"Please, don't let me be misunderstood": The role of argumentation in a sociology of academic misunderstandings

Social Epistemology 21 (4):369 – 389 (2007)
Academic debates are so frequent and omnipresent in most disciplines, particularly the social sciences and humanities, it seems obvious that disagreements are bound to occur. The aim of this paper is to show that whereas the agent who perceives his/her contribution as being misunderstood locates the origin of the communication problem on the side of the receiver who "misinterprets" the text, the emitter is in fact also contributing to the possibility of this misunderstanding through the very manner in which his/her text is written. In other words, I propose a symmetric approach to understanding misunderstandings: taking simultaneously into account the position of the reader in the scientific field and the structure of the texts of the writers. The paper thus proposes to complement the sociological analysis of controversies in a scientific field with the close reading of texts, a practice usually found in studies of argumentation, in order to explain the occurrence of misunderstandings. The debate surrounding the charge of "relativism" among sociologists of scientific knowledge provides us with a case study to analyse in detail the argumentative context of misunderstanding.
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