Post-action theorizing in community media (Laws vs Tools)

A large tendency in community media analysis is to post-theorize, for example attaching Paulo Freire’s theories of Dialogic Pedagogy to activity that has already happened, even if the facilitator had never heard of Freire and his ideas.  I feel that is still useful as it helps us understand the dynamics of what is happening better, and it is like evoking Newton if we didn’t understand why a cup falls on the floor – but many would view that as different.  Positivists would say that Newton’s law of Gravity is an undisputable ‘natural law’, whereas Freire’s theory of Conscientization is a ‘social notion’, which can be disputed and is therefore flawed if treated as a law.    

Enter stage left, Emile Durkheim and his ‘Rules of Sociological Method’ where he advocated for empirical social phenomena to be treated as natural law, with his theory of ‘social facts’,  and for sociologists (social scientists) to treat ‘social facts as things’.

Now to make my position clear, I conduct sociological research, but I have no claims on aiming to make social science a natural science, just in the same way I have no desire to view community media in the same way as mass media – they have different roles for different purposes for different contexts.  Social Science can reveal things that the Natural Sciences can’t, and vice versa – and they both provide tools for us to understand the world better.  Whether then called ‘tools’ or  ‘laws’ I’ll leave for someone else to debate. 

As a tool, Paulo Freire’s ideas are central theories for understanding the nuances of the pedagocical aspects of community media and informal education dynamics, just as the theory of gravity, + Newton’s theory of motion, are essential tools for understanding why, if you are on a moving train and bounce a ball in front of you, it doesn’t fall into your feet.

Of course, over the course of time, undisputable theories become facts, such as with gravtiy, and that is fair enough.  The things sociologists study are less tangible and material, but that doesn’t make them any less ‘real’ or universal.  Right on cue, enter stage right Marx (in toe with the spirit of Hegel) with Historical Materialism, seeing the events of history as measurable material processes not fleeting mental whims.  Laws of history that are evidence of the state of the present.  More tools for social science ammunition to position social science as natural law.  The worship at the alter of the “fact”.  

That is all fine, but solid facts can be boring anyway.  I like the ongoing mystery of a tantalising idea.

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