Re: [xmca] Actants, Greimas, Levi-Strauss

From: Martin Packer <packer who-is-at>
Date: Mon Jul 09 2007 - 17:53:13 PDT

>From Amazon:

In 1952 at Princeton University, Harold Garfinkel developed a sociological
theory of information. Other prominent theories then being worked out at
Princeton, including game theory, neglected the social elements of
"information," modeling a rational individual whose success depends on
completeness of both reason and information. In real life these conditions
are not possible and these approaches therefore have always had limited and
problematic practical application. Garfinkelıs sociological theory treats
information as a thoroughly organized social phenomenon in a way that
addresses these shortcomings comprehensively.

Although famous as a sociologist of everyday life, Garfinkel focuses in this
new book‹never before published‹on the concerns of large-scale organization
and decisionmaking. In the fifty years since Garfinkel wrote this treatise,
there has been no systematic treatment of the problems and issues he raises.
Nor has anyone proposed a theory of information like the one he proposed.
Many of the same problems that troubled theorists of information and
predictable order in 1952 are still problematic today.

On 7/9/07 7:05 PM, "Tony Whitson" <twhitson@UDel.Edu> wrote:

> Thanks, Martin,
> It's helpful to learn that Latour draws Greimas into this ontological
> dimension--and that he recognizes this as a mediation (deformation?).
> Interesting that you would bring up Garfinkel in this connection. I've
> just been informed by that his Sociology of Information is
> supposed to be shipped tomorrow (six months after the announced date for
> this first-time publication of the book). WorldCat
> ( )
> shows it's listed now in only four library catalogues (2 UK + Taiwan +
> Singapore) but I don't know if any of them have it physically yet. It's
> #2,139,034 in sales on amazon.US, so maybe I am the first purchaser. Poor
> Garfinkel has the tough luck of publishing the same time as the last
> volume in the Harry Potter series. Maybe he'll have more luck with the
> movie version.
> I was not going to mention the book here before I actually had a chance
> to look it over, but since you brought it up ...
> Among other interests, I expect I'll get fresh insights bearing on the
> info-mation vs. in-formation issue.
> I don't know if it is "too great a leap," but the boxing discussion
> certainly is interesting. One thing it brought to mind is the master/slave
> dialectic in Hegel. Of course we mainly think of this in terms of two
> human combatants, but the slave's freedom emerges partly from sensual
> engagement with the material world through labor. Maybe this drama should
> be retold with more attention to elements of the boxer's story. (FWIW,
> I've also wondered about considering the struggle of Anne Frank and her
> tutor in this connection.)
> On Mon, 9 Jul 2007, Martin Packer wrote:
>> Tony, your linking of Latour and Greimas surprised me, so I've been digging
>> around and you're quite correct. It seems that Latour has drawn on Greimas'
>> structural narrative analysis in his construing of science-in-action as a
>> struggle of almost mythical proportions, with 'trials of strength' and so
>> forth.
>> But there is still an ontological dimension, I think. In an interview Latour
>> says "But then I add to this implausible semiotics a still more implausible
>> ontology, and strangely enough, the whole thing, instead of being a complete
>> mess, ends up being reasonable, even common sense!" Don't ask me to
>> articulate the 'common sense' here, but he seems to be proposing that
>> actants, both human and non-human, emerge from ongoing practice. That nature
>> and society, in fact, emerge from practice. This is arguably the
>> "interaction order" approach of Garfinkel and others.
>> This may help us think about tools (and signs). Rather than starting with a
>> blind man and a cane as two entities, better two understand both as emerging
>> from a single ongoing course of practical action.
>> Perhaps this is too great a leap, but I stumbled across an interview with
>> Loic Wacquant, student of and then collaborator with Pierre Bourdieu, in
>> which he describes his fieldwork on boxing in Chicago ('Body and Soul'). He
>> has some nice phrasing which captures (a la Merleau-Ponty) the embodied
>> character of practice and the ontology of transformation:
>> He speaks of the "silent pedagogy that transforms the totality of the being
>> of the fighter by extracting him from the profane realm and thrusting him
>> into a distinctive sensual, moral, and practical cosmos that entices him to
>> remake himself and achieve (masculine) honor by submitting himself to the
>> ascetic rules of his craft."
>> And he quotes Bourdieu's 'Pascalian Meditations': "It is because the body is
>> (at different degrees) exposed, put into play, into danger in the world,
>> confronted with the risk of emotion, hurt, suffering, sometimes death, and
>> thus obliged to take the world seriously (and nothing is more serious than
>> emotion, which touches on the innermost depth of our organic dispositions),
>> that it can acquire dispositions which are themselves openings to the world,
>> that is, to the very structures of the social world of which they are the
>> embodied form."
>> Here too is a mythic conception of our engagement in the world, from which
>> particular subjects and objects emerge, dance briefly on stage, and then all
>> too often disappear again.
>> Martin
>> On 7/8/07 4:17 PM, "Tony Whitson" <twhitson@UDel.Edu> wrote:
>>> In putting together a couple final posts on toolforthoughts, I noticed a
>>> post early in the thread (pasted below) from Paul Dillon re: Levi-Strauss
>>> which is actually very much related to "actants," so I thought I'd call
>>> attention to the connection.
>>> As noted in my post below, "actants" are part of Greimas' theory of
>>> narrative structure (not of ontology). Greimas' work here grows directly
>>> out of that of Propp (and others) on the structure of folk tales, for
>>> example, which builds directly and explicitly on the structuralism of
>>> theorists such as Levi-Strauss, following Saussure.
>>> So folk tales, like totems, are toolforthoughts in a sense that's
>>> independent of such things as computers, although computer technology may
>>> now give rise to a situation that opens questions of the sort posed by
>>> Shaffer & Clinton.
>>> --------------
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> Tony Whitson
> UD School of Education
> NEWARK DE 19716
> _______________________________
> "those who fail to reread
> are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
> -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
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