Theorising experience – two observations

Lately I have been reading two books which, although are quite unrelated in their subject matter; have led me to the same insight. Let me start off with two casual observations, that perhaps you may or may not agree with.

1. When you look at a women’s magazine today, it features pictures of attractive women. When you look at men’s magazines today; they feature pictures of attractive women.

Of course there are a great many caveats to this crass observation. But for the sake of brevity let us continue.

2. The United States would never invade a country that has a McDonalds.

I have been reading The Lolita Effect by M. G. Durham; and The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (of No Logo fame). Both of these books read as polemics and both are critical analyses of the status quo. The one successful thing that I found that holds between both monographs, as well as social science in general; is how a theory can be made around a social observation; or rather, how reality is sought to fit into a theoretical construct where we may understand social conduct in terms of certain forces or agencies at work. I am reminded, as an analogy, of Kant’s notion of perceptual knowledge having a strict desideratum of being matched to theoretical concepts.

For Kant, perception does not make sense until we actively join the percept to a concept. This concept is a higher genera concept that can account for specificities. In the context of perceptual content; we may visualise something and put it under certain metaphysical and other categories before we can say “this is a cloud”. With sociological data, however, which is mediated in a way that differs from perception (which one may say is immediate to cognizance, by comparison); we are still impelled, by the norm of proper understanding, to make a theory or hypothesis fit social phenomena.

The success of social analysis comes when our hypothesis finds instances of confirmation or disconfirmation. With Klein’s thesis, she addresses very complex historical cases. Klein asserts that, following the influence of Milton Friedman and his academic associates and students, a certain neoliberal economic doctrine has been put forward and tested after human and natural catastrophes, Klein refers to this as the Shock Doctrine.

The hypothesis goes something like this. After a disaster situation happens, there is a certain period of mourning that goes on through the general public; which has potential for serious legislative, policy and economic changes in favour of a neoliberal/lassez faire/capitalist agenda, which are largely ignored due to the catastrophe. Klein compares the following events as being part of a social experiment of the ‘shock doctrine’: The coup d’etat of Pinochet in Chile; the September 11th 2001 bombings; Hurricane Katrina and the US occupation of Iraq. While there is a great deal more detail to the analysis, Klein establishes her thesis by pointing out the similarities and overall unity (namely, the Friedman connection) of these events as part of the ‘shock’ observation.

Durham’s Lolita Effect draws from a great body of evidence, ranging from textual analyses of teen magazines, to public health reports and medical papers, not to mention a great deal of theoretical and empirical work from cultural and media studies. While the virtues of social science method are much like their natural science cousins; there is a similar epistemic imperative between the two which should not be ignored. that imperative is, within nature, we see unity and try to establish an understanding of nature viz an ontology of forms, taxa and laws insofar as similarities can be found. These things are essential to theory-construction. Within the domain of social science, the imperative of proper understanding also impels us to construct theories which not only assists our moral agencies in the apprehension of phenomena which may be morally significance; but theory construction serves to unify various insights that hitherto seem unrelated, and having a greater second order apprehension over such propositions serve to make these social observations more understandable.

Michael

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