makes one theory more or less persuasive than another? Is it simply
that one possesses a weightier body of evidence or does the nature
of a theory's rhetoric factor in? In this essay, I will argue that
the persuasiveness of a theory is dependent on both these things
equally. Together, evidence and rhetoric form the essence of the
concept of "grounding," but rather than acting independently,
true grounding requires that they work synergistically, achieving
a weaved fluidity and emerging as a framework of intuition on top
of which a theory can comfortably be articulated. The goal of this
essay, however, is not simply to characterize the nature of "grounding";
we wish to understand how the various theories in the identity literature
are grounded. Some theories make it quite explicit how they are
grounded, while others require more interpretation. In all cases,
exposing the foundations of a theory is always an exercise which
bears much fruit of insight.
essay is structured as follows. First we examine the notion of "grounding"
more closely and sketch out a working definition. Second, we discuss
the theories in the literature whose grounding is clear, and explore
how they meet our working definition for grounding. Third, the less
clearly-cut and more-interpretive cases of grounding are examined.
We conclude by reflecting on some common themes of grounding which
pervade the literature.
theory's grounding directly dictates its persuasiveness. Of persuasiveness,
there are two major components: the evidentiary foundation of a
theory, and the system of rhetoric used to describe the theory.
While the doctrine of Science clearly illustrates the need for evidence
which supports a theory's claims, coming in the form of previous
work or an appeal to axiomatic assumptions (such as an ontological
argument), the contribution of rhetoric to grounding is only tenuously
understood. In this section, I first expose the value of rhetoric
to grounding; second, I attempt to describe how evidence and rhetoric
synthesize to form a "grounding system." The
goal is to distill out some criteria for assessing the successfulness
of any grounding system, and to carry forth these criteria into
our case study of the various identity theories in the literature.
systematicity. Rhetoric is more than words, it also encompasses
the conceptual framework, the subtext, which structures and motivates
the text. Rhetoric is the way of going about something.
Thus, effective rhetoric must necessarily have a systematicity,
consistency, and coherency. That rhetoric and the human thought
process are inherently metaphorical is argued by Lakoff and Johnson
in Metaphors We Live By (1980). According to these
theorists, all linguistic constructions build upon an existing complex
hierarchical and structural framework of metaphors. At the very
bottom of this meaning pyramid are the most fundamental layers of
human experience, such as orientation: up, down, front, back; and
movement: forward, backward, inside, outside. These axiomatic
metaphors are good foundations because they are completely
intuitive in that they are possessed and existentially trusted by
all people. In layer after careful layer, cultural truths are built
on top of this foundation, always staying consistent with the fundamental
systems of meaning inherent in orientation and movement.
here, language presents itself as our first example of grounding.
Language is grounded in the common human experiences of orientation
and movement. However, just because all of language is expressed
in these experiential frameworks does not mean that "up,"
"down," "inside," and "outside" provide
evidentiary value. They don't. Rather, appealing to common basic
human experience is a rhetorical device to generate an intuitive
feeling in the listener. Without the systematicity of thought that
rhetoric furnishes, a theory will not feel coherent or intuitive,
or in the worst case, will not be understood at all; thus the rhetorical
component of grounding is key.
impact on interpretation. Lakoff and Johnson also suggest
that rhetoric has the power to shape the way that a theory is interpreted
by highlighting certain aspects and hiding other aspects. For instance,
consider that a theory about an argument between two people can
be posed using two rhetorics. First, by speaking in terms like:
"I demolished his argument," and "if you use that
strategy, he'll wipe you out," one is invoking the structure
of war as a framework for understanding, and thus invoking an affect
of intensity, focusing on things like plan, strategy, hits, and
misses, victory and defeat. If instead, one used rhetoric like "I
used careful footwork to maneuver my arguments," then instead,
the structure of a dance is invoked as a framework for understanding,
and the listener shifts to a completely different interpretation
of the argument as a cooperative act. Depending on what theory is
being put forth about this hypothetical argument, one rhetorical
system may provide a more effective grounding than the other.
systems. Having motivated the importance of the rhetorical
component to grounding, it is vital to understand that rhetoric
and evidence must work together in coherent fashion to produce a
good grounding for a theory; together these two factors form a grounding
system. A good way to think of the relationship between evidence
and rhetoric is that evidence are isolated facts, and rhetoric is
the glue system which weaves together all the points of fact into
a tapestry called theory. To take Metaphors We Live By once
again as example, Lakoff and Johnson have evidence that certain
English constructions have certain other metaphors in them. Then,
using the rhetoric and concept of structural hierarchy to connect
the dots, the coherence of their theory finally emerges. Without
the vivid imagery of metaphors laying on top of one another, of
metaphors fitting together like puzzle pieces, of metaphors constituting
a vast hierarchy of understanding, the various facts about English
have no meaning. Theory only emerges when all the evidence is fitted
together by a rhetorical systematicity, and together, this constitutes
a grounding system.
of a ground. There is a clear sense about what qualifies
a system to be a good grounding system. A good grounding system
must itself be intuitive and profound, and it must demonstrate a
good analogical fit with the target domain addressed by the theory.
First, there exists a handful of systems which emerge repeatedly
as favorite choices for grounding many scientific theories, such
as folk economics, life cycle, ecology, construction, movement,
the body, and evolution. These systems seem inherently good for
grounding because of their intuitiveness and profundity; intuitive
because we are familiar with the system having directly experienced
them (e.g. "the body," "movement")
or they are governed by elegant rules (e.g. "evolution")
which thoroughly account for all aspects of their behavior (thus
these systems are always analog rather than discrete); and profound
because they are almost mythical in the scope of their explanatory
power and in their applicability by analogy to different phenomena
of our reality. All good grounding systems must be intuitive and
profound, because only then do they possess the solidity and vastness
that even the word "ground" itself implies.
third criteria for assessing the goodness of a grounding system
is the quality of the analogical fit between the native or prototypical
domain of the grounding system (e.g. life on earth, for
evolution) and the target domain addressed by a theory (e.g.
genetic algorithms). In an ideal fit, every new event in the
target domain is explainable within the framework of the native
domain; thus, the act of binding a target domain to a grounding
system allows the target domain to inherit the grounding system's
intuitiveness. Incidentally, the symbol grounding problem
in the philosophical literature is concerned with precisely this
problem of finding an intuitive system which can ground the meanings
of formal symbol systems. In The Symbol Grounding Problem,
Harnad defines the goal of symbol grounding as making "the
semantic interpretation of a formal symbol system  intrinsic to
the system, rather than just parasitic on the meanings in our heads"
(Harnad, 1990, p. 1). The solution that Harnad articulates is to
select the connectionist representation of sensory experience as
the grounding system for formal symbolics. This proposal is consistent
with our aforementioned characterization of a good grounding system
as being experientially intuitive and analog. The formal symbolic
system needs grounding precisely because it is not analog, thus
there are unexplainable gaps. Harnad calls these types of systems
"semantically extrinsic" and "arbitrary."
summary, rhetorical systematicity helps to weave evidence together
into a grounding system. A good grounding system is itself intuitive
(analog, intrinsic meaning, connected-to-common-human-experience)
and profound (great explanatory power, wide-scoping, mythical).
A well-grounded theory also requires that there be a natural fit
between the native domain of the grounding system and the target
domain addressed by a theory, and there is a sense that the theoretical
postulation of explanation in the target domain is purely an analogical
extension of the grounding system. In short, a theory is simply
a projection of a grounding system onto some new domain. Having
arrived at this working definition of grounding, we now invoke it
as an analytical framework with which we examine the various theories
in the identity literature.
instances of grounding
theory grounded in evolutionary theory, game theory, and economics.
Signalling theory is a sociological theory about how animals
(including humans) convey information about themselves (such as
identity) to others and how they receive information from others.
The grounding system for signalling theory is primarily evolutionary
theory, as evolution is used as a framework which is used to weave
together the evidence of animal traits. Some additional grounding
comes from economics, and game theory.
is a substantial literature around animal signalling theory including
Zahavi's Handicap Principle (Bergstrom, 2002); Grafen's evolutionarily
stable signalling equilibrium (1990); evolutionary arms-race hypothesis
(Krebs & Dawkins, 1984), and Guilford & Dawkins's receiver
psychology (1993). The purpose of all these accounts is to explain
the mechanisms and dynamics of animal communication. The chief corpus
of hard evidence which fuels theories about signalling are biological
traits possessed by animals past and present, and accounts of animal
behavior such as predation and mating. Of course, isolated anecdotes
alone do not constitute a grounding system; something more is required.
Evolutionary theory, game theory, and economics are the animating
and motivating systems which tie together isolated evidences into
a compelling story.
for example, pointed to the fact that female peacocks are drawn
to the male with the most flashy tail to conclude that costly behaviors
or physical features make for inherently reliable signals (Bergstrom,
2002). To see how this argument was made and why it is successful,
we must refer to two grounding systems: economics and evolution.
In the peacock's tail example, evolution informs us that evolution
selects for the traits which are most beneficial to an organism's
survival and reproduction. Assuming that peacocks have achieved
some measure of evolutionary equilibrium or stability, the truth
of evolution would imply that having a flashy tail is an advantageous
trait. However, this finding seems to contradict our economic sensibilities
because a flashy tail is quite costly relative to a modest tail,
requiring more food to grow and maintain and increasing vulnerability
to predation; also, the flashy tail seems to have no utility except
as a signal to prospective mates. From an economy-theoretic point-of-view,
the only way to justify costly behaviors like the peacock's plumage,
is for the cost to be outweighed by a reward, which in this case
is that more elaborate plumage attracts mates. So by combining evolutionary
intuition with economic intuition, it is concluded that costly traits
make for better signals, and this is the heart of Zahavi's Handicap
added nuance to Zahavi's theory by adding another grounding system
to the mix: game theory. The intuition behind game theory is that
each player in a game has the goal to win, formulates a strategy
to win, and often incorporates models of the other players into
this winning-strategy. Applying game theory to the Handicap Principle,
Grafen recasts the handicap scenario as a communication game, and
costly signalling as an equilibrium strategy in the game (1990).
The addition of game theory to the grounding of costly signalling
theory allows Grafen to intuitively project the dimension of choice
onto the signaller and receivers. Peacock plumage for example, lacks
choice (Grafen calls this "condition-dependent" handicap)
because it is genetic, while the relative amount of salary a person
dedicates to fashion garments involves more choice and consideration
of strategy (what Grafen calls "strategic choice" and
the "amplifier" handicap apply here). Adopting game theory
as a grounding system adds natural motivation for exploring "deception"
in signalling systems because it is so salient to our prototypical
understanding of strategy in games (deception is often manifested
as buffing and trapping). Krebs and Dawkins also uses game theory
(in conjunction with some evolutionary history of animal behavior)
as grounds for their evolutionary arms-race hypothesis. They argue
that the signalling game can be segregated into cooperative and
competitive contexts; as a competitive game, manipulative signallers
and skeptical receivers will lead to an evolutionary arms race resulting
in signalling which is progressively more costly; but as a cooperative
game, common interests will lead to cheaper signals or "conspiratorial
whispers." Again, the nativeness of dimensions like choice,
deception, cooperation, and competition to the basic workings of
the game-theory grounding system allow for these dimensions to be
projected rather intuitively onto the target domain of animal communication.
established that signalling theory is grounded in evolutionary history,
game theory, and economics, we also want to discuss the fitness
of these grounding systems with respect to our working definition
of grounding. The first criterion of a good grounding system is
that it should be intuitive: analog, possesses intrinsic meaning,
and has experiential bases. Evolution, game theory, and economics
are all analog representations because they are integration rather
than logically based; meaning is intrinsic in these systems because
they all have a continuous notion of fitness (fitness of traits,
fitness of strategy, fitness of economic equilibrium) and thus pointing
to anywhere all that spectrum is associated with a particular meaning
or set of consequences in the system; these systems have no exceptions,
they are only governed by rules and the absence of rules. On experientiality,
people experience naive economics and naive game theory in everyday
life, and may experience evolution theory in everyday life through
analogous proxies such as any competitive social situation. On the
second criteria, all three grounding systems are profound. Evolution
has been widely verified and its principles applicable to other
domains too, such as business competition. Game theory is profound
because every interaction between conspecifics can be understood
as a game. Economics is profound because it is applicable to a domain
afflicted with demand and limited resources.
final criterion is that there be a natural alignment between these
three systems and signalling theory's target domain of animal communication.
Animal communication involves animal subjects and there is a sense
that these systems change over time, so evolutionary theory (whose
native domain is animal evolution) immediately fits; in animal communication,
conspecifics exhibit competition and strategy so game theory fits;
furthermore animals occupy an environment characterized by limited
resources, so economics fits. It is really quite unsurprising that
evolution, economics, and game theory so readily meet the criteria
as good ground systems for animal communication because these systems
are so wide-scoping that they apply to many more domains outside
of animal communication. As a final observation, signalling theories,
which take advantage of many grounding systems, seem to have stronger
ground. Bergstrom's Theory of Honest Signalling (2002) for example,
is discussed under and justified by three grounding frameworks:
biology, economics, and mathematics.
theatrical self grounded in theatre metaphor and game theory.
In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), Goffman's
idea about the self is that it is composed of a repertoire of masks
-- fronts or personas that we are each capable of; our choice of
which mask to wear depends on the social situation that we are in.
Goffman see the self as capable of strategy, choosing to express
the version of self which is most beneficial to us, and in doing
so, takes a Machiavellian position on identity. Each act of presentation
of self is a "performance" and results in expressions
given and expressions given off. Finally, there is
strategy involved in the signalling and reception of identity. From
this rough outline of Goffman's theory, two grounding systems can
be seen: theatre, and game theory.
whole rhetoric is structured by the theatre metaphor, which Goffman
makes quite explicit. Perhaps defying this reader's initial expectation,
the theatre metaphor is actually quite the elegant metaphor for
social life. Two reasons for this are theatre's profundity in western
history, and its historical relationship with sociality. Theatre
has been a paternal institution in Western culture ever since the
Greeks and continuing with the Romans. In a sense, Western theatre
began with Greek mythology, the drama of the Greek gods refined
to timeless perfection in pagan lore. Because the myth of the Gods
served as a guiding light for men, the drama of the Gods was also
a very real part of Greek life. The Greeks, known for their perfection
of tragedy and comedy, possessed a tragic culture, and as Nietzsche
remarked in The Birth of Tragedy, the psychological milieu
of these ancients was deeply affective and dramatic. Thus, beginning
with the Greeks, theatre was already a structuring metaphor for
social life. Our English word for "person" is itself very
revealing of ancient understandings of social behavior. Person derives
from the Latin word "persona" which means "role,"
and that is in turn derived from the Etruscan word "phersu"
which means "mask" (the Etruscans had great influence
on Roman culture). Our rhetoric about social life is also heavily
structured by theatre, as in the expression, "We all play many
roles in life, such as parent or teacher." Even the word "role,"
as in "social role," historically meant "a roll of
parchment" and referred to the text scroll from which an actor
learned a part (source: American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.) If
Lakoff and Johnson's hypothesis about metaphorical structuring of
thought is correct, then the presence of the concept of theatre
in the discourse of social life is evidence that we understand much
of social life in terms of the theatrical framework. For
its mythical profundity and for its established relationship with
sociality, theatre should be judged a strong grounding system.
theatre is the explicit and dominating grounding system, theatre
only partially structures Goffman's theory. The discrepancy
between theatre and social interaction is that while theatre is
pre-scripted, social agents in real life have to make choices. Thus,
the Machiavellian strategic interaction which Goffman postulates
between two social agents is not well-explained by theatre (improvisation
is the closest notion), but is well-explained by game theory.
Of course, Goffman did not know about game theory with the formality
and rigor that we understand the system now, and for the most part,
the notion of game is not used as a rhetorical framework;
nonetheless, Goffman's view of social agents vying for social standing
in a given interaction is best seen as a game. Goffman's
vocabulary of concepts like concealment, strategy, deception, discipline,
goals, and teams is consistent with this conclusion. With the addition
of a naive or folk game theory helping to fill in some
of the weaknesses of the theatrical metaphor (e.g. no account of
strategy and free will), Goffman's theoretical grounding is stabilized.
cases of grounding
object theory grounded in Jungian psychoanalysis and eastern elemental
philosophy reminiscent of Feng-shui. Csikszentmihalyi and
Rochberg-Halton's (C&RH) theory of domestic objects (1981) reports
that the nature of the object-milieu in the home echoes and
reinforces individual's and family's identity. They describe
contrasting archetypes of "warm families" and "cool
families" -- warm corresponding to happy families who cultivate
"shared context" and possess "integrating objects";
cool families corresponding to fragmented families who cultivate
personal rather than family identity and possess "differentiating
objects." In my interpretation, two grounding systems structure
C&RH's theory: Jungian psychoanalysis on the evidentiary side,
and eastern elemental philosophy (cf. Feng-shui) on the rhetorical
and affective side.
Jungian psychoanalytic ideas form the evidentiary core of many of
C&RH's arguments. C&RH quite readily acknowledge that many
of their ideas are rooted in Jung. They embrace Jung's view that
"A symbol is charged with psychic energy and transformative
power" (p. 24) and share Jung's view that both the personal
unconscious and familial collective unconscious are psychically
structured by many externalities, such as objects in the home. While
C&RH's terminological adoption of the word "sign"
is somewhat confusing, as it may also refer to Structuralism and
Semiology a la Barthes, C&RH's conceptualization of "sign"
is purely Jungian; both C&RH and Jung define the sign as something
whose meaning "must be rediscovered by each person in a different
way," (p. 25) while for structuralists, the sign is a socio-ideological
unit. In the peripherality of domestic object theory, Jung's archetypal
psychology is also evident, although discreet. When articulating
the characteristic differences between individuals and families,
C&RH always use the rhetoric of archetypes. For example, their
analysis of families is given in terms of the archetypes of "Defendence,"
"Impulsivity," "Nurturance," "Order,"
etc. (p. 160). To be fair, C&RH do reach out in their citations
from the literature to structuralists and behaviorists, but the
gestalt philosophy that drives their interpretation has a distinct,
new-agey, Jungian feel.
although Jung seems to be the dominant evidentiary ground motivating
C&RH's theory, there is a recognition that psychoanalysis is
not intuitive or profound enough a system to serve as a grounding
system. Psychoanalysis itself does not impart any intuitiveness
to any theory that builds upon it. If we look more closely at Jung
and C&RH's text, we can identify that there is a deeper and
more profound grounding system that underlies both rhetorically.
This is the influence of eastern elemental philosophy, as manifested
in the eastern theory of Chi (energy), and the system of Feng-shui
(wind-water flow); this philosophical system is eminently qualified
to serve as a grounding system because it is deeply experiential
and spatial and profoundly refined and mythified over many thousands
of years. Jung's psychoanalysis differs from Freud's primarily in
that Jung shifted grounding to Chi and Feng-shui, causing the new
psychoanalytical system to feel more holistic than Freud's.
In The Secret of the Golden Flower (1929), Jung himself
credits the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism and eastern meditation
in influencing his work. The Jungian conception of the unconscious
is built upon the principle of flow: The course of events in life
shape memories, dispositions, and identity just as flowing water
shapes a riverbank. Jungian archetypes are spiritful icons closely
resembling Eastern philosophy's idea of elementals (e.g. Fire, Water,
Wind, Water, Earth).
also inherits conspicuously from the structuring metaphors of eastern
philosophy (particularly because Jung's philosophy is so holistic
it is nearly impossible to embrace it without also embracing the
east). One example in found in C&RH embrace of nature and the
cosmos, a page no doubt taken from eastern meditations of Zen Buddhists:
"The objects that people use... appear to be signs on a blueprint
that represent the relation of man to himself, to his fellows, and
to the universe." (p. 38) C&RH also indulges in the eastern
metaphor of shifting energies and employs the Yin-Yang energy metaphor
to explain happy versus unhappy families: "Warm families channel
the psychic energy of their members toward the broader intentions
of the community." (p. 157) Furthermore, C&RH's employment
of the energy metaphor to explain the transfer of meaning ("psychic
energy") from objects to individuals, and their suggestion
that the energetic constitution of objects in the home affects the
fortunes of a family begin to resemble the ancient eastern art of
summary, C&RH's domestic object theory is evidentiarily grounded
in Jungian psychoanalysis, the source of C&RH's conception of
meaning as psychic energy, of a self structured by the unconscious
psyche, and of the interactionist notion that not only
do objects echo the psyche of the individual, but the objects also
reinforce and structure the psyche of the individual. We must also
recognize that Jungian psychoanalysis itself is grounded in eastern
philosophies of meditation, Feng Shui, Zen Buddhism, and it is these
systems where true ground can be found. Metaphors of energy, of
flow, of inner sanctum versus outside flow, are based in nature
and in human experience and therefore are capable of being intuitively
intelligible. The intuition from these metaphors find their way
into C&RH's rhetoric and are the reason why domestic object
theory is capable of seeming fluid and natural.
individuality-identity duality grounded in contents-into-forms metaphor.
On the sociology of identity, Simmel is prolific and broad
but seems to lack an explicit coherence; perhaps this is because
Simmel lacks a single explicit grounding system which encompasses
all of this theories; also, he rarely cites the literature so we
are at a loss for clues about what work (other than his own keen
observations) he is building on. Such a singular grounding system
does seem to exist, but it is often quite subtle: it is the single
metaphor of contents-into-forms. To be sure, it is a powerful metaphor.
The idea is that contents are the raw materials of reality, but
because they are in the realm of nature and not human culture, their
meaning is amorphous (for meaning is a human notion). These raw
contents are molded and given shape by the teleology of human society
and manifest sociologically as forms. For Simmel, the individual
is the raw content of the self, and social roles by which the individual
gains identification are his forms. Just as the amorphous contents
can never be fully captured into forms, Simmel states that "This
extrasocial nature--a man's temperament, fate, interests, worth
as a personality--gives a certain nuance to the picture formed by
all who meet him. It intermixes his social picture with non-social
imponderables" (Levine, 1971, p. 13). The notion that sociality
is a system of forms which can only partially capture the nature
of individualism is at the heart of Simmel's identity theory; the
self is duality between individuality and identity.
contents-into-forms metaphor is elaborated into a larger grounding
system. Simmel treats contents with mysticism and adds the idea
of nurturance to the contents-into-forms transformation, arguing
that an individual must try to cultivate his contents into the best
forms; this is the idea of self-realization or self-actualization.
Simmel writes that "all cultivation is not merely the development
of a being ... but development in the direction of an original inner
core, a fulfillment of this being according to the law of its own
meaning, its deepest dispositions." (p. 229) The contents-into-forms
metaphor also supports a host of other dualities, including publicity-versus-privacy
(private because totality is unknowable), conformity-versus-individuation
(individuation privileges contents while conformity privileges existing
forms), proximal-versus-distant (proximal is close to form, distant
is away), nature-versus-culture (nature is content, culture is perfect
form), and subjective-culture-versus-objective-culture (subjective
culture is the glorification of cultivating contents into perfect
forms). Also inherent in the contents-into-forms metaphor is the
notion of a good form versus an ill-fitting form. Simmel leverages
this to explain through analogy the homogeneous-heterogeneous nature
of groups: "the elements of a distinctive social circle are
undifferentiated, and the elements of a circle that is not distinctive
are differentiated." (p. 257).
summary, although Simmel's ideas about the sociological self lack
an explicit coherence, one plausible source of grounding is the
contents-into-forms metaphor. Simmel develops this very fundamental
spatial metaphor into a more elaborated grounding system consisting
of many other metaphors which are all variations on a theme. Armed
with this army of metaphors, and anecdotal quasi-evidence about
people and society, Simmel spins his sociological stories.
theory of fashion and identity grounded in structuralism and theory
of markets. To Davis's credit, the theory of fashion and
identity he puts forth in Fashion, Culture, and Identity (1994)
is true intellectual bricolage; it is multivocal and draws from
many different voices from the literatures of sociology, popular
fashion, psychology, culture, and philosophy. However, two fundamental
analytical frameworks seem to underlie and provide grounding for
his theory: structuralism, and only toward the end of the book,
the theory of markets.
ideas underlie much of the classical sociological work of Veblen
and Simmel, who were two of the first to characterize the fashion
system using a hierarchical, class-based trickle-down model; thus
it comes as no surprise that this framework is Davis's point-of-departure.
Structuralism was the first to embrace the notion that cultural
systems could be analyzed in terms of signs, significations, oppositions,
languages, and hierarchies. Because all these notions can be visualized
and conceptualized as structures and machinery in space, they make
for an intuitive grounding system.
structuralist idea of binary opposition championed by Saussure inspires
Davis to propose that the creative fuel of fashion are the culturally-dictated
identity ambivalences of gender, status, and sexuality; these ambivalences
are each understood as a tension of opposites. Davis also follows
the analytical playbook of Barthes (1967) in his regard of garments
as governed by a "sartorial code"; for Davis as well as
for Barthes, clothing can be "read" like language, and
it is the inducement of misreading and misinterpretation which opens
up an opportunity for play and creativity. Davis applies structuralist
discourse of sign, signifier, signification, and signified to his
analysis of fashion. He states that new fashions in their infancy
are "undercoded" and governed by an "aesthetic code;"
he writes of clothing communication as symbolic manipulation, as
in "it is characteristic, therefore, for cross-gender clothing
signals, ... to be accompanied by some symbolic qualification"
(Davis, 1994, p. 42); he uses the structuralist lens of "shifting
signification chains" to explain that it is the "ever-shifting
ambivalences ... that affords dress and fashion endless opportunity
for innovation and variation" (p. 57).
continues to structuralize fashion until his theory takes a breathtaking
turn toward the end of the work. He supplants the familiar structuralist
ground with a more postmodern, late-capitalist theory of ideal markets:
"What appears to be emerging in place of the classic, three-
to five-year, bell-shaped cycle is a plethora of microcycles, each
oriented toward a different identity segment of the apparel market
... there is not likely to be a single reigning fashion at any moment
in time" (p. 157). Davis is apparently motivated to switch
grounds because the more idealized structuralist view of fashion,
which has had a long history in sociology and whose neatness affords
"scientific" dissection, is unable to account for the
latest contemporary events in fashion. The successful function of
structuralism has relied on the fact that culture is dominant and
univocal, and signs have clear meaning that pervades the whole of
the culture. However, in a fragmented market scenario, signs are
no longer known to the whole of a culture; also, because fashions
no longer die off completely, it is hard to argue that fashion still
works by shifting signification. Therefore, contemporary circumstances
have broken down the explanatory power of the structuralist theory
of fashion, and so Davis seeks new ground in markets.
theory of markets is particularly qualified to explain and ground
the contemporary pluralism and polycentrism of fashion. The workings
of markets can be visualized very simply in spatial and experiential
terms, a prerequisite for an intuitive grounding system: a market
is what connects the many points of supply to the many points of
demand; the more efficient the market, the more fine-grained and
complete the connections. In a market where the demand is quite
diverse, the supply tends to mirror the demand's diversity as the
market becomes more and more efficient. This is precisely why Davis
proposes that the univocal fashion macrocycles of yesteryear are
being supplanted by a system of more finely tuned niche markets
which tap into the desires of the heterogeneous populous. It is
interesting to note that in shifting the grounding system from structuralism
to markets, the corresponding shift of our understanding of fashion
is breathtaking and dramatic; such is the influence of grounding
on our understanding of theories.
theory of modern consumption grounded in (Marxist?) containment
and movement metaphors. In Culture and Consumption
(1991), McCracken puts forth a theory of modern consumption
that focuses on the manufacture and distribution of meaning. In
this work, containment and movement metaphors are the dominant frameworks
of representation and rhetoric; they serve as a largely rhetorical
grounding, allowing McCracken to create more intuitive argumentation,
although there is precedent for this grounding. Marx's analysis
of commodification also uses containment-and-movement to describe
how rich, complex and liminal phenomena are packaged as sellable
commodities with a single univocal value. Because McCracken uses
the same spatial metaphorical ground as Marx, there will be at least
subconsciously some transference of spirit from Marx onto McCracken.
"Meaning Manufacture and Movement in the World of Goods,"
McCracken narrates the process of consumption as the containment
of world meaning into goods, the transfer of goods to consumers,
and the extraction of meaning from the goods through meaning-transfer
rituals. In "The Evocative Power of Things," the containment-and-movement
metaphor reoccurs in McCracken's idea of "displaced meaning"
- that is, the packaging of certain ideals and displacement into
some other place and time in order to ensure the preservation of
said ideals. In "Diderot Unities and the Diderot Effect,"
McCracken conceptualizes lifestyle as the coherency of consumptive
patterns induced by a consumer desire for consistency and harmony;
in posing this consistency as a unity and in placing certain purchasing
decisions as "outside" this unity, McCracken is once again
invoking the containment metaphor. In "Ever Dearer in Our Thoughts,"
McCracken's theory of patina conceptualizes patina as the physical
embodiment of status which is passed down through
time. Finally, in "Consumption, Change, and Continuity,"
objects are posed as concrete snapshots of current cultural principles
and their continued existence gives continuity to culture. Again,
cultural principles are contained, and these principles
give continuity by moving through time. In summary, the
containment and movement metaphors pervade McCracken's theory of
modern consumption, and like energy-flow in C&RH's theory of
domestic objects, the main function of these metaphors is a rhetorical
grounding system; a system of argumentation which is intuitive and
construction theory grounded in bricolage. Grodin, Lindlof,
et al.'s volume entitled Constructing the Self in a Mediated
World (1996) portrays the postmodern self as nomadic, transient,
and self-concept is influenced by many cultural media genres such
as self-help books, talk shows, rap, feminist literature, etc. Murray's
Life as Fiction (1990) theorizes that we construct notions
about love by watching romantic comedies, and notions about adolescent
by watching teenage sitcoms. The common grounding shared by all
these works is that in postmodern times, the self is constructed
out of a multitude of diverse social influences, and this construction
is motivated by one’s own underlying tastes; this closely
resembles Levi-Strauss and Derrida's notion of bricolage.
Bricolage is the art of pragmatic eclecticism; assemble together
what you need from a diversity of sources. Because meaning in the
present late-capitalist period is all but commodified and available
primarily through consumption, self-concept is no longer discovered
through subjective experience, self-concept gets redefined as parameters
of taste and of choice. The self is the meta-entity revealed
in the bricoleur's patterns of consumption. In Club Cultures
(1996), Thornton takes a similar view of the self as bricolage.
Thornton characterizes the underground culture of clubs as "taste
cultures" where membership in the "cool" niche is
determined by the caliber and authenticity of an individual's tastes.
actually makes a lot of sense as a grounding metaphor for postmodern
identity and the fitness of this mapping is supported in the philosophy
and psychoanalysis literatures. Jameson's intertextuality
(1998) and Bhabha's notion of "beyond" (1994) suggest
that it is in the interspaces of forms in which the deepest meaning
lives. Simmel argued that the whole of an individual is not-so-subtly
captured by social forms. However, in measuring identity as a taste
function which makes certain consumptive choices, we can get
more at the heart of the extra-social individual. In the psychoanalysis
of Freud, Jung, and Lacan, the subconscious is a key part of the
self, as each person's subconscious psyche holds intuition and repression
and is formed through experiences and memories. The subconscious
is not well-measured by a few social forms, but if we view the self
as bricolage, then the subconscious can be revealed in the gestalt
of all a person's choices and tastes.
have visited many sociological theories about objects, identity,
fashion, consumption, and signalling and tried to expose the grounding
of each. In some of the theories, such as signalling, fashion, and
social construction, the grounding frameworks are dually the source
of evidence as well as rhetoric. In other theories, such as Goffman's
theatrical self, domestic object theory, Simmelian identity and
McCracken's theory of consumption, grounding metaphors were primarily
rhetoric in nature. As it turns out, rhetoric is key. Rhetoric lends
systematicity to a theory, connecting the dots of isolated evidence
into a more fluid narrative. Rhetorical grounds such as theatrical
performance, bricolage, and games have a real experiential basis,
thereby allowing them to be understood by projecting past experiences
onto the current reading of a theory. Other rhetorical grounds such
as containment-and-movement, contents-into-forms, structuralism,
energy-flow, and markets appeal to our spatial intuition. People
are so good at envisioning objects moving through space that to
explain a theory in these terms is to make the theory more intuitive.
purpose of "grounding" is arguably to present a theory
in terms of unalienables and unshakables; not certainties in terms
of scientific certainties, but rather, certainties known and possessed
in each reader's own intuition. Thus, a theory is not truly grounded
by facts which cannot be intuited by a reader; true grounding happens
when a theory is rhetorically structured in the vocabulary of human
experience. This is just as Lakoff and Johnson have long suggested
in Metaphors We Live By -- nothing can be understood intuitively
or systematically without being grounded in fundamental human experience.
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Goffman: 1959, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Doubleday:
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University Press, Indiana
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