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context building : a constructed/constructing cultural world?

  • Don Handelman, “Symbolic Types, the Body, and Circus,” Semiotica 85:205-225

“The idea of symbolic type originated with the phenomenologist Richard Grathoff (1970). He contrasted it to the role type, or social role in conventional usage. The concept of role is elemental to any analytical formulation of human beings in concert. This concept emphasizes that although persons know one another through normative conventions, roles are also constructed through interaction. Conventions are coded within roles and indicate ideal parameters of sociation for the reproduction of an integrated social order. However, roles are continuously modified and produced anew through interpersonal give-and-take, through negotiation. Constructed through others, roles are always constituted through perspectives that combine 'Self' and 'Other.' This follows from Mead's (1962) idea of 'taking the role of the other' as the basis of social life. Therefore, the mutual tending of roles to one another in interaction also changes social order.

The role is a locus of dialectical contradictions. These tensions within roles are controlled and elaborated through the higher-order integration of context. As its etymology implies, 'context' connotes a thrust or momentum toward the orchestration of disparate characters, themes, and behaviors. Their 'weaving together' enables the coexistence of normative stricture and the practice of give-and-take Ñ and therefore reproduces the division of the 'ideal' and the 'real,' without their synthesis. In mundane reality, context directs the interaction of roles in concert. Context has holistic properties.

Grathoff was concerned with conditions in which context did not hold and fell apart, and where roles either did not have the capacity, or were too conflict-ridden, to reintegrate order. These were conditions of what he called social inconsistencies, whose more extreme manifestation was that of anomie. He argued (1970:120) that in these conditions, 'socially significant structural contours became blurred, vague, and finally entirely elusive. Mutual clarification of thematic fields and reciprocal constitution of [roles] … which had been possible before, no longer succeeds … The situation cannot be united into a context.' The integration of cultural thematics and social order unravels, social action loses its relevance to routine reality, and irreducible contradictions stare forth. Put otherwise, the holism of context is fragmented, and there is no functional equivalent to replace or supplant this mode of integration.

Here, argues Grathoff, symbolic types appear. they '“tie” the mediate presentations of context together so that a common thematic field can be maintained' (1970:122). The symbolic type can resynthesize disorder. I stated above that the symbolic type is always a living, performing body of being. It is a body that is embodied with a logic of being that, to paraphrase Mary Douglas (1971, 1973), is made in the image of versions of culture and social order. The Concise English Dictionary (Hayward and Sparkes 1982) defines 'embody,' in part, as 'to form into a united whole; to incorporate; to unite, coalesce.' The embodied being can function as the equivalent of context, regardless, of the scale of the latter, since there are no limits on the significance attributed to the body.”

(extracts, pp. 205-9)

: as position-taking/making in a field of positions

  • Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on art and literature, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993. Chapter 1.

“To understand the practices of writers and artists, and not least their products, entails understanding that they are the result of the meeting of two histories: the history of the positions they occupy and the history off their dispositions. Although position helps to shape dispositions, the latter, in so far as they are the product of independent conditions, have an existence and efficacy of their own and can help to shape positions. In no field is the confrontation between positions and dispositions more continuous or uncertain than in the literary and artistic field.” (61)

“In short, it is not a question of choosing between participant observation, a necessarily fictitious immersion in an unfamiliar milieu, and the objectivism of the “distant gaze” of an observer who remains as remote from himself as from his object. Participant objectivation undertakes to explore not the 'lived experience' of the knowing subject, but the social conditions of possibility (and therefore the effects and the limits) of that experience and, more precisely, of the act of objectivation. It aims at an objectivation of the subjective relation to the object, which, far from leading to a relativistic and more or less anti-scientific subjectivism, is one of the conditions of scientific objectivity.” (3)

: as discursive construct

  • Foucault, etc

: as scene

“One tries after the event to assign to the latter any meaning, to find any possible interpretation. But there is none possible, and it is only the radicality of the spectacle, the brutality of the spectacle that is original and irreducible. The spectacle of terrorism imposes the terrorism of the spectacle. And against this immoral fascination (even if it engenders a universal moral reaction) the political order can do nothing. This is our theatre of cruelty, the only one left to us, extraordinary because it unites the most spectacular to the most provocative. It is both the sublime micro-model of a nucleus of real violence with maximal resonance – thus the purest form of the spectacular – and the sacrificial model that opposes to historical and political order the purest symbolic form of challenge.”

: role-playing

  • Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, Chapter 1.

“I have been using the term 'performance' to refer to all the activity of an individual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on the observers. It will be convenient to label as 'front' that part of the individual's performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance. Front, then, is the expressive equipment of a standard kind intentionally or unwittingly employed by the individual during his performance.” (22)

: in time

  • historical, legendary, mythical context

: in space

  • Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 1969, Boston [Mass.]: Beacon.

: in ritual

  • Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and anti-structure, Cornell University Press, 1969, Chapter 4.

“The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae ('threshold people') are necessarily ambiguous, since this condition and these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space. Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial. As such, their ambiguous and indeterminate attributes are expressed by a rich variety of symbols in the many societies that ritualize social and cultural transitions. Thus, liminality is frequently likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness, to bisexuality, to the wilderness, and to an eclipse of the sun or moon.” (94)

: [in relationality (all of the above)]

  • networks
    • technological
    • hereditary
    • machine-elves

Libarynth > Libarynth Web > ContextBuilding r3 - 28 Jul 2003 - 05:51

context_building.txt · Last modified: 2007/06/08 18:50 (external edit)