Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Koan in social sciences

Kōan in Zen-Buddhism is a story or sometimes an action that is used to instigate enlightenment. The closest equivalent in Christianity would be Christ's parables.

In social sciences, as in theology, we need to deal with complex intangible phenomena that nevertheless profoundly affect our lives. Often there are no names for them, or some kind of names need to be introduced to help the conscious mind deal with such a complexity. Good examples would be culture of fearstructural violence or governmentality. They may come across as self-important inscrutable gobbledygook to those who have never pondered over complex process that make up our social life, but should quickly make sense to those who have. I've seen people having those lightb-ulb moments many times.

Sometimes one name is just to small to contain the whole web of relevant meanings, so we resort to parables or metaphors. The point is not in them per se, but in the truth at which they hint at. One of my favourite ones is about the all-too-oft misunderstood Lacan's mirror stage. Just like Budhist kōans it helps overcome binary thinking, analysing realities by way of binary opposites.

It seems to work for some and for many the spark just never ignites. We get answers to the level of our questions, forsooth.

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