Monday, June 03, 2013

The many (universal) versus the (ultimate) particular

Being in an academic environment where many different approaches to understanding reality lives side by side is fascinating. I am intrigued by the new and growing approach that takes on the study of social phenomena as a study of complex systems and those who advocate 'big data' as the solution to most problems.

It seems as if almost everything today is studied in the format of "many", that is, as a sum, average or network of many actors or activities. This is of course the basic approach of science, the universal is at the core.

At the same time, so much of what make up our reality as humans is a composition of particulars. I live in this particular house, work in this particular job, have these particular friends, etc. Designers have always had a strong affinity for the particular since design is always about the ultimate particular and not about the universal or general.

It is interesting to think about the modern academic world in light of this division. Who in academia has as their main interest to figure out the universal and who is ultimately engaged with the particular of some kind? The answer is that a huge majority is engaged with particulars and how to deal with them, while very few are involved in the pursuit of the universal. But at the same time, the pursuit of the universal is considered the most valuable and the protocols and procedures that guide the search for the universal is also pushed into areas where the particular is in focus. My guess is that we will in the next decades see a new understanding of knowledge production that is more 'designerly' grounded, that is, with the intent to develop knowledge that support engagement with the particular.

The thing is that dealing with the particular can never be approached as if it is a consequence of universal knowledge. Why this is the case is a philosophical issue that I may come back to in another post.

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