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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Descriptive articles


Descriptive articles describe data without attempting an interpretation. They may say that a certain sculpture represents a naked woman holding a sword, or they may observe that women often have a lower social status than men, or tell about the plot of a novel. In all cases, they add nothing to what a normal observer would have anyway noticed, just by looking at the same things.

One might say that these articles are useful, since one can elaborate on them. I am not totally convinced by this argument: when something intrigues me, I go back to the sources and want to look at them on my own, also because I distrust the authors of descriptive articles as holders of "implicit methodologies". These are dangerous insofar as they leak into the data and end up influencing what was supposed to be just a list of names (etc.).

Personally, I dislike all sorts of descriptive articles and try to explain to students (and sometimes younger colleagues) that they should rather state their methodology and their premisses, and then attempt an interpretation.

Some random examples (made up by me): "The women with the sword is Kālī and its depiction in a temple sponsored by the local king is significant, insofar as it shows that the royal patronage favoured Śākta cults)". Or: "From the perspective of the thesis according to which gender differences are cultural and not genetic, the subordination of women in X as for work and business is striking"; "The plot conflates Biblical elements (the refusal to listen to God's command, temptation as coming from an external ennemy) with elements of local mythology (flying tigers and pawns) as part of the author's attempt to encapsulate the local history of his country within the general history of salvation".

What about you? What do you like and dislike reading?

On titles of articles on Sanskrit, see this post; on disciplines and their axiology, see this one and this one.

4 comments:

A. Ruiz Falqués said...

Hi Elisa! I think one can not avoid describing the object of study. When you start "describing" your methodology, you are again writing a descriptive article.
With this I mean that I find nothing wrong in description, precisely because it is not objective.
Ciao!

elisa freschi said...

Hi Aleix, you are right and your point is well put. I did not mean to say "no description at all", but "no SHEER descriptions". And I agree with the fact that descriptions are not subject-independent, hence, their authors should be more aware of their own role while deciding what to describe and how to describe it. Don't you think? And what do you enjoy more reading?

A. Ruiz Falqués said...

I totally agree, Elisa.
About reading: What I enjoy more reading is Maupassant, the storyteller.

elisa freschi said...

Really? I never stopped disliking him after having read Une Vie, which made me depressed for days…

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