Do you think Carol Stack(all our kin) as a white middle class female understands the black poor people in The Flats she did the field work on?
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I understand many of the points brought out. Indeed, I believe that there can be a scope of empathy and understanding where someone does understand and can sense the narrative of another person. It is literally impossible to make the assumption that an individual can fully and completely understand and "live" out the narrative of another because individuals are limited by their own perception of reality and consciousness. There is little by way of totalizing transcendence which allows individuals to fully "become" another person. Yet, this does not preclude one person from studying, understanding, and analyzing another's predicament. If individuals were limited by social conditions, then there would be little, if any, hope of solidarity and community.
This question really addresses a central issue of sociology (and other social sciences) -- the problem of trying toget past our own points of view and the blinders they put on us.
Let me say a few things that should explain what I mean:
First, the question implies that a white middle class person can not understand what it truly "means" to be poor and black. If that is true, then none of us on the site who are not poor and black (I'm not) can truly judge whether Stack has understood that population. If Person A can't understand Person B, how can Person C understand Person B well enough to say that Person A has misunderstood? So when it comes to social sciences there's the problem of whether you can ever understand people who aren't like you.
Second, do people accurately understand themselves? If you did a study of my life and tried to discuss my actions and motivations, would I agree with your evaluation? If I didn't, who would be right? In other words, wouldn't I be (potentially) blinded to truths about myself? In the context of this question then, if I were poor and black and from "The Flats" would I be qualified to say whether Stack understood "us?"
So... it's really difficult to say if someone has understood someone else. The only thing I think we can really ask is if the time Stack spent in "The Flats" was long enough and of the right "quality" to allow her to understand that society. Outside of that, there's no way to say whether she has understood them.
It is very much possible for people to understand another person's situation. Though we can not live in each others shoes, we can reason and hypothesize and appreciate the plight of others. That allows us to sympathize and work on behalf of those without a voice.
I would say that she understood! if not the people then the situations they were in.She might have been a bit ethnocentric, as would anyone else placed in a foreign situation but her field work was thorough enough for her comprehend what they were going through as she trusted them enough to let them in her life as much as she entered theirs.
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