the NEW and the recombined

Wed, 26 Jan 1994 12:34:44 CST

The new, unprecedented event and the new combination of events are not mutually
exclusive categories of explanation. Homer Barnett's account of innvoation by
processes of recombining symbols in new analogies (_Innovation: the Basis of
Culture Change_ and _Qualitative Science_) still stands as the most detailed
and field tested theory of logical processes of change in the literature. He
recognized that thereare contexts, suchas colonial experience) in which people
experience unprecented things and events. How they make sense of them is the
problem. It is the process of analogy, recognizing a property of the novel
thing or event that is familiar and relating it to the known by analogy, that
makes the novel meaningful. Ethnocentrism, among other things, works on this
principle. A wonderful ethnographic account can be found in several articles
by Ellie Maranda (in Journal of American Folklore) on riddling among the Lau
people of Malaita (solomon Islands). She shows how the Lau incorporate new
objects into familiar categories by making them the riddle object, or one
of the objects that camoflages properties of the riddle object or the object
that is the answer to the riddle. Because solving a riddle necessitates
forming a new category that includes the riddle object (e.g., *house* with no
door) and the answer (an egg, a cucoon, a tomb), the new object is made
familiar by its relationship to the old one based on their shared properties.
This relationship, X to N can then be a basis for an analogy X : N :: A : B
that integrates the New into a more complex set of relations with the old.
Hope this helps Steve and Seeker1.
Mike Lieber