Experience Revisited: Searching for a critical notion of the concept of experience for the social sciences
Department of Philosophy University of Vienna Vienna, Austria
When Pierre Bourdieu asks for the objectification of objectivity - or more precisely for the objectification of the relationship of the observer to the observed - he underlines the necessity for self-reflexivity in the social sciences. In an attempt to escape the unproductive antagonism between subjectivism and objectivism in classical debates in the sociology of knowledge, he points out that only a critical objectification of the epistemological and social conditions of knowledge makes it possible to include both perspectives: a reflexive return to the subjective experience of the world and a objectification of the objective conditions of that experience.
The attention for the epistemological and social conditions of knowledge was also crucial for the early Eighties feminist critique of science. As suggested by them and by the sociology of knowledge and their claim that knowledge is socially situated, the underrepresentation of women in academia has consequences for the form and content of scientific discourse: on one level feminist thinkers tried to include "women's experiences" in their research as a rich source of understanding women's lives. On another level they began to analyse the various implications of androcentric epistemology, methodology, and conceptions of the female body, identifying them as hidden mechanisms of power that structure the scientific field.
In my dissertation research I seek a non-essentialist critical concept of experience for the social sciences. To do so, I draw on the critical debates of feminist epistemologies and methodologies (particularly in zones of tension, e.g. between feminist standpoint theories and poststructuralist approaches), on critical theory (e.g. "The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology") and the work of Bourdieu. Although the concept of experience has a central meaning for any anti-positivist and feminist critique of science (as well as for critical social science) there are few attempts at systematic examination and clarification. The concept of experience shall therefore be analysed from two perspectives: perspective of the "observed" and perspective of the "observer" and how these two "interact" during the performance of qualitative research in the social sciences.
In my contribution I will explore the concept of experience within the aforementioned (often controversial) theoretical directions and traditions.