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Rambo on Table-Dancers
October 4, 2006 4:05 PM   Subscribe

The Work of Carol Rambo. (Warning, these articles are all PDF or .doc format.) Carol Rambo is a professor of sociology who paid her way through school by working as an exotic dancer. Rambo has written articles on the sociology of strip clubs, drawing upon her own experience as an exotic dancer. In one article, Rambo writes about "the discourse of deviance" that exotic dancers use to "organize their identities" in a process Rambo calls "narrative resistance." In another article, she writes about the concept of old age as it affects exotic dancers. In a third article, drawing upon her own experiences as a "table dancer," Rambo writes about "Interactional strategies that table dancers use to cultivate counterfeit intimacy," and she concludes that dancers manage to "carve out an autonomous niche in an otherwise oppressive context." Also interesting is her article on growing up as the daughter of a mentally retarded mother, "On Loving and Hating My Mentally Retarded Mother."
posted by jayder (54 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cue a reprise of the "fucked in the head" coversation?
posted by Artw at 4:30 PM on October 4, 2006


"On Loving and Hating My Mentally Retarded Mother" is fascinating. I took a break from writing grant applications and reading reams of academic literature to read it, and despite severe scholarly overload on my part, it was still actually enjoyable. I look forward to reading the other articles.
posted by Ricky_gr10 at 4:32 PM on October 4, 2006


I've always wanted to know what it was like to be a cognitively normal child of a retarded parent.

Very moving. Very moving.

Thank you for posting that.
posted by jason's_planet at 4:36 PM on October 4, 2006


The retarded mother thing seemed interesting. The abstract made it seem turgid academa-babble:
ABSTRACT
This article explores why I love and hate my mother. It is a retrospective and ongoing participant observation of the phenomenon of being the daughter of a mother with mental retardation. In it, I make use of a layered account, an experimental, postmodern, ethnographic reporting format which enables the researcher to use as many resources as possible including social theory, lived experience, and emotions. By using my own experience, I explore, through first person narrative, the complex issues and emotions involved. My conclusion is that the situation is fraught with ambivalence because my present interactions with my mother are cast in the light of a past where my mother simultaneously neglected and protected me.
posted by orthogonality at 4:52 PM on October 4, 2006


I can barely get through the article about her mother - how some people can experience such horrifying abuse at the hands of their parents (she was rtaped by her mother and her father) is beyond my ability to comprehend. Jesus.
posted by tristeza at 4:52 PM on October 4, 2006


So was the term learning disability not common parlance in the USA back in 1997? For an assistant professor of sociology, I would have thought that using the term mentally retarded was a bit like using the n word?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:01 PM on October 4, 2006


What the hell - double spaced Courier? Was she trying to meet a minimum-pages length requirement or something?
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:02 PM on October 4, 2006


orthogonality - the first person narative parts of it are the meat of it. The academic-speak can largely be skipped. Be warned: Some of the early portions are quite intense.
posted by Artw at 5:07 PM on October 4, 2006


This article explores why I love and hate my mother. It is a retrospective and ongoing participant observation of the phenomenon of being the daughter of a mother with mental retardation. In it, I make use of a layered account, an experimental, postmodern, ethnographic reporting format which enables the researcher to use as many resources as possible including social theory, lived experience, and emotions.

postmodern, eh. So is sociology a science or a form of literature? Somebody needs to make up their mind.
posted by delmoi at 5:11 PM on October 4, 2006


I'd contend that for the casual reader it probably works bets as a work of autobiographical literature with some skippable academic fluff attached. Myself excepted MeFites all seem to be fans of House Of Leaves, and so should have the required skills for deteremining the nonesential bits and skipping them.

And as i mentioned before, if you actually do read it you're going to come to a bit that's really, profoundly fucked up.
posted by Artw at 5:23 PM on October 4, 2006


From her C.V.:

Her primary research interests include exotic dancing, childhood sexual abuse, incest, and mentally disabled parenting.

Anyone notice what these "primary research interests" have in common? Yes, that's right: Dr. Rambo herself! Give me a freaking break. Couldn't at least one of her "primary research interests" have been about something other than herself?

Apparently not, because, as it turns out, everything is about her. From one of her papers:

Namastee, as a greeting, pays tribute to the idea that each of us has an inner light, an inner experience, an energy that is the same. We are bodies which contain awareness. If we are still and unafraid, when we gaze into each other’s eyes, deeply, we can connect with that knowledge and feel it. We are one. Everything that leads away from this awareness is movement away from love and connection and ultimately towards fear.

Carolyn Ellis’s Autoethnography leads me back to myself, penetrating the barriers and illusions I live inside which seem to tell me I am different and alone.


Yep, it's the same tired old new age crap. Big surprise: everything leads her back to herself! This lady loves her some me.

Given her traumatic background, I hope this new age nonsense is helping her cope as best she can, but the idea that this pop-psych self-help garbage belongs at a university is absurd.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 5:32 PM on October 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


ikkyu2 writes "What the hell - double spaced Courier? "

Pretty standard manuscript format, no? I wonder if this has been formally published.

PeterMcDermott writes "So was the term learning disability not common parlance in the USA back in 1997? For an assistant professor of sociology, I would have thought that using the term mentally retarded was a bit like using the n word?"

I think it's still current in the medical and academic contexts, though it's probably best avoided informally. I think the alternate term you're looking for is developmentally disabled. Learning disabilities are something else.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:35 PM on October 4, 2006


Artw writes "orthogonality - the first person narrative parts of it are the meat of it."

Yeah, I read most of it. But I still didn't really get a sense of what a retarded person is like, up close and personal. It's something I've been interested in for some time. (The abuse, while riveting and no doubt of greatest impact on the author, overshadows the description of "mere retardation".)

I've always been interested in how thinking differs for people of different intelligence levels. Is smarter just faster, or is it different algorithms? It's sort of Nagel's question, but less radically.

What's it like to be really smart, or quite average in intelligence, or retarded, from the inside? (What's it like to be a genius bat?)
posted by orthogonality at 5:37 PM on October 4, 2006


(On a personal note, in the spirit of Rambo's work, I figure I'm less smart than I once was, but it's hard to articulate to what degree, or how.)
posted by orthogonality at 5:39 PM on October 4, 2006


mr_roboto is correct. A person of normal or even superior intelligence may have a learning disability.

On the other point -- the terminology is changing. For example, the AAMR is changing its name from the American Association on Mental Retardation to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. This isn't nearly so much because it's considered a slur as because it's considered less precise now that we have more and better diagnoses.
posted by dhartung at 5:40 PM on October 4, 2006


I'm not a sociologist so I don't know how the paper compares to scholarly sociological works, but there are some interesting observations in the "Aging Table Dancer" paper regarding the options for strippers who want to stay in the business when they find themselves getting a little saggy.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:50 PM on October 4, 2006


Interview with an older stipper who has turned to prostitution:

"Well, you see, I got my regulars. I got their phone numbers.
When I go to a new bar, they follow me. I give ‘em a call. When you start out, well, you’re young, you know what I mean. You can handle their crap. Out of all those guys you meet you find a few you treat “special” and they stay with you. You saw me with that one guy yesterday? [I nod agreement] Well he gave me five hundred dollars. Now later today I’m expecting Sam in. He’s usually good for a hundred or two between his Friday and Saturday visits. Even if I don’t see another customer all week, I’m set for a while. You follow this? [I nod]."
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:54 PM on October 4, 2006


So have we looked up Dr. Rambo on http://ratemyprofessor.com ?
posted by craniac at 6:10 PM on October 4, 2006


So have we looked up Dr. Rambo on http://ratemyprofessor.com ?
9/30/05
Deviance
I don't have the words for how absolutely amazing she is. You will not regret taking her class. Sign up, you'll thank me later.


9/9/05
Deviant Behavior
Carol is a great teacher. I loved her class and hope to take some grad level classes from her when i get around to finishing school.

8/31/05
Indv/Society
One of the best teachers I have ever had.
There's one neutral and one 'frowny' but neither of them left a comment.
posted by delmoi at 6:43 PM on October 4, 2006


Pretty standard manuscript format, no? I wonder if this has been formally published.

Ronai, Carol Rambo. "On Loving and Hating My Mentally Retarded Mother." Mental retardation 35.6 (1997): 417-32.

This journal is published by the American Association on Mental Retardation.

Many, many more publications of scholarly articles in journals and anthologies, as well.
posted by Ricky_gr10 at 6:54 PM on October 4, 2006


Towards this end, I use a "layered account" format (Ronai, 1997a; 1997b; 1995; 1992) as a means by which to convey the experience of being the daughter of a mother with mental retardation. In interactionist terms (Blumer 1969), many voices contribute to the construction of my "self." I am an assistant professor, a mother, a wife, a friend, the daughter of a woman with mental retardation, and the daughter of the diagnosed sexual psychopath who raped her. These voices can be thought of as emergent identities whose boundaries are unclear. Each voice contributes to the dialectic that comprises my "self;" yet each voice shapes the others, bending, merging, blurring, and separating again as I move through social space.

Alternately, you could have said "I told a story." But made-up labeling, quoting yourself, and pure bullshit works just as well, I guess. Goddamn. Man will not be free until the last semiotician is strangled with the entrails of the last postmodernist.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:31 PM on October 4, 2006


I agree with your criticism, OC, but it's not exactly fair since it's completely required to write in such a fashion to be published in a scholarly journal, and that's not this particular author's fault.
posted by mek at 8:01 PM on October 4, 2006


To echo what's already been posted, the term "retarded" is generally accepted within the community, though most bemoan its informal use (as in "Dude, that's so retarded"). I'm certainly not an expert, but I have done some work with the retarded.

The question of nomenclature was one of the first questions I asked. I was told that it's an accurate term and, perhaps more importantly, that not all retarded people are developmentally disabled. I am not sure of the distinction myself, but I can attest that there are an amazingly wide variety of skills and attributes among people considered "retarded." This one guy, in particular, had an encyclopedic knowledge of SNL trivia. He even went as far to refer to the casts as administrations. My favorite example of his was when he would refer to certain years as "The Nealon Administration" (as in Kevin).
posted by dhammond at 8:18 PM on October 4, 2006


Wow, what a great, fascinating collection of links.

This woman has led an interesting life and certainly experienced the source material first hand that most sociology grad students have only read about.

Good find.
posted by huskerdont at 8:30 PM on October 4, 2006


I agree with your criticism, OC, but it's not exactly fair since it's completely required to write in such a fashion to be published in a scholarly journal, and that's not this particular author's fault.
posted by mek at 8:01 PM PST on October 4


That article is a Rembrant in a Wal-Mart frame: I hate to see interesting things awkwardly shoehorned into a format that is totally inappropriate, and this is one of the worst offenders I've ever seen. Her topics of study are fascinating but I find them light on actual science and way heavy on literally meaningless jargon. Anyone trained in postmodern rhetorical techniques, who is not wrapped up in the academic setting, can easily see that it's pointless fluff.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:44 PM on October 4, 2006


It seems to me that to say a person is "mentally retarded" is like saying they are "physically ill", in that it gives you a broad grasp of their probable symptoms, but tells you nothing about specific causes, specific capabilities and incapabilities, and what methods of interacting with them (if any) might be best for them and you.

I think mental retardation is more akin to a mental illness (a faulty mind) than to a simple deficiency (the mind lacks some essential component). For example, a fault in the process of cognitive dissonance: when a person discovers their memories do not accord with proven fact, they are to some greater or lesser degree emotionally disturbed by this realization. If that disturbance is sufficiently intolerable, it would interfere with learning. Pain leads to avoidance.

Another possibility: a fault in memory-making, where the sufferer might hear every word of a conversation, and react sensibly at the time, but more than a few minutes later the conversation is remembered only as a few words punctuated by unnoticed gaps (like frame-skipping), or by a fantasy conversation which changes from recollection to recollection. Result: diminished ability to recall facts, or distinguish fact from fantasy, and thus coherently learn.

Practically any kind of mental dysfunction, or physical dysfunction with mental consequences, could contribute to a "learning disability". People who are born blind and/or deaf are at risk of becoming mentally retarded adults due to lack of intellectual stimulation - but the same goes for far more subtle conditions.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:55 PM on October 4, 2006


Social work has been plagued by the attempts of personally wounded people attempting to sort out their own issues through (or at least while engaged in rearranging) other people’s lives. I can’t imagine that this kind of objectivity-crippling experience does any good for academia, either. Now a guest speaker, sure.
posted by dreamsign at 9:12 PM on October 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


"The frames I drew on to make sense of my mother's identity and
my own came from the normal places-- family, friends and neighbors-
- and some not so normal places like social service agencies and
the research literature. It is difficult to separate out and label
these various influences. Because of the layered account, I was
not forced to. It enabled me to use many of the resources
available to me that, had I stuck with a "scientific" mode of
inquiry, I would not have been able to share with a reader."
That's good enough for me. I'm alright with taking her presentation and drawing my own conclusions.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 10:33 PM on October 4, 2006


Social work has been plagued by the attempts of personally wounded people attempting to sort out their own issues through (or at least while engaged in rearranging) other people’s lives.

Also religion. But on the other hand, it's well-established that helping others with their problems can be very therapeutic for one's own. At least, it gives you two insights: (1) There is always somebody worse off than yourself. Even if you are on fire. While this does not objectively diminish your own problems, it will subjectively diminish them, making the task of dealing with them seem (and therefore be) easier. (2) Time spent not thinking about your problems, because you're distracted with those of other people, allows your subconscious to work on your problems undisturbed.

The main difference between making an academic study of people who have problems like one's own, and just plain helping out people who have problems like one's own (most drug counsellors are former addicts, for example), is that competent academic study drains the lake of ignorance a little bit for everybody, while competent practical help bails out a few, or a few dozen, or hundreds of individual sinking boats.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:35 PM on October 4, 2006


The majority of people I know who are involved in the healing arts have themselves suffered a physical set-back that led them to investigate and adopt a particular practice.
posted by asok at 2:27 AM on October 5, 2006


So was the term learning disability not common parlance in the USA back in 1997? For an assistant professor of sociology, I would have thought that using the term mentally retarded was a bit like using the n word?

It's the pond thing again - USians use 'learning disability' where those in the UK would use the name of the specific diagnosis (dyslexia etc). UKians use 'learning disability' to refer to what is known as 'developmental disability' in the US (and intellectual disability and cognitive disability elsewhere). (Disclaimer: I wrote the wiki article).

I think it's still current in the medical and academic contexts, though it's probably best avoided informally. I think the alternate term you're looking for is developmentally disabled. Learning disabilities are something else.

mr_roboto is correct. A person of normal or even superior intelligence may have a learning disability.


This is why the nomenclature is changing, and why 'mental retardation' is being phased out in the US as it has (long ago) everywhere else in the world. Mental retardation is a strict, IQ-based diagnosis, but developmental disability is determined by an individual's need for supports. You can have a 140 IQ and still have a developmental disability.

Very interesting links, jayder, thanks. Most parents with learning/developmental/intellectual disabilities have their children removed, so it's interesting to see another side. (And most of the strippers I've met have been students, but not many have made their work their field of research!)
posted by goo at 4:30 AM on October 5, 2006


I've got to disagree with all the fashionable post-modernist bashing going on here. Now, I hate Derrida as much as the anyone who went to undergrad in the decadent 90s. But she is not just telling a story or engaging in new agey self-referential indulgence in the article about her mother. To be sure, it is mostly a first-person account, but it engages directly with a body of academic literature on objective (and sometimes quantifiable) phenomena: effects on children of mentally retarded parents; female participation in sexual abuse; etc. To discard the academic value of the paper as "fluff" is to suggest that case studies have no role in social science.

You can learn about social phenomenon through objective experiments and quantification; but you can also learn through narrative accounts by people who have lived through the phenomenon. Just because those narrative accounts may also be good "stories" doesn't mean that they have no other purpose or value.
posted by footnote at 6:20 AM on October 5, 2006 [2 favorites]


The grandmother was certainly no prize either. Remarkable that Rambo turned out as well as she seems to have done.

Since we're all focusing here on the text, I'll add my $.02: I think that she is quite a good writer, academic fluff notwithstanding, and I won't be a bit surprised if some trade editor manages to trim the academic bits from that paper and publish it in expanded form as another "my miserable childhood" memoir.
posted by scratch at 6:34 AM on October 5, 2006


To discard the academic value of the paper as "fluff" is to suggest that case studies have no role in social science.

Really? Mostly what I see it that she's merely explaining the structure of the paper you're reading. There's certainly no data to speak of.

Also it's amazing she's not a serial killer or worse, seeing as how her entire childhood was spent in the hands of three horrible, hideous people.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:38 AM on October 5, 2006


There's certainly no data to speak of.

There's no data because it's a narrative case study about herself and what happened to her -- that's the data. And she cites to what appears to be the relevant academic literature at the relevant places.

Look, I can't vouch for the value of this particular paper to social science, because I'm not a person who studies mental retardation and sexual abuse. You'd have to ask them if the paper is valuable. All I'm saying is that it's wrong to say that narratives/case studies have no role in learning.
posted by footnote at 6:45 AM on October 5, 2006


footnote : "Just because those narrative accounts may also be good 'stories' doesn't mean that they have no other purpose or value."

The way I was interpreting Optimus Chyme's comment is not that "stories have no other purpose or value", but that "stories have purpose and value. You don't have to call stories 'a "layered account" format...as a means by which to convey...in interactionist terms...many voices contribute to the construction of my "self."...emergent identities...contributes to the dialectic...move through social space' in order to give them gravity or explain their use.

Am I interpreting you correctly, Optimus Chyme?
posted by Bugbread at 7:36 AM on October 5, 2006


"carve out an autonomous niche in an otherwise oppressive context" ?= "rationalize your situation"
posted by lodurr at 9:16 AM on October 5, 2006


Just skip the Abstract. That's just one paragraph and by far the least important one in a *fifty* page paper. The rest of the article about her mother is a tightly written, astonishing, sad and moving piece of literature.
posted by storybored at 11:36 AM on October 5, 2006


No halfway intelligent person ever needed to read a sociology article in order to learn that the "conflict between customers' goals and strippers' goals" creates an atmosphere of "counterfeit intimacy" in strip clubs. For that matter, no one even needs to visit a strip club to figure that out. All you have to do is think about what is motivating the various parties to do what they're doing. I've never been to a strip club, and I could have told you that they traffic in counterfeits of intimacy.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 11:42 AM on October 5, 2006


Oh but Thomist, it's conclusory just to say that strip clubs traffic in counterfeits of intimacy. The point is to describe what those counterfeits consist of and how they are made -- some people are interested in the variety of human experience, you know.
posted by footnote at 12:54 PM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's so weird that jayder posted this because I talked about her work recently at the LA meet-up.

So have we looked up Dr. Rambo on http://ratemyprofessor.com ?

I took one of her classes during my undergrad years; the class was Sociology of Deviant Behavior, & she was going by Dr. Carol Ronai then. Her class was always interesting, & I looked forward to going to class every day, which is rare during summer school. Her exams were definitely interesting too because most of the questions referenced "Star Trek."

I haven't read through the links yet, so I may have more to comment upon later. She did talk about her experiences in class often so I'm sure at least some of it will sound familiar.
posted by Four-Eyed Girl at 1:34 PM on October 5, 2006


footnote wrote:

The point is to describe what those counterfeits consist of and how they are made

I agree. And that's why there are novelists.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 2:41 PM on October 5, 2006


Thomist why would we need a novelist to explain what goes on in strip clubs if we can, as you suggested above, just think really hard about what the actors' motives are and figure it out for ourselves? I think that you really just don't want to hear about it at all -- and that someone has written about it in a scholarly way really bugs you even more.
posted by footnote at 3:20 PM on October 5, 2006


I suspect it's not that he doesn't want to hear about it, but he finds it obvious and thus uninteresting. Hence the "that is why there are novelists" comments, as novelists generally try to write things in an interesting way. I'm not necessarily agreeing with him, but I think that's what he's getting at, not that he doesn't want to hear about strippers at all.
posted by Bugbread at 3:36 PM on October 5, 2006


Am I interpreting you correctly, Optimus Chyme?
posted by bugbread at 7:36 AM PST on October 5


Yeah.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:07 PM on October 5, 2006


So is sociology a science or a form of literature? Somebody needs to make up their mind.

Funny you should mention that. One of my pet theories over the last few years is that as "literature" retreats from addressing the concerns of real people, people who are not under an obligation to read the stuff to get a Ph.D. and becomes more inscrutable and experimental, people have turned to the social sciences and nonfiction (and, of course, movies and television) to get their narrative fix.

So, yeah. Sociology papers would read like short stories or novels. Because a lot of the stuff being marketed as short stories and novels is so piss-poor.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:32 PM on October 5, 2006


footnote said: Thomist why would we need a novelist to explain what goes on in strip clubs if we can, as you suggested above, just think really hard about what the actors' motives are and figure it out for ourselves?de

The generalizable conclusions of these papers are trivial and can be arrived at by just thinking about the situation. What is non-trivial (and certainly interesting) are the particulars of how the counterfeit intimacy gets worked out, and these details are not generalizable. Such details are better conveyed through straightforward narratives (either fictional or non-fictional) rather than through pseudo-scholarly pomo jargon.

As several people in this thread have pointed out, once you strip these papers of the pseudo-scientific bullcrap, you find some dynamite stories. The jargon doesn't add anything. I'm all in favor of people reading and writing interesting stories (and non-fiction narratives) about aspects of human experience that I will never personally encounter. But it is silly to pretend that such narratives are genuine scholarship, because the generalizable conclusions from such "research" are completely trivial. Novelists and essayists perform an important cultural function, but the place for them to perform it is not the university. The purpose of a university is not to produce interesting and engaging cultural artifacts; that's the job of the culture that hosts the university. The purpose of the university is to increase and transmit human knowledge. Which these papers, interesting as they are, fail to do, because the generalizable conclusions of these papers are, as no one who has read them can deny, trivial.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 9:10 AM on October 6, 2006


Re. "sociology as literature" (or vice versa)....

One of the big reasons that people try to make a "science" out of certain things is to take away the capability of those things to hurt them.

In particular, becoming a "participant observer" is a great way to alleviate anxiety about participating in something about which you have reservations. And it's a solution with a time-honored tradition of application across many, many difficult contexts: Not just sex-related trades or offenses, but warfare, confidence games, genocide...or, for that matter, all kinds of difficult or frightening things with good but distant ends, like climbing a mountain, running a great distance to get help after an accident, or working very hard for something that's important.

It's basically of a piece with depersonalization. It's a point on a scale.

What she seems to me to be doing is basically writing novels and calling it research. I'd rather read the novels. As research, it is too easy to take it too seriously; as novels, it would be more honest, because it wouldn't be pretenting to be science.
posted by lodurr at 12:20 PM on October 6, 2006


Is anybody here commenting actually a social scientist? That Rambo's writings make good reads doesn't mean they don't make good social science too. What does it matter to social science if the lay reader would rather read social science articles without the "jargon"? Incommensurate worlds.
posted by footnote at 12:56 PM on October 6, 2006


footnote: That Rambo's writings make good reads doesn't mean they don't make good social science too.

The question of what makes for good social science has been around a long time, and won't be resolved in this thread. But to my knowledge, no one in the course of that ongoing controversy has ever claimed that being a "good read" is incompatible with being good social science. You are arguing against a straw man.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 3:29 PM on October 6, 2006


Someone needs to introduce the figure of Howard Becker, the grand old man of qualitative social science in the US. Anyone who thinks there is a simple dividing line between a story and an "objective" social analysis and explanation is ignorant of about 50 years of social theory, or an ideological positivist.

Becker, in *Tricks of the Trade* (if you only ever read one work of social science theory, make it this one), makes very clear why every theory can and should be tested in the form of a story, because it was conceived as a story, and because stories are the most common way people "theorize" their experience. (The scare quotes aren't necessary in my social scientific universe.)

That it not to erase the line between social science, anecdotal journalism or casual narrative, and fictional literature/orature. But it is to argue that stories are so central to the organization of human thought, and thus to sociality, that to posit a distinction between story and social fact is to falsify the empirical reality of social life.

Sincerely,

A practicing social scientist.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:54 PM on October 6, 2006


fourcheesemac: stories are so central to the organization of human thought, and thus to sociality, that to posit a distinction between story and social fact is to falsify the empirical reality of social life.

I agree entirely, but think your point should lead us all to reconsider the scientific aspirations of social "scientists". Once one sees that the empirical reality of social life is itself always already cast in narrative form (since telling stories is just what human beings do), it becomes hard to see why "social scientists" should be expected to have any better insights into social reality than do novelists and journalists. And Dr. Rambo's papers are a perfect illustration of this point: to the extent that they are insightful, they could have been written by a novelist or a journalist. To the extent that they articulate and attempt to defend jargon-laden claims about "social theory" (whatever the fuck that might be supposed to be now that we know social reality is always already in narrative form), they are vapid and boring postmodern navel-gazing.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 8:12 PM on October 6, 2006


It's another subject for another day, but eminent theorists, including any "hard" scientists, believe that scientific explanations even on the molecular or particle level are organized as stories. While stories are a human thing, we are also the knowers.

It is unquestionable that research in the natural sciences is guided by narrative structures. A nice example of this argument is the work of feminist physicist Evelyn Fox-Keller.

As for evolutionary biology, the first presentation of any theory begins "Back on the savannah . . . ." Once upon a time, folks.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:59 AM on October 7, 2006


fourcheesemac: It's another subject for another day, but eminent theorists, including any "hard" scientists, believe that scientific explanations even on the molecular or particle level are organized as stories.

Some do, some don't. (I assume you meant to say "many" instead of "any".)

Everyone agrees that research is guided by narratives. (Those who draw the "context of discovery"/"context of justification" distinction are especially eager to acknowledge this fact.) Not much follows from this about what the criteria are for good explanations. There's been a lot of work done on the concept of explanation in the philosophy of science (and in the sociology of science, where lots of exciting, non-trivial work has been done), and it very much overstates the case for you to say anything stronger than that some eminent theorists believe that scientific explanations are organized as stories. Most do not, unless you intend to make agreement with you a condition of eminence.

In any case, whatever one's conception of the relationship between narrative and explanation, any fair-minded reader has to conclude that Dr. Rambo's papers don't offer much in the way of non-trivial explanation. Dynamite narratives, yes. Compelling explanations, not so much.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 10:51 AM on October 7, 2006


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