Thursday, October 16, 2008

Summarizing Details

Summarizing is a crude word to describe the constructive process of writing for the social sciences. The point is rather to pick up the information relevant to one’s research and perspective, thereby reducing it to a fraction of the observable event. Through my camera lens I am forced to frame the world in a rectangular slice. Depending on the amount of light available, and the type of lens I have affixed to my SLR, my depth of field may be limited thereby flattening the rectangular field I perceive behind the lens. In this plane of focus, more reduction occurs; the rate at which my shutter acts will vary the temporal recording. Once the emulsion is exposed and the sliver of reality as perceived by our eyes is firmly set in frame, production begins. Choices are made here such as whether to push or pull process the negatives to fake fast or slow film respectively, or maybe a cross process of colour slide film to flatten the colours, make them punchy, and saturated. At last, the final choices are made, such as paper, size, colour balance, exposure times, and areas to burn.
This process is very much about disciplinary discretion. The final product is a form of communication. The image must feel like it conveys the message that the photographer had intended. If the language used in the medium has an intuitive syntax, it garners success for the speaker as the audience will be persuade to read the text as the speaker had intended. This discipline bound fluency comes from rigour in ones own craft; adopting accepted or acceptable methodologies, keeping the reader always in mind, and always asking questions. All these constructive modes have properties that ultimately reduce all the knowledge attainable into comprehensive, yet focused assertions and descriptions of and about the world that which we inhabit.
The way we nuance the way truth is expressed to serve our needs. Much like Becker’s cartography example, in order to represent what has most cultural utility, some areas of a map need to be distorted, to turn the 3D spherical world, its entirety, into a 2D representation slicing away the unnecessary details. Should we be suspect of maps? We can certainly criticize the choices made in expressing the truth; we can draw attention to motivations for distortions, omissions, embellishments. However, the map remains an accepted and acceptable (in most cases) representation of geography. Whether all-inclusive mariner’s charts or the map you draw on a napkin for the after party, we accept the limitations of the method, and seldom question why it doesn’t accurately represent reality. As described by Becker, for an absolutely truthful representation, you would have to keep a full sized replica of the planet earth in your back pocket. It would be highly ineffective at assisting you in finding your way, and certainly not as intuitive as a map ought to be. And so, as a constructor of social meaning, I must refine my output using the tools of my trade to accurately represent the truth of the world I see around me, while reflexive enough to be aware of my biases and politics.

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