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OPERATIONALIZING CRITICAL HERMENEUTICS: CRITICAL HERMENEUTICS

Posted by Connie R. Aponte on January 14, 2014 in Social Constructionism |

The Development of Critical Hermeneutics

Exegesis, the determination of divine meaning in sacred texts through closed meaning gave impetus in the development of hermeneutics. Consequently, it developed as a methodology used in the interpretation of religious texts. It is summarised as a reformatory account of biblical hermeneutics in which the interpreter is instructed to analyse a passage’s grammar and to consider the passage in broader contexts of the complete text and the felt experience of Christian life. The significance of the use of hermeneutics in the interpretation of religious texts has been the recognition that individual textual components of a text have to be dealt with as a part of a larger whole, (Arnold and Fischer, 1994).

From the use of hermeneutics as purely an instrument of interpreting religious texts, a new wave of thinking developed in hermeneutics. According to Arnold and Fischer (1994) “it was thought that if an interpreter followed prescribed procedures, it was possible in principle to determine an objective immutable meaning either as intended by the author or as contained in the text”. This form of hermeneutics is now known today as hermeneutical theory and has been championed by Betti (1990, 1962, 1980), greatly influenced by the likes of Schleiermacher (1985); Dilthey (1976) and Humboldt (1903-36). Service design process

Betti (1990) identified “meaning-full forms” in which the mind of the other objectivated itself. The task of the reader or the listener is to re-experience, recognise and re-think what the other originality felt or thought (Bleicher, 1980). Betti (1962) put together a set of “hermeneutical canons” of this process of interpretation, arguing that when the meaning complex or “objective” knowledge is acquired through interpretation, understanding occurs at intellectual, emotional and moral levels. Misunderstanding occurs with increases in space and time between the author and reader.

Philosophical hermeneutics developed between the mid and the late twentieth century resulting from Martin Heidegger’s (1949) Sein und Zeit, translated as ‘Being and Time’. Philosophical hermeneutics developed from Gadamer’s (1975) ‘Truth and Method’. Unlike hermeneutical theory, this form of hermeneutics took the position that interpretations are not decidable, that is, understanding is not the objective recognition of an author’s intended meaning. Instead, understanding is a practical task in which the interpreter is changed by becoming aware of new possibilities of what it is to be a human being. In the course of the development of philosophical hermeneutics, another form, different from hermeneutical theory, emerged. A legacy of Cartesian subject is dualism. It manifested as a movement away from epistemology of subject interpreting object. Under this hermeneutical approach, attentions shifted to ontology of the interpreter in a continuous act of coming into understanding (Arnold and Fischer, 1994).

In response to the notion of philosophical hermeneutics, critical hermeneutics emerged. Although closely related to critical theory, critical hermeneutics differed from philosophical hermeneutics because of its recognition of system distortion of pre-understanding (i.e. false consciousness) and its use of analytical procedures (e.g. psychoanalysis, neo Marxian analysis) to remove the distortion. Proponents of critical hermeneutics (see Habermas, 1980; and Apel, 1984) contend that philosophical hermeneutics is plagued by pre-understanding, arguing that uncritical acceptance of preunderstanding could perpetuate the exclusion of past interests. These proponents also contend that the recognition of the linguisticality of understanding by philosophical hermeneutics does not acknowledge that language is also a medium of domination. For this reason, critical thinkers put forward theories and techniques addressing power interests and systemic distortions of understanding (Arnold and Fischer, 1994).

The most recent version of hermeneutics to emerge is phenomenological, designed to bridge hermeneutical theory, philosophical hermeneutics and critical hermeneutics. Based on the work of Paul Ricoeur, this form of hermeneutics mediates between a recapture of an objective sense of text and an existential appropriation of its meaning into understanding. The objective of this approach to hermeneutics is to show how text works. In addition, it has been developed to address what a text says to give insights into the interpreter’s own situation.

Critical hermeneutics is endowed with the ability of analyzing a wide range of texts including corporate advertising. Critical hermeneutics is capable of analyzing transformative messages that attempt to weave organizational messages and symbols together in ways that contribute to the creation and maintenance of enduring patterns of social relations (Cary, 1989; Leiss et al, 1986) between organizations and stakeholders. In the past, this instrument has been used to generate research data and information from speeches, stories, ceremonies, architecture, press releases and most importantly corporate advertisements. Critical hermeneutics enhances the generation of data from texts. This helps in creating an understanding between organizations and stakeholders. Additionally, critical hermeneutics enhances the exhibition of relationships between a network of statements and organizational symbols. This creates avenues through which stakeholders can better understand the business activities of an organization and the business environment.

Critical hermeneutics provides a structured method for examining the role of symbolic phenomena in organizations. Consequently, organizations are viewed and perceived as being symbolic (Pfeffer, 1981). The role of organizations as platforms for sharing socially construed systems has been discussed in many texts. For instance, in his text, Barley (1983) argued that organizations are ‘‘speech communities sharing socially constructed systems of meaning that allow members to make sense of their immediate, and perhaps not so immediate, environment’ ’. Philips and Brown (1993) submitted that this socially constructed system of meaning exists as a set of texts that allows organizational members and stakeholders to interpret organizational activities more effectively and that it also enhances social interaction within organizations. Critical hermeneutics asks how certain texts contribute to the maintenance or evolution of this system of meaning and hence to the patterns of social relations in particular situations. Critical hermeneutics enhances the way particular texts condition the understandings of organizational and extra-organizational actors, and how this conditioning affects their behaviour.

Philips and Brown (1993) argued that this instrument provides a structured method for examining the sources of texts. Organizations recognize the role of corporate advertising texts in maintaining or changing their cultural fabric and their socio-business relations with internal and external stakeholders. Through its first step of analysis, which exposed the identity of the producer of the corporate advertising text as well as why the text had been produced, Philips and Brown (1993) argued that critical hermeneutics weaves together the ideas of organizational culture and ideas of power in a more satisfactory fashion than other methods. Furthermore, Philips and Brown (1993) argued that critical hermeneutics provides a framework for an integration with other notable text analytical research instruments such as structural semiotics, discourse analysis, psychoanalytic criticism and in depth interview within an interpretive frame. By so doing, critical hermeneutics provides an opportunity to confirm and ensure completeness of data analysed, (see Barley, 1983; Fiol, 1989; Gephart, 1979).

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