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Truth, Knowledge, Narratives of Selves

An Account of the Volatility of Truth, the Power of Semantic Agency, and Time in Narratives of the Self


Starting with a distinction of two types of discourse analysis—the analysis of a discourse and discursive analysis—the article discusses an analytical genealogy of truth and knowledge production, that can fulfill both empirical and archival requirements. The model’s main purpose lies in understanding diagnostic and therapeutic decision-making in doctor–patient interactions. Historically, diagnostic and therapeutic discourses, in particular in “experimental medicine and medical theory”, used to be part of natural philosophy in the 18th and 19th century in the form of dietetics, respectively, psychosomatic medicine and medical semiotics, as well as proto-semiotic philosophy and proto-pragmatism did belong to the same discourses. Subsequently, pragmatic and semiotic social sciences should be enabled to invoke this conceptual legacy to build a bridge between contemporary medical practice and semiotic theories. In discussing the genealogical model in light of the discourse of Norbert Wiley and Margaret Archer, it will be made clear that the model, combined with a deeper understanding of the history of ideas, and a combination of archival and empirical attitude in research, is an effective tool for sociologists of knowledge and medicine.

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  1. Even though she does not capitalize on it, Archer’s delineation of “modes of reflexivity”, that are derived for practical, or, rather, “ideal-typical” uses in sociology, is—while highly intelligent and certainly insightful—by her preference for the “meta-reflexive type” strikingly close to the type of the “trustee” in Parsons’ frame of reference.

  2. An explication of various aspects of synchronic and diachronic perspectives that lead to semiotic hysteresis, with a “physics or physical” kind of problematization can be found in: Velasco 2009. Semiotic hysteresis can be translated into another type of theoretical language, suggested by Christine Schachtner (1999) in following Lakoff and Johnson (1980) as the “creative force of metaphors”. In short, the forces behind “semantic agency” are, thus, a meta-force (and bodies are archives for metaphors, practices and semantics).

  3. Aside from the fact that, following the discourse of Odo Marquard (1986, 1989) who echoes Wiley and Archer in his teacher Joachim Ritter’s motto that “Future needs Provenance”, plus that in semiotic terms this would constitute semiotic hysteresis, we could say that this “operation” is not proactive but only a form of compensation.

  4. Network Theories (such as those that Pollilo refers to in his paper), organization theories of membership (including the work of Niklas Luhmann whose systems theory has its true merit in the sociology of organizations), and Peirce’s and Royce’s ideas on community would each deserve to be discussed in more detail (with reference to time, lifeworld, and pragmatism, see: Mackey 2009; on the history of the investigation of the social nautre of the mind: Valsiner and van der Veer 2000).

  5. Incidentally: Any reference to Peirce nowadays should not shun from reviewing his work with regard to Schelling (Pape 1989; Schoenrich 1990) and the transformation of medical semiotics in the early 19th century. Wiley’s historic account of Pragmatism (2006) should have acknowledged those developments in medicine and biology, which gravely affected the intellectual world of the 19th century. It is impossible to read Iain Hamilton Grant (2000, 2006, 2008, 2011) and not to understand how different 19th century science and philosophy really were in difference to the accounts we have come to accept through the lens of the twentieth century: Romantics and Naturphilsophen were in general more “scientific” than most of their critics who probably have never dissected a corpse, experimented with substances with unknown effects, or charted stars.

  6. And indeed, violations (as well as misunderstandings and equivocations) do occur, and they do so all the time.

  7. My model is, therefore, descriptive and not explanatory.


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The author has no conflicts of interest to declare.

I wish to express gratitude to the editors of the journal and the special issue for their helpful advise.

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Stingl, A.I. Truth, Knowledge, Narratives of Selves. Am Soc 42, 207–219 (2011).

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  • Truth production
  • Knowledge regime
  • Discourse analysis
  • Semiotic self
  • Doctor–patient interactive decision-making
  • Norbert Wiley
  • Michel Foucualt
  • Pragmatist semiotics