reply to Dan Foss

Thu, 13 Jan 1994 22:39:24 CST

Dan and friends,
Jesus man, when you get on a roll, you really ride on slicks. That one
was one of the more awesome pieces I've seen in lo these many years. As one
of those people who has gotten a lot of mileage out of the naive observation,
I am reassured that you caught me at my own game. With the cat out of the bag,
and with only some of the ramifications of the interpretive prerequisites for
believing that one has experienced something (or observed someone else
experiencing something)--I think we all agree that the idea that there could
be any human experience innocent of conventional interpretation--let me just
make a brief plea for the naive. It seems to me that 'experience' is one of
those terms in social science that is most useful comparatively in its naive
sense. Some years ago, I was charged with organizing a symposium on "knowledge
in Oceania." Because only Jane Goodale and I actually wrote and circulated
our symposium papers, I got angry and pulled out of the session. If I were to
organize a comparative symposium on epistemology today, I would take experience
as the ethnographic focus, asking ethnographers to make sure that the paper
somehow addressed the relation between experience and knowledge (however that
term is defined in the specific community). I probably wouldn't ask anyone to
address revelation as a contrastive idea. The reason is that the term is so
loaded down with psychological baggage that it is nearly impossible to use it
as an ethnographic focus for the process of reavealing something to someone,
e.g., 'Look under the table next to the stove--you'll probably find it there.'
It has been almost impossible to discuss revelation in a naive sense in this
thread--it always gets folded into one or another manifestation of obsession.
What I'd probably do is simply to propose that each ethnographic contribution
present data (that word again!) on ideas that contrast in some important way
with experience as a way of knowing (or at least of acquiring information--
knowledge and information may be different in some societies while identical in
others). The point--experience in its most naive sense is useful comparatively
but only if you're prepared to be hard nosed about demanding its specifications
and this only in the context of collaborative effort. No paper, no discussion.

Mike Lieber