Chaotic conceptions – what would a NON-chaotic conception look like? Or is all chaos? #Mysterions

Let’s start with an under-rated tweet.

Yeah, that’s me half an hour ago and I would already struggle to tell you how I came across Sayer 1992. Oh, wait, it was the 2003 paper on Regional Development Agencies and Clusters (reading it for The Job).

We are pattern-making machines. We see causation when there is only correlation, miss causation because there’s so much noise that it blots out a signal. All this ‘kaleidoscope’ stuff fascinates me, btw, for biographical reasons I can only see dimly, through a glass darkly and all that.

So, this is nice-

One should be careful in deciding what aspects of an object should be abstracted. The tendency to conceal the constituent of an object by abstraction may result in chaotic conception' (Sayer, 1981; 1984; 1992). The notion of chaotic conception’ implies a bad abstraction which is based upon a non-necessary relationship, or which divides the indivisible by failing to recognize a necessary relationship. The only way to move away from this chaotic conception' is neither to increase the sample size or representativeness of sample (as positivists typically do), nor to interpret subjectively the categories and objects of investigations. A realist move necessarily involves a more careful theorization of the objects of investigations and incorporates such a refkection of these categories during the research process.

The broader realist method in which iterative abstraction is embedded is known as retroduction in which an argument moves from a description of some phenomenon to a description of something which produces it or is a condition for it’ (Bhaskar, 1986: 11, note 26).

Henry Wai-chung Yeung (1997) Critical realism and realist research in human geography: a method or a philosophy in search of a method? Progress in Human Geography 21,1 (1997) pp. 51-74

We tell stories. There’s that famous (well, memorable) study of people making up a story about the ball trying to find its way into the house. Thank you Google – “An Experimental Study of Apparent Behavior by Fritz Heider & Marianne Simmel”

And “chaotic conceptions” also reminds me of/gives me a label for an interaction I witnessed in early 1992 (in a course on “French Feminisms”, since you ask) about the Candice Bergen as as the titular “Murphy Brown” [dead US sitcom, was an early culture war skirmish] singing to her new baby “you make me feel like a natural woman.” The interlocutors were (justifiably) eye-rolling, but didn’t know that the song was a recurring ‘thing’ in the show (which neither they nor I (at the time) had seen), and so didn’t realise that the song didn’t quite mean what they feared it did, wasn’t freighted with quite the level of patriarchy…. If you get me.

And we chaotically conceive/cherry pick the data that lets us think we are in control, that our prosperity is down to our smarts, rather than our guns, diseases and drills…


For now though, having a phrase to describe how people join the wrong dots, that’s super-cool…

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