Thursday, February 7, 2013

The role of ideology and norms in the exchange of experiences

The origin of the concept of the idea of life-stories, as a method of retreaving facts, comes from the illumination. It is traced back to the difference between Erlebnis en Erfarung. Erfarung is a narrative, or reasoning about an event one has experienced.
The difference between the two is the manner how this event is thought about. This thinking is in general a product of the dominant epistemology, as it is only in the framework of ideas which are consensus ideas, that one is able to communicate with oneself and particularly with others about the event. To be considered as a “reasonable” interpretation of the facts, the reading of those facts has to be according to the norms between those which it is communicated. If it is to be considered as something agreeable by “everyone”, it has to be reasoned according to the consensus epistemology or ideology.
The “liberal” difference, dominant in bourgeois society, but also the dominant in biographies as a method of scientific thinking and research between Erlebnis en Erfarung, is one of rationalization, where the rationality of the reasoning is the consensus in the society. If someone interprets an event outside of the consensus of rational rules, the reasoning is not accepted. As an example, serves the young immigrant who has to tell “his history” in front of a French jury in order to get a permit to stay in the country; an emotional translation of these events or a theological translation would not be admitted; although it could make perfectly sense for the immigrant.
It is clear that is not always necessary the case. In pre-bourgeois western societies, theological thinking for example was the dominant form of thinking. So the interpretation of an event would only be considered as valid if it would be according to the theological consensus. The interpretation of an event would be considered as “a miracle” or “the will of God” for example, reasoning that today would be considered as invalid. Scientific reasoning on the other hand was considered as foolish, as Copernicus for example learned the hard way.
As long as there is a consensus about norms, if there is a ruling ideology due to stable power relations in a social conflict, - as a social (class)-compromise, or due to uncontestable power - then an “erlebnis” can only be acceptably translated into an “erfahrung” according to those norms.
It also explains why intercultural or interclass exchange of experiences - experiences here are “erfahrungen” - are generally very difficult because there is no epistemological consensus between them. If there would be a consensus, it would mean that one has accepted the norms of the other.  This means that translation is only possible with the acceptance of universal rules of communication, and thus in accordance to the domination of certain norms over others according to the power relations between both.

* These thoughts were inspired by a seminar about biographies by
Christine Delory-Monberger, and the following debate at CES 7/2/2013

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