Sunday, February 18, 2007

getting my Schutz together

It's February, which means it's the season for writing a paper for the Society for Phenomenology and Media, something I've done each of the last 9 years. I am the only person to have attended every conference of the group, which I call SPaM.

This year I'm writing about Alfred Schutz's essay "The Well-Informed Citizen," which my honors Human Interests and the Power of Information class is reading. Not usually one to engage in critique (as a result of his commitment to a descriptive phenomenological method), Schutz concludes the essay by saying there is a problem posed by public opinion, especially when it guides political decisions in democratic societies. It's not that original a problem to pose (Walter Lippmann published Public Opinion in 1922, though he had a very different attitude toward it), but Schutz's call for the well-informed citizen to "prevail" over public opinion is a peculiar way of dealing with it, especially since Schutz doesn't tell us what that would mean. It's practically tossed off at the end of the essay, and it's not obvious how the essay as a whole helps illuminate the problem, or even how the problem is motivated by the essay or vice-versa.

I've spent a ton of time on this essay over the years, but for some reason this year it seems as if I have been able to get deeper into it. That has its good points and its bad points. I'm finding it very difficult to keep my paper within narrow enough parameters. It wants to creep all over the place. So I'm thinking my presentation this coming Thursday will be a little odd. We'll see. Perhaps I'll be able to get some of the other stuff out of my system in class on Monday, so the focus on public opinion can come back.

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