Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 1.1.2 A hermeneutical position

1.1.2 A hermeneutical position

The work with the empirical material is about identifying the concept of shame and how it shows itself as a phenomenon in a variation of ways within the context of a Norwegian Incest Centre, with the perspective of expanding and verifying some of the theoretical aspects of shame which I have chosen as significant in this dissertation. The analytic strategy I have used is what Kvale (1997) calls a reflective and hermeneutical inspired interpretation of meaning. This hermeneutical point of view is based on Gadamer (1960/2004) who argues that the individual human being is a historical individual being, present in the world, formed by prejudice and characterized by traditions in a lived life. Prejudice is a part of our pre-understanding with both pro’s and con’s, because we interpret the world we live in which we have no or little knowledge of and therefore have difficulty to preceive. Gadamer (1960/2004) argues that this pre-understanding becomes a horizon of understanding which is re-evaluated every time we receive a new understanding of something. He argues that we can only interpret ourselves, our environment and stories of past experiences, through the joining together of horizons. When horizons melt together they change the existing horizon, a new horizon occurs. All understanding is, in my opinion, dependent of the joining together of horizons and their relation to stories from the past. New understanding is created in my opinion in an interaction between pre-knowledge and what is shown to us. 

Hermeneutic according to Gadamer, seeks in my opinion to re-establish the importance of our preunderstanding, prejudice and tradition in three steps. The first step is by re-reading Husserl’s argument that all understanding of an object is an understanding of the object as something. All understanding involves using a meaning which the object does not have in it self. One can not see the back side of a tree, but through experience one knows that the tree has one side one can not see. One internalizes each side of the tree as a side. Being prejudice means having a judgement of something before having all possible facts first. Prejudice can be confirmed or weakened by putting it into play and through new experiences. The second step in this re-establishment is done by using what Heidegger (1926/1962) calls the pre-structures of understanding. Martin Heidegger (1926/1962) writes in Being and Time (chapter 5, §32) about understanding and interpretation and says that even before one starts to interpret a text one has placed it in a certain context (German: Vorhabe); one comes to the text with a certain perspective (German: Vorsicht) and perceives the text in a certain way (German: Vorgriff). Heidegger says that there is no neutral perspective one can take in order to study the so-called “real” meaning of a text. Hans-Georg Gadamer (1960/1975) also writes in Truth and Method that the scientific way to approach data is to put it in a certain context and that this involves having a specific attitude toward it. Heidegger’s (1926/1962) calls this for being thrown into the world. This thrownness into the world brings us to the third step in re-establishing our preunderstanding, prejudice and traditions. Gadamer locates our understanding in the interest of the subjective interpreters, or which Heidegger calls the structure of care (German: Sorge). This caring structure is situated in history. The elements we bring with us when we are thrown into the world are developed within the historical tradition we belong to. Our understanding is therefore conditioned by prejudice from both what can be accepted immediately because it is well known for us, and in what is disturbing because it is new for us. In both cases, what a generation believes and presumes has its roots in what previous generations have formulated and presumed. Our understanding is not just a product of individuals and society, but also of history. This is what Gadamer calls the effect of history (German: Wirkungsgeschichte). This is a power which traditions have upon those who belong in it, and is so powerful that is has an effect even though we reject it. Our understanding is therefore not entirely subjective, because it is grounded in the effects of history. Gadamer argues that all understanding is always an interpretation, and that meaning is always a melting together of horizons. The horizon of human beings in society and history melt together with the horizon of individual histories, which make possible an understanding of sexual abuse as an experience. This means in my opinion that each person’s historical and linguistic situation does not represent a hinder for understanding, but a horizon or perspective which makes understanding possible when put in a historical context. The words one uses and the stories one tell of the effects of ones past history (as with stories of shame in the context of sexual abuse), does not make a limit of ones understanding, but instead constructs an orientation which makes understanding possible in the first place.
 Kaare T. Pettersen

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