Sunday, September 2, 2012

Human Consciousness

According to Anthony Giddens, practical consciousness is “tacit knowledge that is skilfully applied in the enactment of courses of conduct, but which the actor is not able to formulate discursively” (Central Problems).  It is not the unconscious.

Giddens analytically distinguishes practical consciousness from discursive consciousness, but affirms that both converge in many moments of social interaction.  In the realm of discursive consciousness, “discursive capabilities do not just take the form of propositional statements: ‘discourse’ has to include modes of expression which are often treated as uninteresting in sociological research – such as humour, sarcasm and irony” (Constitution of Society).

A living language is primarily practical consciousness not only because it is both a medium and a product of social interaction.  It is practical consciousness because, in every living language, most ordinary speakers or most native speakers know and use the linguistic rules, and the exceptions to these rules, without being able to state or explain them adequately.

Practical consciousness of a rule involves genuine knowledge or skill that is learned and taught in the doing, and somebody who has mastery of a rule rarely has to “interpret” or “think” (or “talk to some inner self” about) that rule while enacting that rule (New Rules).

Rules and skills for an interaction are not only linguistic.  They include the continuous monitoring of one’s body, of the other bodies present, of the resources the bodies carry, and the setting of the interaction.  Thus, an understanding of rules is inadequate when it is not closely connected to the use or the availability of resources.  Practical consciousness is tacit knowledge of how to proceed, how to go on, especially in the day-to-day contexts of social existence.

In a routine context of interaction, practical consciousness is expressed in a procession of gestures, facial expressions, and conventional remarks, each one of which is, in that context, regular or rational enough so much so that neither the agents nor participant observers see the need for an explanation of each act right after each act is done.  Practical consciousness, however, is not mechanical, no matter how routine is the context.

Practical consciousness entails a continuous monitoring of both one’s own and the other’s behaviour, for the regularity or rationality of even a small gesture does not depend on the gesture itself but on its timeliness and position within the continuous process of an interaction in a specific setting.

For example, a simple smile, which had passed unremarked in one moment, could provoke a demand for an explanation if inserted in another moment or in a different setting.  Any agent could be queried also about one’s untimely silence or pause in a conversation.

To routinely know both the convenient and the inconvenient continuities and discontinuities of interaction in a particular context entails skills that mostly have been learned after a long period of time or after repeated immersions in such or similar contexts.

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