Serendipities, active listening, Bourdieu

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Wed, 1 May 1996 14:44:31 +0900

Dear Colleagues,

A curious thing has happened.

Some days ago I offered a list of the active listening skills
taught to telephone counselors as a model for anthropological
fieldwork. Yesterday, my mail included the latest issue of
Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 13, No. 2, May 1996, which
contains, among other interesting articles, a theoretical
rationale for what I was talking about, "Understanding" by
Pierre Bourdieu, pp. 17-37. The following paragraphs are from
pages 18-19.

"The positivist dream of an epistemological state of perfect
innocence has the consequence of masking the fact that the
crucial difference is not between a science which effects a
construction and one which does not, but between a science
which does this without knowing it and one which, being
aware of this, attempts to discover and master as completely
as possible the nature of its inevitable acts of construction and
the equally inevitable effects which they produce.

"A Non-Violent Form of Communication

"To seek to know what one is doing when one sets up an
interview relationship is, first of all, to seek to know the
effects one may unwittingly produce by that kind of always
slightly arbitrary intrusion which is inherent in this special
kind of social exchange (chifly by the way one presents oneself
and presentsthe survey, by the encouragements one gives or
withholds, et.); it is to attempt to bring out the representation
the respondent has of the situation, of the survey in general, of
the particular relaitonship in which it is taking place, of the
ends it is pursuing, and to make explicit the reasons which led
her to agree to take part in the exchange. It is in effect only
through measuring the extent and the character of the
distance between the objective of the enquiry as perceived by
the respondent and as viewed by the investigator, that the
latter can attempt to reduce the resulting distortions. At the
very least this implies understanding what can and cannot be
said, the forms of censorship which prevent the voicing of
certain things and the promptings which encourage the
emphasis of others.

"It is the investigtor who starts the game and who sets up its
rules: it is most often she who, unilaterally and without any
preliminary negotiations, assigns to the interview its
objectives and uses, and on occasion these may be poorly
specified -- at least for the respondent. This assymetry is
underlined by a social asymmetry which occurs every time the
investigator occupies a higher place in the social hierarchy of
different types of capital, especially cultural capital. The
*market of linguistic and symbolic goods*, which is set up in
each interview, varies in structure according to the objective
relation between the investigator and the investigated or,
which is the same thing, between the capitals of all kinds --
especially linguistic capitals -- with which they are endowed.

"Taking into account these two inherent properties of the
interview relaitonship, we have sought to do all in our power
to control their effects (without claiming to eradicate them) or,
more precisely, *to reduce as much as possible the symbolic
violence which is exerted through them.* We have tried
therefore, to instigate a relationship of *active and methodical
listening*, as far removed from pure laissez-faire of the the
non-directive interview as from the directiveness of the
questionnaire survey..."

I highly recommend reading the whole of this piece to those
with an interest in the relationship of science to
understanding, of which we have said and heard so much in
recent threads.

John McCreery
May 1, 1996