The Analytical Rules of the Method in Social Sciences(IV) The postulate of meaning of the actions

If there are actors, then there is no alternative to recognizing that actions do have meaning for them. What do we mean with the above? A statement very simple: That every actor requires a map of the world, have distinctions and rules that relate those distinctions to be able to move . To be able to do anything, an actor has to define that there are things of kind A and things of type B (let’s say pears and apples), and that these different things relate differently with other themes (say, the pears are more sweet or I like less the apples). Without that map of the world, an actor cannot develop actions. Therefore, every action has meaning for the actor –the one that is given by these distinctions, and by those relationships. Another way of referring to the rule is that the actors always are able to describe the action they are performing.

In other words, when we are faced with an action, communication or social practice, we must start from the hypothesis that she had felt for the actors. Can the actors themselves find that such actions are inadequate, or that they would have preferred to perform other actions in the past. But what we cannot do is to argue is that the action per se did not make sense.

The above is relevant because it marks one of the distinctions between an approach of social sciences and other approaches. If we want to understand and describe the actors we have to start from the idea that their actions have meaning. But it’s not always what interests us is to understand and describe, in particular, often we are interested in assessing the action. A temptation very strong in those moments is that the work of critical delete work description: How that action seems to us to be deplorable, then we are not interested in the logic of the actor. In fact, we can come to the conclusion that to understand the logic of the actor is part of a project to justify the unjustifiable. It is important not to lose sight of the importance of the logic of the actor, and that this does not prevent to develop the approach evaluative .

To use an example relatively light, think on the subject of consumerism. Many of those who are approaching the topic of consumption, they do so from a critical perspective: thinking of the ills that consumerism brings in the society, and in particular how the most vulnerable groups falling into this trap: The poor end up doing greater consumption that it can sustain and therefore, end up in a life full of debts. What we want to highlight is that unless we can understand the meaning of consumption for the actors, we will not be able to understand the dynamics that are behind this result. It is not simply that people have high levels of debt and consumption without which the people do not know what they are doing, and the risks that it takes. Debt is an option thankless (the economic culture popular has always had the dream of ‘not encalillarse’), but the functions and meaning of consumption to become a relevant option: A television requires to borrow, but allows free time relatively cheap, and building a home more enjoyable (that protects you from the dangers that are out-of-home). An automatic washer has a strong meaning of abandonment of poverty, that hand washing symbolizes (Catalan 2005). We are able to raise, applied to Chile, the results of the study of Miller in England, that the daily consumption of the purchase of supply (the supermarket), it is a way in which it is exercised and manifested the ‘love of family’ (Miller 1998). More in general, through the consumption for low-income groups can manifest themselves out of poverty, and therefore do not see it as consumerism, the shopping, the middle classes without perceive as consumerism in them. (Van Bavel and Sell-Trujillo 2003). Premunidos of those tools we can go back to worry about the consumerism, but we need to understand that is what happens with the actors.

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Like any affirmation, the former has to be understood in its correct span. That the actions of the actors are not internal sense does not mean that the sense is to reduce to a sense aware of the actions: we Require that you be able to make distinctions, do not be aware reflectively of all their distinctions and all the relations that have these distinctions with others. It does not mean that sense is a sense of ‘rationally’ correct: that the actors have all available information or to draw all the consequences correct that information. Using the alternative formulation that we propose: The fact that the actors are able to describe the action they perform does not imply that they are able to explain it or give a full description which gives account of all aspects relevant.

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In other words, stating that the actions have meaning, and that it is relevant to take them into account, it does not imply to reject the idea that the descriptions of the actors are incorrect or insufficient, and that in general the descriptions of the actor does not have primacy over those of the researcher (which should overcome the ‘theoretically naïve’ actors ‘ to Bourdieu or Levi-Strauss). To understand the relationship between the postulate and this theme of the primacy of the descriptions of the actor or the analyst, it is necessary to analyze in greater detail the type of knowledge the actors have of the social life: What elements of social life are transparent, known, by the actors? What elements of social life are opaque to them?

Significant aspects of social life are transparent to the actors. If you distinguish between formal dress and informal, and established that the formal is held at the work –with the exception (or not) of Friday; then to be able to use it require get to know her and to know how to apply. Participate in the practice required to know how to apply it (the reflections of Wittgenstein and Winch on it means to follow a rule is relevant in this respect). Ultimately, the actors can point to when not met. In relation to the practices and actions, the actors know what they are doing, and in relation to this, then the description of the actor has primacy: the analyst may prepare, provide more clarity (and translate to other contexts) those meanings.

But the social life is not composed only of meanings. The network of social interactions and their consequences is full of meaning (Fuhse 2009), but will not be reduced to sense. An actor does not necessarily know all the ramifications of the social networks of the practices in which they participate, or of the transfer of resources to its interior, or of the effects (specific and aggregated) that they have. In fact, you have to remember that not necessarily know the meanings of the practices in non-participating: you can have ideas, but do not necessarily have the knowledge required to be a part of it. In other words, the network of social relations is opaque to him. Therefore, in this field, the description of the actor does not have primacy over that of the analyst, and the ‘theory native’ can be adequate or inadequate as a description of that aspect of the social life .

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For example, subjects know the meanings of the work, and can point you in that sewn for behaving as a ‘good worker’ Now, what are the real possibilities of finding work, the effectiveness of the various strategies, the situation of the context in this regard is something that may or may not know each other; and the concepts they develop about it does not necessarily have any relation with what happens .

This implies an interaction between these levels and how it applies to the topic of the meaning of the action. For example, Bearman (1997) shows us that the standards are raised explicitly by the members of an aboriginal tribe, australian marriages do not account for the dynamics of real existing in this regard: The rules are rather theories of the actors to explain what happens, and what really explains the dynamics is the character gerontocrático of this tribe. The meaning of the action appears around the participation of the practices have these effects: the members of that tribe if they know when there is marriage, and know how to express deference and to give authority to the people of age, if you know how to make distinctions at around the age of the people. The sense of those actions is what produces effects which, in this case, were unknown to the actors.

Although not everything in social life is the meaning of the action, we cannot describe the social life without taking into account that there is sense in it, and that the interactions are produced by actors who necessarily give sense to their actions.

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