Against the Repudiation of Experience

  • Michael Pickering


From the poststructuralist viewpoint, experience is the bridge which only asses cross. It is a bridge which is regarded as far too rickety to be worthy of repair. The conceptual use of experience is criticised in particular for presupposing a mode of being which exists prior to its expression in words or images.1 Linguistic or visual expression is then the product and transmission of what emerges out of experience, which is taken up uncritically because of the authority vested in it by its qualities of being concrete, immediate and lived. From this perspective, there are at least two serious faults with this use of experience, in social history or cultural ethnography. These are, firstly, that without critical attention to the linguistic and discursive terms in which experience has been cast, it reproduces the ways in which subordinate groups and their experiences in society and history have been rendered subordinate in the first place; and secondly, that it plays an academic game conventional in the human sciences of substituting new evidence for old without interrogating the epistemological basis of its referentiality as evidence. Posts true turalism takes the alternative position that social experience and subjectivity are constructed by categories of differentiation, such as those of class, gender, race and sexual orientation, and that the practices of representation associated with these categories of discourse operate in the interests of existing structures of power by assigning, fixing and naturalising various subordinate ‘types’ and identities.


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© Michael Pickering 1997

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  • Michael Pickering

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