Val. A. Lukov, Vl. A. Lukov: THESAURUS APPROACH IN THE HUMANITIES

THESAURUS APPROACH IN THE HUMANITIES


Val. A. Lukov, Vl. A. Lukov


The humanities are being subjectivated and straying from the ideal of science as the objective knowledge increasingly. At first, positivistic paradigm and then paradigms of structural functionalism, structuralism, historical materialism and other microsocial theories suffered considerable losses under the impact of the criticism of the representatives of the subjectively-directed concepts of the humanitarian knowledge. This criticism cannot be denied and ignored by the scientific community. Indeed, in conditions of the "information explosion", which characterize the culture of the moderne, there is a stubborn problem a researcher has to solve: is he/she able to master a huge corpus of information to draw certain scientific conclusions? The objectivity of a research turns out to be doubtful not only in one or another specific case, but on the whole. Subjectivity of the modern science is not just tribute to fashion, but a natural consequence of the cultural development. How should one work with this subjective component and satisfy the requirements of the scientifically-directed knowledge at the same time?

The answer to this question and this scientific need, especially in the sphere of the humanities, absorb the minds of the outstanding scientists. Far from accidentally the philosophy of the 20th century had such a powerful influence of the studies of L. Wittngenstein who put the linguistic barrier as the stop of the completeness of knowledge: a human being is able to know only what the resources of language he/she uses let formulate (Wittgenstein 1953). The criticism of this position (including from the direction of linguists, e.g., A. V. Wierzhbitsckaja - Wierzbicka 1990) does not cancel it at all: activity of understanding of the reality by a subject. Culture cannot be realized and involved in the human activities in full measure as we talk about an individual or a society. It cannot passively reproduce the objective correlations but it inevitably reconstructs them.

The study of these processes and subsequent consequences is advisably to be conducted with the use of the thesaurus approach, which has been developed during the last years (Lukov Val., Lukov Vl. 2004). It has showed its heuristicness in cultural studies, sociology, philology and other fields of the humanitarian knowledge.

The focal concept of this approach - thesaurus. In Ancient Greece they used "thésaurós" meaning treasure, treasure-house, supply. In the scientific terminology of nowadays - in linguistics, semiotics, informatics, theory of artificial intelligence and other fields of knowledge - thesaurus means a specially formed accumulation. In informatics and theory of artificial intelligence attention is paid to the systemization of data, which form thesaurus, and to their orienting nature. In particular this characteristic of thesaurus underlied the content of this concept in the general humanitarian thesaurus approach: thesaurus is the term to indicate a structured notion and universal image of the part of world culture, which can be learned by a subject.

Thesauruses can be described by the following features:

  1. The structure of thesaurus is contradictory. Completeness characterizes it by definition, but this feature is subjective, it unites and puts together what is separated in the reality by space and time in the same plane, it covers not only reality, but also supposition about reality (not only the past, the present, but also the future). At the same time incompleteness (selectivity) is peculiar to a thesaurus in comparison with the diversity of the real world, which is presented in a thesaurus fragmentarily and in a specific configuration (for instance, like the pictures by the surrealists and Salvador Dali).

  2. Thesaurus is not a chaotic conglomeration of a great number of data and preparednesses, but a hierarchical (in some cases) or network (in the others) system, which is intended to the orientation in the environment. It means that various people have different thesauruses, since both their personal features and milieu of their vital activity are not the same. A thesaurus reflects the hierarchy of the subjective notion about the world, in this meaning it can be considered to be the part of the reality, which is mastered by a subject (an individual, a group).

  3. The consequences of the orientation on the basis of a thesaurus are: firstly, the lack of coincidence of the subjective worlds (their co-ordination is observed only in a confined circle of parameters and within certain limits; secondly, predominantly the value regulation of social behavior (which transforms all the factors and determinants of such a behavior); thirdly, the activity of behavior of a social subject in the social environment. The uniqueness of the vital worlds forms the basis for the their tie-up, which varies in the different levels of the social organization and also has the specific forms and ways of realization on the level of the every day life.

Thesauruses provide the basis for the social construction of the reality, if the latter is understood as not only a concept in the field of the sociology of knowledge, which was elaborated by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann (Berger, Luckmann 1966), but also as the activity of a perceptive, cognizing, understanding subject who interacts with the world in the regime of a dialogue and "interchange of blows", or in other words - by impulses of an active influence.

Thereby it is productive to use the thesaurus approach for the comprehension and organization of the social projection, where thesaurus is a full-systematized structure of information (knowledge) and aims in this or that sphere of life, which helps to orientate oneself in it. In the thesaurus concept of the social projection a more general sociological principle was reflected, which is being used effectively in the developing of the theories concerning different aspects and manifestations of socialization. The core of the principle is in the declaration of the activity of a subject of the social conduct (or in other words - of the social subjectivity) as the deciding factor, which determines the content and forms of the social life. This principle is well-known, covered within various scientific paradigms and defined differently by great names (among them - K. Marx, M. Weber), but not very rarely can be found in a too abstract form, which does not let transfer it from the field of social philosophy to the sociological interpretations.

In particular the concept of thesaurus can be effectively applied in the last respect: it marks empirically generated mental structures, which display sense of the ordinary actions of people and their communities, but besides predetermine different deviations of the commonness and have (maybe decisive) influence upon the whole complex of social structures, institutions and processes. The thesaurus approach has demonstrated this efficiency in the analysis of the youth problematic having shown that it can be used as one of the system constitutive methods of developing of the theories within the sociology of youth.

Continuing this line we have made an attempt to show that the thesaurus approach gives new methods for describing and understanding of the processes of socialization, including in the dynamically changing social systems, when a reliable social-practices-from-generation-to-generation transfer system by means of socialization sometime experiences an abject failure.

Such a failure in socialization was at first the establishment of the Soviet model of socialization and then its collapse. It took only 15 years for the first and the second processes to be fulfilled, although it is evident that the process of socialization is basically extremely conservative and only because of that it ensures the reproduction of the whole system of social relations. If conservatism of the socializative processes is the rule then how do the socializative practices change at a time and on a mass scale? The problem is also the separation of identities from quasi-identities -- it is hard to accomplish in the conditions of transitional societies. On the whole the established opinion about socialization as the process of acquiring of models of behavior, psychological mechanisms, social norms and values -- which are indispensable for successful functioning of an individual in a society -- is becoming doubtful. Firstly, it is not clear enough how the process of acquiring can lose repeatability. Secondly, in the situation of the social anomie the problems of interpretation of models of behavior, norms and values shared in the society are appearing. Thirdly, the conception of the successfulness of a person is also doubtful: various socio-cultural areas presume different interpretations of human successfulness depending on a decision about the philosophical (and religious) meaning of life.

Our hypothesis is that (1) individual thesauruses are being formed within the socializative process from elements of thesaurus constructions; (2) there are several thesaurus constructions with different degrees of topicality (i.e. degree of diffusion, normativeness, formalization); correspondingly, on the individual level the co-existence of several thesauruses and straightening of a thesaurus with a mobile hierarchy of elements are possible; (3) topicality, actualization and loss of urgency of one or another thesaurus constructions are determined by objective social processes and subjective definition of situation (on different levels of social organization); (4) socializative practices provide transfers of both relevant and non-relevant thesaurus constructions, which form thesaurus.

From the standpoint of the information mentioned above it is important to underline that we understand thesaurus as such an organization of information of an individual, which is closely connected with his/her place in a society and in the macro- and micro-social areas. The appearing within the socializative process combination of elements (data, models of behavior, aims, values, etc.) is constructed from the fragments of thesauruses of significant others. This fragments bear evidence of earlier thesaurus formations, also assimilated from the significant others of the other generations. We call the general part of thesaurus fragments, which, as a matter of fact, form individual thesauruses, - thesaurus constructions. They can be compared with roots of words, which take the precise meaning in the combination with other construction blocks (prefixes, affixes, etc.)

The analogy with idioms -- steady phraseological turns -- gives a more faithful representation of thesaurus constructions. The distinctive features of idioms lie in the fact that their meaning does not arise from the meaning of the word, which make up phraseologism. It is also typical for phraseological fusions, where a motivation of a set of elements is not clear (e.g., Russian "bit' baklushi" - to twiddle away one's thumbs -- literally "to beat forms, which are made for manufacturing of wooden spoons"). The same is for phraseological unities, which have a clear motivation ("plyt' po techeniju" - to go with the stream; "sidet' na igle - to fix (slang) - literally "to sit on the needle") and for the other types of phraseologisms.

Cohesion between thesaurus constructions into thesauruses is caused by the aim of orientation in the socio-cultural space and time. The axis of hierarchical organization of thesaurus lies in the other plane than in the systematical code of human knowledge, which is being kept, modified and enlarged in the forms of science. The axes of thesaurus lies in the "one's-other's" coordinate system, which provides orientation of a human being in the environment. But this statement can be expanded taking differences in (1) social distances and (2) levels of sociality into account.

If we talk about social distances (spatial and temporal) then here the co-ordinates "one's-other's" let separate the closest, remote and distant social milieus in horizontal plane. The closest milieu is the most important; it is transparent, predictable, feeds different normative-value characteristics and corresponding activities (evaluation of behavior, gossips, sympathy, practices of exclusion, etc.). The remote milieu is less considerable; there is less information about it, it is not transparent and presented in a thesaurus fragmentarily, it does not arouse deep feelings and emotions. The distant milieu is situated in the opaque zone of the "other's", which is perceived as strange, sometimes hostile.

At least three conditions break this harmonious picture of social distances. The first -- the phenomenon of the referent groups or personalities in the cases when they are located outside the closest milieu (in space and time), but in the line of them an orientation complex of an individual or a group has formed. In such situations the real closest milieu can pass on to the periphery of a thesaurus. In the temporal aspect the removal towards the referent groups or individuals can be measured in millenniums. Such is, for instance, the thesaurus of the outstanding French thinker of the Renaissance Michele Montaigne, which we have investigated. The core of it is the orientation to system of ideas and values of a Roman philosopher Seneca (the time gap is about 1500 years).

The second - the research interest, which is quite often connected with an occupation and also with amateurishness. Research as a process of perception diminishes the opacity of the "other's" and makes it "one's". Essentially, the example of Montaigne demonstrates this research interest, which determines another distance in time and inserts thesaurus constructions of any remoteness in an actual thesaurus.

The third - the situational resentments in the social area (historical events, developments in a private life - move, death of close people, marriage, etc.), in the result of which the core and periphery of a thesaurus get mixed up.

The complications for harmony and stability of a thesaurus are also created in the vertical shearing of the reality, i.e. in such an examination of it when different levels of sociality are taken in consideration. In this regard it is important to underline that thesauruses to some extent include information of different levels of sociality, although predominantly they appear in a transformed and adapted condition: the adaptor is the individual level, and more exactly it is what is being consolidated as an experience.

But again it is a general principle. In the periods when on that or another level extraordinary changes, high risks, catastrophes occur there is a removal also in thesauruses, and a significant event with a high degree of consequence for people breaks a thesaurus hierarchy and subdues the personal to the public. Such is particularly the mechanism of sudden changes in the state of public opinion during August 19--21, 1991 in Russia or the terrorist attack on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. A shift in thesauruses in such situations can shape a well-fixed form of commonality of emotional reactions, appearing of new unions (including with the former "strangers"), changes of informational preferences, etc.

Specificity of construction of a thesaurus hierarchy lies in the fact that the orienting tools are identification models (models oriented on the standards of life "as people have"; model with orientation toward originality, combination of their parts depending on a situation). In this case the completeness of information on a thesaurus means only the adequacy, which is defined by an orientation purpose. All the rest information goes to the periphery; it is subdued according to the hierarchy of a thesaurus and is distorted under the impact of the main ideas and aims or it is not noticed at all.

By means of that, by the way, the problem of entirety of socializational impact in the diversity and quite often the opposition of socializational practices can be solved. Why does the same situation of socializational impact give different results? The consequence of every factor taken separately does not offer an answer. Thus in the families with parents-alcoholics there are observed both aspiration for overcoming such a life style and continuing the practices of parents. Or another example: the investigations of the specific of the value attitude to violence among the young people who are aligned (according to self-appraisal) with images of such movie heroes as Rambo, Terminator, the characters of Jean Claude Van Damme, etc., did not find a significant difference with an average figures of the youth environment, although, it might seem, in this subgroup the limits of permissibility must be reduced.

The Goffman's idea of "public indifference" (Goffman 1971), which was formed within the sociology of town and expresses the peculiarities of interaction with a high degree of their facelessness, from the standpoint of these discourses can get slightly another perspective of examination: neglecting this or that piece of information serves as a protective mechanism of an identity and as an aspect of orientation in the social milieu. It is being formed in the socializational practices. At the same time it must be noted that the neglected information can remain in the reserve and in a suitable moment become relevant. Such are usual for everyday life situations of delivery of a child or death of a relative, when the traditional practices of ritual activities of not current importance are "remembered" and assimilated for a time and then again go to the "store-rooms" of consciousness.

On the whole one can affirm that a more detailed study of thesauruses lets achieve a better understanding of the essence and dynamic of the transitional epochs as the clots of complicated socio-cultural processes, which mix more or less stable layers of thesauruses. The effect of glimmer of meanings exists. It means that meanings, which reflect, express and organize human life, are indestructible; they just stray from a relevant situation in the peculiar "store-rooms" of the historical memory and in a hypothetically suiting case become active, legitimate and quite often "solely correct" again.


Berger, Luckman 1966: Berger P. L., Luckmann T. (1966) The Social Construction of Reality. A Treatise on Sociology of Knowledge. N. Y., 1966.

Goffman 1971: Goffman E. Relations in public. N. Y., 1971.

Lukov Val., Lukov Vl. (2004): Lukov Val., Lukov Vl. Thesaurus approach in the humanities // Knowledge. Understanding. Skill. Moscow,. 2004. № 1. P. 93-100. (In Russian).

Wierzbicka A. (1990:) Prototypes saves: on the uses and abuses of the notion of prototypes in linguistic and related fields // Tsohatsidis S. L., ed. Meaning and prototypes: Studies in linguistic categorization. L., N. Y., 1990. P. 374-367.

Wittgenstein 1953: Wittgenstein L. (1953) Philosophical investigations. N. Y., 1953.


English translation by B. N. Gaydin,

edited by N. V. Zakharov.


















The authors:

Valery A. Lukov, the Deputy Rector for Research of Moscow University for the Humanities, the Head of the Institute of Studies for the Humanities, Ph.D., Professor, the Academician of the International Academy of Science.

Address: 111395

Moldagulova St. 12 - 1, flat 17

Moscow

Russia

E-mail: v-lukov@list.ru


Vadimir A. Lukov, the head of the Theory and History of Culture in the Institute of Studies for the Humanities, Doctor of philology, professor, the Academician of the International Academy of Science.

Address: 123098

Marshal Novikov St. 4 -1, flat 34

Moscow

Russia

E-mail: lookoff@mail.ru