Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Falsifiability and Fear

kwheeler's picture

Out of all the texts we have read so far, the ones that I have identified with the most were James J. Sosnoski’s “A Mindless Man-driven Theory Machine” and Hélène Cixous’s “The Laugh of the Medusa”. Sosnoski really brought home for me some of the ideas that Virginia Woolf discusses in Three Guineas. In particular the idea of professionalism, which Woolf alludes to when she says that “[Professions] make the people who practice them possessive, jealous of any infringement of their rights, and highly combative if anyone dares dispute them” (Woolf, 66). Sosnoski attributes these ideas to the qualities of competitiveness and falsificity that he says are all too present in the professional world and the world of academia today.

In class we briefly discussed the implications of the idea of falsificity, that there exists an objective answer to the question of whether something is true or false, correct or incorrect. This proves problematic; if there is one thing I have learnt during my studies at Bryn Mawr as an anthropology major it is that what we believe to be right or true is always subjective. The social and political consequences of assuming your beliefs to be fact are dire; I would venture so far as to say that all conflict begins because someone presupposes that they are in the right. I guess this is what Woolf is referring to in her attempt to answer the question, how can we prevent war?

I think the reason I like Sosnoski’s article so much is that he offers us a solution, one that I find more compelling than Woolf’s. While I perceive Woolf as saying we (women) should form our own kind of outsiders’ society and reject the competitive ways of men, Sosnoski preaches collaboration, community and concurrence. I find this a very convincing solution. If people could work collaboratively in a harmonious environment instead of constantly trying to negate one another’s ideas and beliefs then I think we will succeed in preventing war. And unlike Woolf, I would like to believe that it is possible to achieve all this within the framework of existing institutions and that we do not have to exclude men from our endeavors.

At the risk of being accused of making a huge generalization, I do believe that the ideals of collaboration, community and concurrence are more inherent in women’s thought, or at least feminist thought, than in men’s thought. This brings me to Cixous’s article, which emphasizes how important it is for women to write and let their voices be heard. Cixous also identifies a very prevalent problem, that women have been “kept in the dark” and led into self-disdain for so long that the amount of women authors is miniscule relative to men. In class we established that Cixous says we are selfish if we do not share our thoughts and ideas in an attempt to rival our male counterparts. We are obligated to overcome any fears or self-doubt we have.

This idea proved difficult for me because I’ve always been a more introverted member of the class, but have always attributed this to a fear of being judged because of a lack of complexity or eloquence with which I share my thoughts. I’ve never thought of the inner workings of my unconscious as an inexhaustible volcano of thoughts and ideas, but now I’m wondering whether this is because I am product of a patriarchal society (of the particularly rectitudinous British persuasion), that instills in the minds of women the idea that their thoughts are somehow inferior and less valid than those of men, a society that criticizes all the things that do not conform to its hegemonic way of thinking and that propagates itself by way of falsifiability. I agree with Cixous’s thinking that women must write and speak out in order to elicit change; however I'd like to think that there are alternatives for non-writers, such as all of us anthropology majors out there.


albolton's picture

Thank you, kwheeler8, and

Thank you, kwheeler8, and your classmates, for giving us alums access to your papers. I, too found Sosnoski and Cixous the most relevant of the readings, and I think you’ve identified what is to me the most important question.  Not all of us evolve into academics, and only a few of those into literature or literary criticism.  I think the important issue for the rest of us is how to be, live as, feminists wherever in the world we find ourselves, and also to express our feminism in whatever way suits us as individuals.  (Contrary as that may be to Kauffman’s view.)  Reading, writing as a feminist is only a part of that. 

To me, the importance of Critical Feminist Theory is the insights offered into how culture, society and the world have been and are being structured, and what other possibilities might exist that would be better choices.  It’s important to recognize the pervasiveness of patriarchal, hierarchical thinking, and the effects that flow from such worldviews.  And then to apply that understanding in our careers, personal life, politics, etc.  Applying the tools of anthropology to Western Culture, with a feminist understanding, seems very much in the forefront of that process.  So you should definitely not feel “left out” by Cixous’ call for us to “write.”  It’s my guess that her exhortation meant (or should have meant) something much more broadly creative and expressive than merely words on paper.  --Alex ‘65 

Anne Dalke's picture

of the particularly recitudinous British persuasion

You start out, kwheeler08, by identfying the text that you have "most identified with." Can I start out by asking why the act of identification is primary for you in this analysis? That is, you don't focus on the text that stretched you the furtherest, or took you the greatest distance, but the one that seemed closest to come?

The other bit that confuses me is the contrast of your belief, nurtured by your study of anthropology, that "what we believe to be right or true is always subjective," and your "fear of being judged." Once we acknowledge the constructedness of our positions, doesn't some of that fear dissipate? Why has it not for you? (I think this is Sosnoski's argument...if we give up one term of your title--falsifiability--we can give up the other one--fear.)

You go on to say that you buy Sosnoski's sermon about "collaboration, community and concurrence"; you might be interested to know that faculty and staff at Bryn Mawr have also begun to meet, in anticipation of our coming change in adminstration, to imagine building a community together with many of those characteristics; our language has been that of generosity and trust and forgiveness.

What's most striking to me in your piece, though, is your final hope that "there are alternatives for non-writers," alternatives to speaking out in order to bring about change. Why do you want such alternatives? What might those alternatives be, and how can you identify them? Where will you look for them?