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Care, play and art: Beginning a social inquiry into community

Litchfield, John (1999) Care, play and art: Beginning a social inquiry into community. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This dissertation focuses on the scope for social theories (and their research methodologies) in questioning how particular forms of art can furnish a beginning for social inquiry into community. It asks what constitutes an adequate foundation for the application and development of social theory and method. The dissertation places these issues clearly within the traditions of phenomenology and hermeneutics.

A Husserlian phenomenological approach is crucial in the early stages of the discussion because of its focus on modern rational ways of understanding, creating and destroying the idea of community and various expressions of community's everydayness. Rationalism cannot, it would seem, relate to either the idea of community or its expressions as anything other than a passive and subjective entity. I argue rationalism's conception of community is not at all adequate.

Using hermeneutic philosophy I argue, by contrast to orthodox rationality, that the land carries the meanings of community in both a historical and contemporary context, and as such, the land - not subjectivity - generates knowledge of community.

In developing this hermeneutic argument in relation to the land I suggest that the knowledge the land generates is made available to the social inquirer in the work of art. The argument works through the character of the relationship between the inquirer and the work of art. This 'work' enhances the social inquirer's understanding of community when their own art of interpretation and the land's particular forms and markings (including non-discursive inscriptions) are 'fused'. The site of the fusing brings a particular perspective to the well known phenomenological and hermeneutic idea of 'the horizon for inquiry'.

The dissertation shows how it is possible for social inquirers to actually make the sort of movements that will locate them at a suitable horizon for inquiry. This hermeneutic approach in social inquiry recognises its strength is in carrying forward an attitude of care, by conducting itself in the spirit of play. Care and play are, I argue, the basic pre-requisites for beginning an inquiry - being neither objective nor subjective in their characters. Through examples taken from the City of Fremantle, I examine how, through care, inscriptions on the land can provide an ongoing foundation for beginning an inquiry into community.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to author: if you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library’s Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Stocker, Laura
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