Friday, May 08, 2009

The Grammar of Author-Date (4)

On Wednesday, I suggested that Foucault 1972 was not the best reference for the claim that "organizational members structure their experience of reality through discourse". By "Foucault 1972" I presumed we* meant "The Discourse on Language", which was published as a postscript to Pantheon's 1972 publication of the The Archaeology of Knowledge. But we might also have mean that whole book.

Jonathan was right (in the comments) to point out that that is a pretty narrow claim to attribute to a whole book. I would add that the claim is not made anywhere in the book. And this is where the demand for a page reference becomes important; that, at least, would make it possible to decide whether I'm right about this. As I read him, Foucault is not talking about how individuals (and certainly not "members" of "organizations") structure their experience. Revisiting the book tonight, I want to say that Foucault's point is that subjective experience is utterly unstructured by discourse. What Foucault is interested in what makes people able or unable to speak of their experiences, not what conditions them to have those experiences.

Compare a claim like "people construct their reality in social interactions" which would standardly be referenced to Berger & Luckmann 1966 (i.e., The Social Construction of Reality). Now, that whole book is certainly an argument for the claim being referenced. But if we add simply "through language", we would be obliged to tell the reader where in Berger and Luckmann's book they make that claim, and this would give us an opportunity to be a bit more precise. Is language a necessary part of the construction of reality? Is it something we merely sometimes use to that end?

Now, suppose we had said "through discourse". At this point I would begin to hesitate. How much did Berger and Luckmann actually say about "discourse" and did they mean by that in 1966 what we post-Foucauldians mean by that today? That's probably how the reference to Foucault 1972 came into play. We wanted to say "discourse" and we wanted to mean what Foucault meant. We then forgot that Foucault hadn't made the claim we were making.

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*This is such a small detail that I'm not mentioning names. So I'm just assuming we're all in this together. You and I, dear readers, and the authors who wrote the original sentence.

8 comments:

Presskorn said...

Good post!

One comment:

The passages in The Archeology of Knowlegde (1972) that such authors think of, when they are stating experience to structured by discourse, are probably passages like this:


"I would like to show that discourse is not a slender surface of contact, or confrontation, between a reality and a language (langue), the intrication of a lexicon and an experience; I would like to show with precise examples that in analysing discourses themselves, one sees the loosening of the embrace, apparently so tight, of words and things, and the emergence of a group of rules proper to discursive practice. These rules define not the dumb existence of a reality, nor the canonical use of a vocabulary, but the ordering of objects. 'Words and things' is the entirely serious title of a problem; it is the ironic title of a work that modifies its own form, displaces its own data, and reveals, at the end of the day, a quite different task. A task that consists of not - of no longer treating discourses as groups of signs (signifying elements referring to contents or representations) but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak." [The Archeology of Knowlegde, p.54]

But true; let practices form the objects of which they speak or what not, it still seems that Foucault leaves the question about whether experience is utterly unstructured open. Unlike you I wouldn't say that he is asserting that experience is unstructured; rather he is saying that that ”the living plenitude of experience”(p. 54) – whatever it might be – is irrelevant to the method of his investigation.

This, however, is exactly where organizational theorists often go wrong in describing Foucault's position on discourse and experience. They are confusing a methodological demand on a certain form of investigation with a statement about what discourse REALLY is or does. But in all fairness to these writers, avoiding slipping from one to the other is of course one of the hardest things in academic writing.

(I my own Wittgensteinian writing I often slip too, since there is no such things as 'language games' either. The notion of a language game is merely an analytical tool designed to make certain features of language perspicuous.)

BTW, I've heard of Berger&Luckmann 1966 and Berger&Luckmann 1967 lots of times, but never of Berger&Luckmann 1968. The point is of course to reference the edition you're using, but I don't think there is an edition from 1968. But I dunno.

Thomas Basbøll said...

What are you talking about "1968" my post clearly says 1966. ( ;-) thanks for the headsup. I was working from memory and hadn't checked.) More later.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Yes, a similar same mistake is made by readers of Wittgenstein. Like you say, "language games" are taken as rules that govern what words mean, i.e., explanations of linguistic behaviour. In fact, of course, Wittgenstein wasn't trying to explain anything.

So we might find, for example, a sentence like "People structure their experience of reality through language games (Wittgenstein 1954)." As if Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations presented a psycho-linguistic theory.

In this case, we have people reading Foucault as a kind of phenomenologist or sociologist of knowledge or even social psychologist. That argument can, of course, be made. But not of the Archaeology.

In any case, we would need to make the argument and cite the relevant passages of the Archaeology. Perhaps more importantly, we'd have to display our awareness that we're reading Foucault very much against the grain.

Presskorn said...

Wittgenstein 1953... ;-)

Thomas Basbøll said...

Yes, indeed. Wow.

Presskorn said...

Yes, it is indeed a bit amazing that the authors of such organization theory articles do not cite sources that clearly support their conclusions about experience by being structured by discourse/language.

They might cite, John McDowell, Mind and World, 1994, which actually supports this claim.

But a reference to McDowell seems quite unimaginable in an organization theory journal, while Foucault is a "must".

I am not suggesting that the authors are following a cynical maxim along the lines: Better politically correct than just correct.

It is more like that the habitus of contemporary organization scholars will systematically have excluded them from having even read McDowell.

(The aritcle in question - Google is helpful in these things, you know... - nevertheless seems very "openminded"; it is probably as close as you get to an organization journal article that actually could have cited McDowell.)

On a completely different note about language games. I sense some Cavellian influence when you say: “… "language games" are taken as rules that govern what words mean, i.e., explanations of linguistic behaviour. In fact, of course, Wittgenstein wasn't trying to explain anything.”

As Cavell states in Must we say what we mean?, which I believe you have cited before on this blog: “Everyday language does not, in fact or in essence, depend upon… a structure and conception of rules”(Cavell, MWM, p.48)

The whole thing is, however, a bit more complicated with regard to Wittgenstein. E.g. “Following according to the rule is FUNDAMENTAL to our language game.”(Witt., RFM, VI-28, capitals original)

Actually, I am writing about rules, presently, in my dissertation, which I will hand in 14 days time. I am thinking about thanking you/your blogs in the preface, if it is alright with you? You/they have always been either very helpful or a nice distraction.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I think the language/discourse distinction is important here. (Perhaps the language/game distinction in that other pesky sense.)

It would be easier to argue that language "structures experience" than discourse. But even here, I would argue that language just IS the structure of experience (i.e., language in general, not any particular language).

Good work finishing that thesis! I have no objection to being thanked. Nor do my blogs.

Presskorn said...

Yes, I agree. The language/discourse-distinction is key, so perhaps there is indeed some sense in organization theory not referring to McDowell. But when McDowell or Quine (perhaps like you) says that experience is relative to langauge, then they don't mean only relative to some sort of ontologically primary langauge, untainted by discourse (But, e.g., Favrholdt's theory of ”fundamental language” would say something like that). They mean language as such, and that includes discourse. It's just that McDowell or Quine have not at all been concerned been with how institutional settings shapes experience, i.e. with what we would call 'discourse'.