Social Experience

Social Experience

The problem of understanding and perceiving the surrounding world remains one of the most complicated questions of human existence. People search for the objective reality and truth, but their subjective perception, which generates specific meanings, hinders them from seeing the genuine world. The analysis of the essays by M. Crotty and V. Turner demonstrates that subjective and objective or group and individual experiences are strongly interrelated. Consequently, the generated meanings are the products of individual experiences and collective knowledge, which affects and determines an individual perception.

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M. Crotty suggests that constructionism is an approach to understanding knowledge and reality from the perspective of human practice. Thereby, the phenomena derive from the interaction of distinct individuals or groups that introduce them to the communities within a specific social context (Crotty, 2003, p.3). Thus, it becomes clear that the meaning or the truth cannot be either objective or subjective. Some researchers believe that the connotations emerge from one source and that the perceptions of surrounding reality come under the influence. However, according to constructionists, meanings are not created, they are constructed. Through the permanent connection with reality and distinct objects within it, people construct particular meanings. Thereby, objectivity and subjectivity merge in this process.

According to existentialists, human intentionality corresponds directly to the interdependence of the subject and the world around it. The word “intentionality” derives from the Latin word “tender” which means “to tend.” Thereby, to have an intention does not simply mean to plan or to choose, primarily it is about “reaching out to something” and thus intentionality refers to “aboutness” and directedness (Crotty, 2003, p.44). If the consciousness becomes aware of something, it starts thinking of the object. Therefore, intentionality fosters a strong relationship between the object and the subject, which observes it. The mind, which perceives the object, focuses on this phenomenon while this phenomenon receives a definition from the mind that observes it. Thus, intentionality is an inseparable part of the process of creating meanings.

Since every human experience intentionally relates to the objects and the phenomena of reality, no object or event can be accurately described if it is detached from the living being that experiences it. Crotty claims that subjective experiences do not construct the field of subjective reality different from the objective reality of the external world (Crotty, 2003, p.45). Even though people distinguish between the object and the subject, these two phenomena are closely intertwined. Crotty explains that there are two steps to creating meaning. Firstly, the act of recognition occurs. Secondly, the methods of distinguishing specific features of some objects allow for creating a meaning of the object’s nature. Thereby, knowing its “essence” is the most important feature of generating meanings.

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It is essential to note that the origin of meaning always depends on the characteristic features of the society in which it emerged. For example, Fish stresses that we do not discover the meanings; instead, we make them according to social and conventional methods (Crotty, 2003, p.52). These methods are the phenomena that exist “before” the individual. Moreover, either these methods define people, or the individuals define them creating a system of important symbols for a specific society, usually known as “culture.” Culture generally embodies a source of human thought rather than a result of social activity or thinking. Thereby, when a person views reality for the first time meaningfully, he/she sees the world through the lenses created by the society he/she lives in.

To study any social phenomena, it is important to understand that they are an integral part of the social world created and constructed by people and that they are permanently reshaped and reproduced by the continuing social activity. According to this fact, the entire social world reflects studies and interpretations made before any researcher started studying it. Therefore, any event or object cannot be examined as separate and unrelated to the real phenomenon, but it is analyzed through a specific point of view within a specific horizon. Thus, the surrounding world consists of specific interpretations, and they are both natural and social, both objective and subjective.

Crotty stresses that social existence determines human consciousness. For example, one of the great historians and philosophers, G. Mead, argued that human beings acquire their nature and become what they are due to their interaction with their community (Crotty, 2003, p.62). He believed that human behavior is the embodiment of refined social views. Thus, specific social forces determine individual behavior. They can also define biological and physical aspects. Thereby, the world analyzed by sociologists, anthropologists, and other researchers emerges from distinct powers that function within society. It represents their dynamics, coercion, and manipulation. Thus, pragmatic and critical approaches can assist in conducting a thorough analysis of any phenomenon because no objective truth about the reality where people live can be found. Moreover, while knowledge is relevant for one society, it can be unacceptable and wrong for another.

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According to V. Turner, the foundation of any research related to people’s nature and their behavior depends greatly on the subjective social experience of a separate person since he/she perceives every phenomenon from his/her perspective and senses. Simultaneously, every individual act consists of a meaning within it, which is usually hard to comprehend. Turner argues that a specific meaning emerges when people try to combine their personal feelings, thoughts, and wishes concerning their present condition of life with existing ideas about life events that have been already formed by culture and language (Turner, 2003, p.33). Thereby, individuals use distinct moral, political, religious, and commonsensical modes formulated by those who lived before us.

The author claims that human experience exists in two forms: the social drama, which represents conflicts in the form of social activity, and the stage drama, which functions in experimental aesthetic frames, plots, and symbols (Turner, 2003, p.34). All symbolic patterns rely on the specific socio-cultural background determined by local traditions. For example, Bunraku and Kabuki theatres demonstrate the tension between two confronting loyalties: feudal and imperial. The Tokugawa methods of governance, which assumed the spread of depersonalization of all types of relationships in the state, were addressed with elaborate gestures of theatre, which demonstrated that people expressed their attitude towards state officials and their policies.

Turner explains that according to J. Dewey, art, including plays and other forms of theatrical pieces, is the manifestation and celebration of ordinary human experience. He was convinced that authentic experience, even the most terrible, could explain the intrinsic nature of human emotions better than any phenomenon detached from reality (Turner, 2003, p.34). The author claims that the term “experience” derives from the Indo-European base “per” which means “to attempt” or “to risk.” It also relates to the Greek “dran” which stands for “to do.” These two notions clearly define the word “experience.” Moreover, this term corresponds to another Geek word “period” or “I pass-through” and German notions of “fear” and “ferry.” Thus, the experience is a process of constructing a reality that may become eventually the form of art.

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W. Dilthey believes that such notions as “passive experience” and “active experience” should have different connotations. According to the philosopher, “passive experience” is a passive perception and acceptance of actions or events. On the other hand, “active experience” differs from a simple passing of time because it structures an individual (Turner, 2003, p.35). An active experience does not have any arbitrary start and finish, it, on the contrary, possesses an initiation. This experience usually has a transformative effect, which can be easily distinguished from isolated external effects and internal responses to them. The direct experience forces an individual to receive new knowledge and adopt a new worldview. Generally, the events, which influence the perception of the world, are very personal. Thereby, any experience is the narration of a path that an individual follows to acquire new concepts.

It is vitally important for an experience to be created as a response to the existential encounter. Its meaning differs from values because they have no relation between them. Values can receive a meaning if one can restore their reliance on previous experience (Turner, 2003,p.36). It is believed that rituals or art are the cultural mirrors of the permanent process of searching for meaning at the public level. Previously, the main goal of the theatres was to remove the need to assign meanings from individuals to groups. However, the idea of tragic existence emerged from individual terror. That message was subsequently transmitted to the audience. Moreover, since people are social creatures, they always feel the need to share information that they learned from their experiences. Thereby, art strongly depends on the desire to confess or proclaim something. The meanings, which emerged from difficult or painful experiences, are painted, danced, or turned into poems or plays. Thus, a vast variety of artworks receives their meanings from the reflexive and exploratory nature of social experience and drama. As a result, with the help of art techniques, individual and group experiences are changed, refashioned, and reconfigured to give some new sense. The theatre has become the symbol of the high livability of a specific society.

In conclusion, both essays stress that there is a strong interrelation between subjective and objective, individual and collective. These contradicting aspects of human existence and perception complement each other. Crotty emphasizes that the community and the culture determine personal knowledge and perception of the world. Turner claims that individual and original experiences are expressed through such collective forms of art as theatre. Thus, it becomes obvious that two spheres of life (private and collective) cannot exist without one another. The main principle that can derive from the study of human lives and practices is that it is always important to hold in mind the social context of the analyzed phenomenon. Since there can be no objective truth because human perception relies on the community and culture and thus all the meanings that human consciousness generates are subjective, using life history as an approach to examining social phenomena may be very effective. This method allows understanding of the foundation of society, what meanings it generated, and how it affected and altered the ability to perceive and generate the meaning of a single person.

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