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February 28, 2018


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Deep State Special Legal Counsel

Did I miss something here? How can this be so complicated? If it is no longer factual, it is fiction and should be shelved next to James and the Giant Peach. For a cutesy, polemical, fun story, I read Grisham not an ethnography...

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Permit me to use this post to ask a belated question regarding the book, which I recently had an opportunity to browse through but plan to read in full at a later date. I may be wrong, but it does not appear you saw fit to discuss what philosophers, or epistemologists in particular, mean by "testimony" as one form of knowing or knowledge, preferring to use it in largely a legal sense (broadly speaking), which is not to say the philosopher's concept (or their conceptions) doesn't overlap with that legal use. I think this deserves further exploration (especially if there's a second edition). Perhaps this was by design, I don't know, but I think it would be interesting to compare how the manner in which ethnographers understand and use testimony comports with and differs from philosophical treatments of same, and not only by way of raising possible normative questions of one kind or another. For those new to this literature, one might consult the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on the "epistemological problems of testimony" by the late Joseph Adler, as well as several well known works in the field, commencing with C.A.J. Coady's groundbreaking examination, Testimony: A Philosophical Study (Clarendon Press, 1992). Since Coady, there has been several more books essential to the topic (e.g., by Sanford Goldberg and Jennifer Lackey respectively). In addition, testimony is now an essential subject in the growing field of social epistemology (which builds upon traditional agent-centered epistemology), leading to such things, for example, as the notion of "epistemic justice" (Miranda Fricker).

Steve L.

That is a fair question, Patrick. The point of the book was to suggest some means by which ethnographers could test, and therefore improve, their accuracy. I therefore stayed in my own wheelhouse.

Other forms of knowing are important, but pretty much beyond my scope.

To the extent that ethnographers are exploring epistemological questions of testimony, they need to make that explicit, which for the most part they do not. There is an analogy (but only an analogy) here to the hearsay rule, which applies differently to truth claims than to "state of mind."

The great virtue of ethnography is claimed to be close observation and thick description of real people in reach situations, so I offered fact-checking as a starting point.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Thanks Steve. I suspected as much ... and I wholeheartedly agree with this: "To the extent that ethnographers are exploring epistemological questions of testimony, they need to make that explicit, which for the most part they do not." Here's a case where, after the late philosopher Roy Bhaskar, philosophy can, along the lines of pragmatist philosophers like Dewey and Putnam or a "critical realist" like Bhaskar, perform an indispensable "under-labouring" function (a metaphor borrowed from Locke) for (in this case, a social) science (Bhaskar himself also envisaged this role for practices of human emancipation). One part of this function, if we aim to achieve "thick description of real people in reach situations," should include, I believe, some measure of "explicitness" regarding one's assumptions and/or working model of moral psychology. And given the positivist state of much of current psychology, at least here in the states, that psychology will have a "humanist," "existential" or "psychoanalytic" orientation or provenance, and yet again benefit from the work of philosophers (e.g., A.O. Rorty).

Deep State Special Legal Counsel

This debate here regarding ethnographers and their definition of facts, testimony and philosophy reminds of this great line. "It all depends on what the meaning of is, is."

The bottom line, is what does an ordinary consumer of an ethnography bargain for?

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