The moment of epistemological rupture separates science from its non-scientific past. This means not only adopting a scientific language (they could be put in a scientific terminology not being scientific explanations, because they do not adopt criteria on which any scientific explanation should be based), but also relying on the criteria under which a scientific explanation should be based.
In a scientific explanation the phenomena must be explained causally and in depth, that is, the final causes alone do not explain them, but must be explained in a procedural way: it is especially important to consider the root causes, but it is also to note the link between the root and the final cause, that is, the process that goes from causes to effects.
Background of the Concept
The concept of epistemological rupture comes from the tradition of French philosophy of science that was practiced during the first half of the 20th century at the Collége de France. In fact, the term seems to refer to an aptitude that all those who are dedicated to the profession of scientist have.
It also seems to suggest that this competence is achieved through the training that qualifies for the profession of scientist. Thus, the term “epistemological” would seem to be related to these two factors. Furthermore, the fact that they use the term “rupture” seems to imply that it is a finite process: a rupture or a rupture is something that is done once and for all without interruption.
More importantly, the term “breakup” gives the impression that it is a process that someone performs in a consciously planned way. In contrast, epistemological rupture is far from being a technical, discontinuous, consciously planned process. The epistemological rupture is essentially a social process and like all social processes it is characterized by the social conditions in which it develops, determining its effect and efficiency. Evidently, the social conditions that are at the origin of the rupture are not established or chosen by the person, since he or she finds them already realized and they are the bases that will determine the success of the epistemological rupture affected.
Characteristics of Epistemological Rupture
In general, behind the epistemological ruptures of the generations of young scientists, there are often processes of upward mobility carried out by the children of the working classes (in urban social contexts) or by the children of peasant families in rural contexts involved in processes of agricultural crisis, or perhaps by second generation immigrants.
That is to say, they are usually carried out by people who find themselves in no man’s land and who, previously, before becoming scientists capable of thinking on the counter, had been questioned by reality itself, having no choice but to learn to question this reality by questioning their own existence. This is the social structure that determines the effectiveness, the effect and the intensity of the epistemological rupture induced.
An epistemology of rupture is elusive. Unlike an established system or structure, ruptures are fleeting and interrupted. That is why the intervals that are manifested by rupture are so important. We know that we are in the presence of rupture when the continuous order of things is altered in a moment, when the very emergence of a value appears in a new and senseless way, a way whose possibilities cannot be extracted from the epistemology that is being interrupted.
Ideology and Epistemological Rupture
The next question we must ask is: how does ideology work? For Althusser, ideology always works in opposition to science. Borrowing from Gaston Bachelard, a French epistemologist, Althusser employs the concept of “epistemological rupture,” which he first used to periodize Marx’s work. Gaston Bachelard was a philosopher of science whose book The Formation of the Scientific Mind had a great influence on the post-war generation of French epistemologists, including Althusser. According to Bachelard, scientific knowledge must be understood and approached in terms of obstacles.
Scientific knowledge is totally opposed to (popular) opinions because “nothing can be based on opinion: you have to start by destroying it”. However, opinions are the first obstacle to be overcome. In other words, the scientific mind does not allow any compromise with opinion, in the sense of having opinions about the object that we do not fully understand. In this respect, for scientific knowledge, general knowledge or general opinion is an obstacle. According to Bachelard, for scientific thinking to be truly scientific, it has to go through several stages of epistemological obstacles. That is, an epistemological obstacle is the moment of rupture, or the moment of rupture, which divides science (or scientific knowledge) from its pre-scientific past.
By using concepts such as Habitus and Field, Bourdieu seeks to go beyond dichotomies such as subjectivity and objectivity. He tries to do this by using his theory of practice as a way to capture the dynamics and change of social processes. Bourdieu’s own training is anthropological and he has developed his approach in various analyses of the subcultures of Algeria and France. In this respect, educational research in recent years has become increasingly qualitative and ethnographic, and it is in this sense that Bourdieu’s work is most obviously connected to it. Spradley (1980: 13) described ethnography as “a culture that studies culture”, belonging to its anthropological origins.
Representationalism and Relativism
It therefore proceeds with the notion that it is possible to study groups and individuals within their natural contexts and make meaningful representative statements about what is happening. This is not the place to go into the many aspects of the various versions of ethnography as used in educational research, except to say that there have been continuing concerns about the method, the state of theory derived from such approaches, and concerns about the relationship between what Hammersley refers to as representationalism and relativism: The former involves unacceptable assumptions about the asymmetry of explanations of true and false beliefs and of actions based on them.
The second leads to all those problems that usually derive from the adoption of a relevant epistemology, notably internal consistency (Hammersley 1992: 54). Therefore, Bourdieu’s method crosses these problems by first “rethinking” the object of research in terms of its analytical concepts of Habitus and Field, and by doing so, repositioning it within the epistemological concerns described above.
Field can be studied in terms of three different levels:
Analyzing the position of the field within the field of power
Map the objective structure of relationships between the positions occupied by agents competing for the legitimate forms of specific authority of which Field is a site.
Analyze the Habitus of the agents; the system of dispositions they have acquired by internalizing a certain type of social and economic condition.
The field concept
Here, the ultimate goal is to reach the “basic (differentiating) principle behind … the structured structure that gives … systems their structuring power” (1971: 1255). For educational research, this ‘differentiating principle’ can be applied not only to the class, but to what generates pedagogical processes: for example, the dynamics of discourse in the classroom; the knowledge of the home and the school; what happens when people enter the field of training to become teachers; how students make decisions about higher education and how their evaluation builds the authority of academic discourse.
As in Bourdieu’s case, we might be interested in how relational structures at different levels are involved in such processes. Clearly, there are doubts about the extent to which these “levels” should be kept separate for operational purposes: Bourdieu does not. However, the separation facilitates at least the technical options on how to conceptualize the research and collect and analyze data. Bourdieu has used various forms of correspondence analysis in his work over the years. However, in his most recent empirical work (1993) he adopts a case study approach. In fact, case studies seem to offer the possibility of identifying and comparing relational structures and their constitutional effects.
Bourdieu, P (1963) ‘Statistics and Sociology’, first published as ‘Statisques et Sociologie’,pp. 9 – 12 of Travail et Travailleurs en Algérie. Paris: The Hague Mouton. Translated by Derek Robbins in G.R.A.S.P. Working Paper No.10. University of East London. 1994.
Hammersley, M (1992) What’s Wrong with Ethongraphy? London: Routledge.
Popper, K (1972/79) Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. Oxford: OUP.
Rorty, R (1989) Objectivity, Relativism and Truth. Cambridge: CUP.
Spradley, J (1980) Participant Observation. New York: Holy, Rinehart and Winston.
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