Faced with the hermeneutic circle

A long and laborious process of trial and error may be necessary before succeeding in moving from a collection of the traces of a culture to a structured and coherent representation of the latter. The approach involves collecting initial clues of what one is seeking to highlight and building a provisional overall picture using these clues, then resuming the search for clues with a regard sharpened by the fact of having this initial picture, going back and forth a number of times between the two stages. This operation is conducted both for each person interviewed and at the level of a group of persons that one assumes are marked by the same culture.
Consequently, for example, in the French case, an essential step in the process was to observe that in order to account for the data collected during initial fieldwork, it was necessary to set the rights and duties associated with everyone’s work against the position that they hold in society. Certain traces of the conception that everyone has of their work played an essential role (“For me, a supervisor must”, “It is part of my duties as a technician”). With hindsight, it seems clear that these comments constitute traces of a conception of work where the reference to the profession and to the duties that are inherent to it play a major role. Extensive data collected since have provided countless traces, sometimes more direct, of this conception. Yet when this initial research was conducted, it was by no means obvious.

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