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This chapter takes a critical look at Jacques Lacan, the French psycho-analyst who has become a cultural icon. Lacan is an example of what can happen when a theorist puts ideas above the need for evidence and writes obscurely. This chapter examines in detail his famous mirror stage paper, showing that Lacan presents little evidence for his ideas and findings. He refers to the work of psychologists, such as Wolfgang Köhler, but his references do not match what the psychologists actually wrote or claimed to have found. Lacan, by contrast, does not cite the work of Henri Wallon, who outlined very similar ideas about mirror recognition before Lacan. It is suggested that the evidence does not support Lacan’s theory about the way children recognise themselves in the mirror. The example of Lacan is used to illustrate the need for evidence and the dangers of obscure writing.
Experimental social psychologists often claim Kurt Lewin as the founder of modern social psychology. This chapter looks at the influences of his teacher, the philosopher Ernst Cassirer, and his friendship with Karl Korsch, the Marxist philosopher. Lewin rejected conventional laboratory experiments as being unscientific, and he developed a form of experiment to examine concrete cases. Lewin’s famous study of democratic and authoritarian leadership shows both the strengths and weaknesses of his new psychology. The strength was the richness of its examples, and the weakness was his physics-based theory for understanding those examples. Focussing on one example, it is argued that Lewin would have gained a richer understanding of what was happening if he had used a bit more Korsch and Cassirer - especially Cassirer’s ideas on psychology and his views on description as explanation. Lewin is praised for his humane, dedicated vision and for being an example to follow.
This short concluding chapter looks back over the preceding chapters and pulls together some of the interconnecting themes between them, especially in relation to the different ways psychological writers have used examples - for example to illustrate theory or as a means of discovery. The discussion on the various ways of using examples in psychological writing is not presented as the first step towards a psychology of examples which is currently lacking. There are some speculations why the study of examples has been neglected. The chapter finishes with some recommendations, which are directed towards young academics. These recommendations suggest that they should give descriptive examples more weight, and theory less weight.
The final analytic chapter presents the ultimate example: Marie Jahoda, who embodied virtues that are praised in earlier chapters. She was the author of a classic study looking at the effects of mass unemployment the early 1930s. In her report she made telling use of examples to depict the lives of those whom she and her team studied. Just as her examples overspill any theory of unemployment, so the reasons why Jahoda sets an example overspill her abilities to use examples. She understood the tensions between theory and examples, coming down strongly on the side of the latter, recognizing the importance of ‘descriptive fieldwork’. She argued that psychologists were over-valuing theory. She wrote directly with minimum jargon and maximum clarity, believing in the importance of studying the lives of individuals. Jahoda’s use of examples and her suspicion of theory in psychology were just two aspects of a wider humane vision.
This chapter pays tribute to the social psychologist Henri Tajfel, famous for formulating social identity theory. The chapter asks why Tajfel did not apply his theory to the event that brought him into academic life: the Holocaust. Clues can be found in a short introduction which he wrote for new edition of Peretz Bernstein’s book of anti-Semitism. Bernstein had proposed a general theory of group relations to explain anti-Semitism. What Tajfel, and also Bernstein, wrote after the war about Bernstein’s pre-war book is revealing. The sort of language which might have been appropriate for writing about anti-Semitism in the 1920s had become wholly inappropriate after the Holocaust. The singularity of the Holocaust would be misplaced if were seen merely as an example of ‘prejudice’. Significantly, Tajfel avoided using his own ‘social identity theory’ to explain Nazism. His praise of Bernstein expresses an understanding and depth of feeling that show the limitations of theory.
This chapter explores the similarities between Abraham Tucker, who lived in the eighteenth century and outwardly appeared to be a follower of Locke, and William James, whose life spanned the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. James is one of the most famous and best loved psychologists, while Tucker has been almost completely forgotten. However, they held very similar views about the mind; and in their writing, both were superb users of telling examples. Tucker anticipated James’ view of consciousness as a stream and much more besides. He also recognised that theory and examples often stood in conflict one with the other; and James was to warn against the psychologist’s fallacy, which occurs when psychologists only notice what their theoretical concepts guide them to notice. Both James and Tucker agreed on the importance of examining concrete examples, rather than formulating abstract theories, for understanding the nature of experience.
This chapter introduces the book’s basic themes: the importance of examples in psychological writing; the tension between the abstraction of theories and the concreteness of examples; how examples overspill theories; and the need to argue for these themes concretely with examples, rather than abstractly with theories. This is why the book has a dual vision. It looks back historically to examples of past psychologists and their ways of writing, and it does this to find examples of writers that psychologists of today might follow. In this introductory chapter, the later chapters of past writers are summarised. There are obvious candidates of great psychological writers, such as William James and Sigmund Freud, but the book also includes forgotten figures, such as the third Earl of Shaftesbury and one of the heroes of this book - the neglected eighteenth-century advocate of examples, Abraham Tucker.
John Locke and the third Earl of Shaftesbury were bound by close personal ties, yet they had opposing views of the mind and the nature of language. Shaftesbury’s Characteristicks is the very antithesis of Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. This chapter shows that Locke anticipated the development of mainstream psychology, especially with his concept of the association of ideas. When Locke presented examples of various types of association, they were minimal, conveying little extra detail. Shaftesbury proposed a dialogical view of the mind and used language in a very different way than Locke. Shaftesbury’s view of thinking, as internal dialogue, curiously anticipates Freud’s self-analysis. Shaftesbury’s examples are extended, and he does not coerce them into a theoretical structure. In the contrast between Locke and Shaftesbury, we can see the beginning of debates about the mind that persist in the present.
Sigmund Freud was a great collector of psychological examples, whether from his own life or those of others. This chapter concentrates on one example taken from his self-analysis – his forgetting the name of the artist ‘Signorelli’. He wrote three slightly differing descriptions of the episode, the most famous being the first chapter of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. By examining Freud’s different accounts of this example, and by comparing them with his interpretations of analogous cases involving his patients, we can see how Freud’s analysis of the Signorelli incident both reveals and conceals. He fails to make obvious connections, especially those that might relate to his relations with his sister-in-law. The very act of analysing the episode and then immediately publishing that analysis may well have been a means of repressing a memory. By re-interpreting the incident in this way, it becomes an example of the way that someone can repress, or push from their mind, a guilty secret.
In his new book, Michael Billig uses psychology's past to argue that nowadays, when we write about the mind, we should use more examples and less theory. He provides a series of historical studies, analysing how key psychological writers used examples. Billig offers new insights about famous analysts of the mind, such as Locke, James, Freud, Tajfel and Lewin. He also champions unfairly forgotten figures, like the Earl of Shaftesbury and the eccentric Abraham Tucker. There is a cautionary chapter on Lacan, warning what can happen when examples are ignored. Marie Jahoda is praised as the ultimate example: a psychologist from the twentieth century with a social and rhetorical imagination fit for the twenty-first. More Examples, Less Theory is an easy-to-read book that will inform and entertain academics and their students. It will particularly appeal to those who enjoy the details of examples rather than the simplifications of big theory.
This chapter examines significant silences in a specific situation: namely, the Portuguese parliament’s annual commemoration of the April 1974 revolution that overthrew the Salazarist dictatorship. By concentrating on a formal occasion of epideictic rhetoric, it is possible to examine rhetorical silences in detail. The analysis makes two crucial distinctions: the differences between literal and metaphorical silences and the differences between absences produced by speakers and those produced by audiences. The analysis concentrates on absences in the ways that the right-wing parties participate in the ceremony. The right-wing parties, especially the CDS-PP, are ambivalent about the 1974 revolution and its symbol of the red carnation. However, this ambivalence cannot be expressed directly in the ceremony but is revealed in absences – whether it be speakers avoiding giving unqualified praise of the revolution or unmitigated criticism of Salazarism, or the audience withholding applause at specific moments, or audience and speakers not wearing the symbolic carnation. The absences, which need not be literal silences, can be subtly managed. One example shows how a CDS-PP speaker rhetorically creates a space for right wingers to applaud the mention of the postrevolutionary defeat of the far left, while not rhetorically creating an analogous space for applauding the revolution itself.
At this stage, I need some more examples. My general strategy, so far, has been to take examples where I find them, although on occasions I have departed from this strategy. As I have been writing about the ways that academics use language, inevitably many of my examples have come from academic experts in the study of language. Accordingly, there is a nagging doubt whether my choice of examples might reflect this particular field and that the writings of social scientists from other areas may be free from the faults which I have been criticizing. To quell this doubt, I must look at a wider set of cases.
I cannot cover all the social sciences, so in this chapter I will be concentrating on sociology, and I will be suggesting that sociologists, through their use of nouns, can rhetorically create sociological things, whose reality they uphold. I still have a problem with how to select my examples. It would be wrong to go searching for poor quality articles from obscure journals and then to declare self-righteously: ‘Isn’t it awful? I told you so!’ I will need to ensure that I am taking good quality examples from significant bodies of work.
In this chapter, I will be turning from sociology to social psychology, in order to examine some of the literary practices that experimental social psychologists customarily use. In a way, this is a move from the centre of the social sciences to its boundary with the natural sciences. The majority of social psychologists like to think of themselves as scientists, conducting proper experiments. Many would be surprised to hear that they have a literary style, because they would claim just to stick to ‘the facts’ and to write with the sort of clarity that befits any natural scientist. But, as I want to argue in this chapter, it is not quite so simple and experimental social psychologists have some rhetorical habits which are well worth critically examining.
Some very vocal critics have contrasted the waffle of the social sciences with the precision of the natural sciences. If one paid attention to scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Alan Sokal, one might gain the impression that the root of all problems in the social sciences lies in the pretentiousness of continental literary theory. In the words of Sokal, much big theory today is ‘fashionable nonsense’, designed to impress those who lack the intellectual resources and scientific education to see through its pretences (Sokal and Bricmont, 1999). Dawkins asks his readers to imagine being ‘an intellectual impostor with nothing to say, but with strong ambitions to succeed in academic life’. What sort of literary style would you adopt? He answers: ‘Not a lucid one, surely, for clarity would expose your lack of content’ (Dawkins, 2003, p. 47).