Reductionism (in communication)

I had written half a post about the Urban Excess symposium I went to last week, but I am a bit distracted with exploring some new work I found out about and putting together this paper on the ethics of a social inclusion agenda for a postgrad mini-conference. After the symposium, and as a result of working out what I want to say in this paper and at my confirmation, I have once again been thinking about reductionist accounts.


In the first years of my BA I really struggled with writing readable essays. I guess I still do in some way, but I found it so difficult to work out how to make use of what I had read to make my own argument without misappropriating the existing work. It was clear that the lectures that were the easiest to take something from were ones where the lecturer had given an unashamedly reductionist account of theories/ perspectives. It took me time to realise that sometimes you have to get on with what you want to say, even if this means you might be getting it wrong.


When I was first thinking about my project, I wrote about it using intentionally reductionist language. I felt like if I could start off thinking about categories that clearly did not map onto real life, then I would be able to work out what I was trying to find out about real people. This did earn me the odd ‘telling off’ in conversations when this language slipped into how I spoke about my project. However, I was only told off by people who did not seem to have a lot of close up experience of the issues I am exploring.


In some of my conversations with key people ‘on the ground’, I realised that they also used this reductionist language. It seemed to me that they used this language not because they seemed to believe the social world was reducible to those categories, but because naming such categories can allow us to get on with the conversation. Does a deep understanding of what is going on give us the right to be reductionist?


Getting what you are trying to say down to a clear statement will necessitate bracketing out some of the contextual information and your own uncertainty. Words come as already packaged up bundles of meaning, and I think you have to have some pretty special talents to be able to express yourself without them (i.e. creative responses). It just seems unfortunate that the packages of meaning I can use in ‘academic language’ suit my questions (and agendas) much better than any I can really use in ‘applied’ contexts. Is it fair for me to expect all audiences to share in my uncertainty, or am I expecting something impossible? Does this mean that I should not be trying to translate my unsettled ideas into plain language until I am sure what meanings I am happy to have attached to them?




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