Theorizing and Self-Recovery [sayings]

"In contrast to conventional methodological moralism, my own view is that one fundamental reason social theorists commit themselves to a specific theory is precisely because this theory seems "intuitively" right to them, well in advance of any systematic empirical test given to it; and it seems right because it is consonant with their own "experience," which is to say because it recovers and congenially resonates the popular theories and deeper paleosymbolism into which they had been socialized.

"The theory seems right because it recovers and is consonant with their experience; and because it enables them to live without contradicting what the theorists take to be their own personal experience. A theory that is felt to be right, however, also transforms the theorist's deeper paleosymbolism--hitherto residing only in his subsidiary awareness--by shifting it into focal awareness. In that sense, the new technical theory serves to validate and resituate fundamental aspects of the theorist self. Social theory, then, is a recovery of self, however much it may be formulated with positivistic false consciousness as only a discovery about the world.

"Articulate theory or ideology is a liberation of a structure of belief and symbolism alienated within the theorist; in short, theory-making is in part a recovery and a liberation of the theorist's suppressed self. Which may explain why so much of theory-making (and science) is so often experienced by the theorist as a kind of "birth." He does not commonly regard his theory as a mere intellectual artifice which he himself has invented, but as something more nearly akin to a "delivery" or recovery of something that was already "there." The point of my remarks above is that, often enough, what the theorist will in time inevitably encounter is--himself. Technical social theory is thus often nothing less than the theorist's self-consciousness disguised as rationality.

"Paradoxically, however, the theorist almost immediately proceeds to alienate this self-awareness by casting it in terms of received technical traditions. He must, that is, deny that his knowledge is in part a recovery of some aspect of himself and is based upon his personal experience. He proceeds with all speed to conceal his personal involvement; he denies that his theory is rooted in a personal knowledge, by socializing this knowledge in a grammar of a technical tradition, thereby objectifying it. Having given birth to his child, the theorist denies that it is his.

"And in some part, he is right. For the popular theory and deeper symbolism the theorist recovers and reworks is not his own personal invention, but that of the culture into which he was born. It is not "his" in the further sense that "he" does not nearly possess or use it but he is in part possessed, constituted and shaped by it. Like the germ plasm borne by people, this anterior culture is only ambiguously "theirs"; they mediate it rather than invent it; are shaped by it, even before they actively and selectively transmit it. The theorist's work then is not simply that of research but also that of recovery."

-Alvin Ward Gouldner (wiki)

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