Limits of Social Observation

I have postulated below that social observers are not equal to persons, and that, moreover, the notion of persons is primarily a social construction. This social construction is, again, not the same as the individual, i.e. the idea we have of a human organism turned loose in the world and making its own observations, assumptions, and mistakes. This individual and billions like it can exist, yet society does not know of it. The observations made by individuals, their feelings and intentions, cannot be observed directly by society. Instead, society has to make use of descriptions to find common grounds with which its participants can work. But any individual observation that does not fit such a common ground also does not have the effect on society this individual may have expected.

This does not mean that all of society has to agree on views expressed in communication, or on facts reported by a scientist, for example. Rather, the agreement has to cover the statements suitability for the category into which it was placed by being communicated – e.g. being an expression of religious faith or findings from a study on the breeding habits of tropical birds. Only when deemed suitable can the observation serve a social function, for example of strengthening a religious community, or furthering an ornithological discourse.

Observations that either are not communicated at all or cannot successfully be placed in a category recognized by society are not social observations. The reference of all observations I will discuss in this blog is, therefore, society, and the subjects are topics of discourse in communication. As a result, they are also accessible by taking part in communication, so any member of society can somehow understand them and, in turn, add another perspective as social observer.


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