I agree entirely with your point that the writer needs to have the audience in mind while writing. I believe that I had done so, because my reader–in the singular–is Marco! With that in mind, I expect a certain type of reading. In this case, the marking scheme provided to instructors by UofLiverpool forms the backbone of any writing task. Also, in the 11 module assignments to date, no instructor has ever commented on the use of theory. I suspect that this is because theory does not become a real issue until Module 7. However, I need to develop my own conceptions of and abilities in using theory. So I write in this abstract manner to fulfill the grade requirements at the same time as push my own learning. A win-win, but not for my fellow cohort members, I’m afraid!
If the second paragraph, starting “This analysis” is placed at the beginning, I think that a number of your points would be addressed. The framing theory comes from sociology, not psychology or philosophy. The definition of ‘state’, then, avoids that discipline-specific interpretation. You reminded me of the difference in psychology between ‘state’, ‘trait’ and ‘characteristic’ and other descriptive ontological terms. Do you think that I need to clarify ‘state’ even in a sociological essay? I do take your point about definitional clarification, and in this case, the need for that is related to the notion of the reader.
For conceptual clarity, let me say that ‘state’ in my essay refers to the set of conditions that promote action in individuals and in groups because of the symbolic meanings the elements of the conditions have for those individuals. Seen in this way, a ‘state’ is not a psychological trait but the result of any assessment of a set of actions. This construct is useful because it shows conjoins and shows how the fundamental levels of attitudes, beliefs and values relate to the level of actions which give rise to the state, or condition. The subtlety implicit in symbolicinteractionism is the recognition that any ‘state’ is heavily predicated on the type of assessment done to conceptualise the state and in turn highly dependent on the perspective of the assessor. This methodology allows for post-modernist pluralist interpretations to co-exist and to be sensitive (or not) to the various interpretational lenses the researcher wishes to use. Kezar and Carducci (2007) spend a lot of time on what these possibilities may be.
The perspective used (epistemology) to describe a situation does indeed produce an ontology of that situation. If, for example, I see a Parking Permit policy and then witness campus security making regular rounds and finally note that all vehicles have either a parking permit or a warning sticker, I can create a simple ontology of documentation (the policy, the security rounds, the permits and the warning stickers). These items can be said to exist. How they are interpreted and acted upon may also result in an ontology (of those who obey, of those who disobey). Furthermore, a new set of documentation may arise (numbers of fines, warnings, meeting minutes that describe discussions of infringements). The degree to which any element in a situation has symbolic meaning can be assessed by the number and weight of the consequent actions and resultant documentation. If the parking policy really was a serious issue, we could expect to see a (sub)committee being set up to address the problem. If no committee or other enforcing action happened, the impact of the policy can be interpreted as having less impact.
Local and context-bound ontologies, therefore, are extremely important in symbolic interactionism. You know, I have fallen in love with symbolic interactionism recently. Because it tries to assess (not evaluate) any situation using only the actions that led to that state, it–in my opinion–is the closest thing that social scientists have to the scientific method. Once an ontology is developed from a situation, the strengths and directions of interactions can be charted in a quasi-quantitative method WHILE retaining the necessary pluralism required by social situations. Much of social science cannot be verified or generalised because the methodology (not necessarily epistemology) used to generate the base theories fail to address the actual mechanisms that do underpin social interaction. So replicating a study becomes impossible. However, with symbolic interactionism, situations that are similar enough in which actors hold similar meanings and engage in similar actions can be compared.
Finding these similar situations, however, is difficult; But no more difficult than, say, working out which bio-organisms operate in which environments, a task biologists have had to work out long ago. If social science really is to become a science, this is a task that we need to engage with fully. Most social scientists do not, and frankly, much of the literature is woolly fluff.
You are right that I contend that top-down meaning change is risky if not impossible in the Japanese HE environment. The silo mentality is too strong, and the lack of penalties for non-compliance too obvious for real change to be implemented. This is not a bad thing, either. Slow but secure change may be better than swift uninformed change. As the Rolling Stones sang “if you try [to change], you just might find, that you get what you need” (Brown, 2014). Japanese HE get what they need even if what they think they need is not exactly the same as what they actually get.
I’m looking forward to more of your comments. This kind of discussion is fascinating and it really helps me clarify my thinking. I hope that I can be of service to you, too.
By the way, did that book ever get published after 100 rejections?
Brown, S. (2014). You can’t always get what you want: change management in higher education. Campus-Wide Information Systems, 31(4), 208–216.
Kezar, A. J., & Carducci, R. (2007). Cultivating Revolutionary Educational Leaders: Translating Emerging Theories into Action. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 2(1), 1–46.