When people think of the notion of understanding, they usually think of it as a mental resource–that is, as something uniquely psychological (or cognitive) which is put to use, for example, during human activities such as explaining, predicting, reasoning, and problem solving. Although my dissertation acknowledged understanding’s existence and utility as a mental human resource, at the same time it conspired to conceive of understanding as a topic worthy of other (i.e., non-cognitive) forms of inspection. Rather than approach understanding by means of psychology or cognition, I decided to redress it through a combination of philosophy and anthropology or what Bruno Latour and others have called “empirical philosophy” or “symmetrical anthropology.”
While unfamiliar to many in my own field, conceiving of taken-for-granted resources as investigable topics is by no means novel. In my approach, I am simply working alongside other scholars who have engaged in like-minded projects. For example…
- Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison directed their scholarly gaze at the notion of scientific objectivity in their wonderful and insightful book, Objectivity (2007).
- Daston & Elizabeth Lunbeck asked readers to focus their attention on scientific observation in Histories of Scientific Observation (2011).
- My Ph.D. advisor and dissertation director, Lynn Fendler, has also taken a similar approach on a number of different occasions, turning her attention toward popular resources (or concepts) in teacher education such as community, reflection, generalisability, and theory.
- The University of Manchester/Open University’s Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) has initiated a project to investigate method in their SLOM (Social Life of Methods) PROJECT.
- Of course, all such topical inquires were made possible by Michel Foucault, who gave us provocative histories of human resources such as sexuality, madness, and discipline and punishment.