, bracketed the same things that we did? We don't and we can't.

I am not suggesting that we abandon the heuristic of "objectivity," but merely note that it is not as fool-proof nor as "universal" as we think it is.

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