Archive for the ‘Knowledge Production’ Category

Knowledge production questions: More lessons from Feminism and Post-co

I often like to say that when reading any text one must always ask: under what conditions did it arrive to me, and under what conditions was it written?

After the overview of the contributions of feminism to scholarship, especially strong objectivity I would add 3 more questions to ask of any text.

Who is this written by? Who is this written for? And who is this written about?

The first is the easiest one, locating the author, his position in society, relations to power structures, his world-view and structures of privilege that he is embedded in. The second one is more difficult, this is not just about the audience of the text, but the body that has commissioned or funded the text. Or even indirectly about the social questions that this text seeks to relate to. Answering the question of why states go to war for example is written for states, for heads of state in particular with a conception of power as domination and security as state boundaries. The second question, who is this for, is the most important one I think. It gives a lot of insight into the choices that a scholar makes to represent the world. Finally who is this about. This question is also more nuanced than simply saying it is about one country or a group of people. This is from post-co, when colonial scholars write about the colonized they are not writing neutrally, they are writing for a certain purpose (based on what they think is important) but also about a certain subject. The terrorist, the native, the savage. This is to say that the subject is not a neutral objective category existing in real life, rather it is the referent to which the author is pointing to which is far less multidimensional than the real thing. The Egyptian peasant for example as a subject is not a person, but a class of actor seen as a particular representation of something the author has in mind, In this case it might be poor, backward, superstitious, stagnant … This is particularly true when we write about the decontextualized subject.

So back to the first two points, Under what conditions did this arrive to me. This is particularly important when reading classics like Hobbes, Thucydides, or lets take Weber in this case. Weber was introduced by Parsons as a counter to Marx, thereby emphasizing the culture/ non-material parts of his work. How did the text I am reading now come to reach my hands, who kept it safe, who translated it, why did they do this. What was the publishing house, what role did the editors play, what language was it in, what format does it come in… This and a whole number of other questions are important to know before starting to read any text. Who is introducing it into the present and for what purpose. What role do they hope that this scholarship has to play. What are the structures and social conditions that allow this scholarship to emerge as it is when it gets to me. This is related to post-colonialism as a label and definition. It should not however be taken as an excuse not to look at the content but rather to supplement our understanding of it.

The second point of under what conditions was this written, I now find has parallels with the Cambridge school of history, a text is never an absolute statement, when it is written it is written for a particular interlocutor, for particular problem spaces, and in relation to existing texts and conditions at the time which it is responding to. Hobbes was writing in the English civil war, Marx under sharp industrialization and the beginning of capitalism. This holds true for contemporary writers as well.  The first part of this point is to look at the context under which the scholar was writing, what political and social issues were important, was the author under duress, in poverty, in wealth … The second part as per the Cambridge school is to focus on the meaning of terms used at the time, who is the author directing his work towards, what questions seem to be important, even pressing a response. Has he been embarrassed by a colleague or is he in heated debate. Is the author in a political party or a government position.

To sum up: Of any piece of produced knowledge we must ask the following: Who is this for, who is this by, who is this about, under what conditions did it reach me, under what conditions was it written.