[KS] Re: absolute relativism, etc

joshua john van lieu sumnom at u.washington.edu
Mon Aug 7 18:06:30 EDT 2000

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Dear Mr. Parker, 

Thank you for your reply. As for your first comment below, if you think I
have some gaps in my reading, please pass on some references so I can
delve into the offending material to which you alluded. Some members of
the list have responded privately with very helpful information and
suggestions. I would much appreciate any suggestions you might have.

There are some ( e.g. - a professor I once studied with that did not give 
permission to be quoted) who say that so-called post-modern or
post-structuralist approaches in the social sciences and humanities
are built upon  hyper-objectivity, not abject relativism.. A constant
awareness of the contexts in which human life unfolds, be they individual
or global, is key to any interpretation and analysis. However, I agree
with you that concern for contextualization can be taken too far,
resulting in tiresome intellectual narcissism. 

On Fri, 4 Aug 2000, Jason Parker wrote:

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> Obviously you have not looked into the recent and ongoing debates within 
> social science in general in which factions that proclaim he uniqueness of 
> cultures and individual experiences as paramount and deny cross-cultural 
> comparison based on an infinite and multitude of "unique" variables that do 
> not allow for such a comparison (what is referred to as post-modern malaise 
> by some).

On to your next comment below. I did not argue that Korea was a unique
entity in and of itself. I did not suggest that we look at Korea as a
monolithic and independently existing creature. Let us eschew
essentialism, my friend. I merely spoke up for the importance of the
"details", or context, that you said disappeared in the "big picture". 

If you are doing comparative work on Korea, could you tell us something
about it and the way in which your understanding of Korea is enhanced
through this approach? If you are not, could you point me to some work 
that exemplifies the merits of this approach? 

> I am sure that having read my short comment that you are not implying that 
> I deny the need for empirical research. Empirical research helps avoid 
> extreme relativism, I agree - it seems that we are arguing similar points. 
> My concern is for those who would argue that these "details" are more 
> important than the cross-cultural lessons that can be learned form the 
> current situation in Korea. I am not in favor of abandoning cultural 
> specific information, but they need to be framed, for the sake of 
> knowledge, and understood in the context of the big picture. When we speak 
> of conflict, trade, unification etc it always includes other parties aside 
> form just the Koreans. Their details (the US, Japanese etc) are just as 
> important to understanding what is going on in Korea - not just the Korean 
> perspective. If we are to study Korean Culture as a finite entity, we lose 
> much of the understanding it takes for this if the "big picture" is 
> excluded. It is impossible to understand contemporary Korean society from 
> an internalized, static viewpoint. One need only look at marketing 
> structure of rural villages to see the vestiges of Japanese Colonialism. As 
> for Germany, sure there was no war, but there were similar external forces 
> compelling the separation and cross-border conflict. A "big picture" 
> perspective by itself is uninformed and offers little utility for study, 
> however when viewed in light of the "details" it can be a very illuminating 
> and important tool in understand, resolving and creating change.

Post-modern malaise? Most of the pomo folks I know are rather excited by
the work they do. I can't say that I buy it all but they sure seem into

I look forward to your reply.

Joshua Van Lieu

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