The “Turns”

While reading I have come across several “turns”, which I will try to briefly summarize here to remember what the key points are in each of them. The more I read about turns, the more they seem to be similar or resonate with some aspects of Kuhn’s paradigms. Doris Bachmann-Medick has written about this.

Linguistic Turn

The linguistic turn has its starting points in the rejection of logical positivism/ metaphysics/ naturalism and influential key actors (or at least are named based on their influence/ key in naming this turn) in the initial development were Bergmann, Rorty, Wittgenstein & the Vienna Circle.

In philosophy, the “linguistic turn” refers to a development mainly within the 20th century, which is accompanied by an increased turn to language, i.e. the use and meaning of linguistic utterances. For many representatives of the linguistic turn, scientific inquiry was no longer to investigate “things in themselves”, but to analyze the linguistic conditions of how things are spoken of.

As far as I understand, the ontological/epistemological assumptions of the linguistic term are the following: language is conceived neither as a medium for the representation of an extralinguistic reality nor as a medium for the expression of our inner thoughts and emotions. Rather, it constitutes a rule-bound system of meaning and action.

Therefore, following the linguistic term, a change in emphasis happened towards language in the humanities and social sciences that reflected a recognition (beyond the bounds of linguistics itself) of the importance of language in human meaning-making.

At the latest in the 1980s, the linguistic turn also spread to social sciences such as history or sociology. Under the influence of postmodernism and poststructuralism, there was a turning away from the claim to discover historical truths and hard facts. Instead, one turned to discourse/language, within which truths and facts are first socially articulated. Michel Foucault is one important key actor here.

Connecting concepts/fields etc: conversation analysis; ethnomethodology; intersubjectivity; structuralism; symbolic interactionism

Basically: language is key but insufficient and should/needs be taken into consideration, as we construct the world through language (the last bit however might only apply to some more EXTREME perspectives)

Cultural turn

Starting in the early 1970s, the cultural turn focuses on *culture* in contemporary debates, and it also describes a shift in emphasis toward meaning and away from a positivist epistemology of facts.  Therefore, the cultural turn places the concept of culture, and the related notions of meaningcognitionaffect, and symbols at the centre of methodological and theoretical focus. Culture as such is an elusive concept I think, but for the sake of this blog, it can be defined as the social process whereby people communicate meanings, make sense of their world, construct their identities, and define their beliefs and values.

Nash (2001) distinguishes 2 forms: the ‘epistemological’ case in which culture is seen as universally constitutive of social relations and identities; and the ‘historical’ case in which culture is seen as playing an unprecedented role in constituting social relations and identities in contemporary society.

She further elaborates, that the epistemological case is based on theoretical considerations, whereas the historical case is empirical, concerning historical changes in social life. The author, however, also points out, that in practice these claims overlap in the application of the ‘cultural turn’ to studies of contemporary social life.

Nash also names Giddens approach to relate structure and agency through structuration theory. “He argues that social structures are reproduced in the everyday practices of social actors who are knowledgeable about the practices in which they are engaged. As Giddens sees it, while structures provide the resources for social action, they are only realised through the skilled interactions of social actors (Giddens 1984). It is in so far as knowledge is seen as an aspect of culture that Giddens’s theory of structuration is a theory of the cultural constitution of social relations and”

Basically: Culture is important and determines how we see/make meaning of the world.

Ontological turn- work in progress

The ontological turn is a reaction to the cultural turn. It points out that although human beings may differ in their ideas about or viewpoints on the world and other material or natural objects, such objects themselves do not vary with these ideas. ‘Cultures’ may differ, but nature does not.

Instead of assuming many worldviews, only one world, and claiming that epistemologies (forms of knowing or understanding) vary, but that there is only one ontology (a form of being or existing), the ontological turn, proposes that worlds, as well as worldviews, may vary.

“Proponents of anthropology’s recent “ontological turn”, however, argue that this concern for differences in cultural perspective implies something else, with which they do not agree (Henare et al. 2006; Viveiros deCastro 1998; 2003; 2004b): that the things upon which people have different perspectives are always and everywhere the same. People see the world in different ways, but the world is still the world. The obvious analogy is with language: earth may be called terra in Italian, terre in French, and zemlja in Croatian, and each word may come with its distinct array of symbolic connotations, but the object it denotes remains the same. The sense of this opposition is echoed by countless other dichotomies: ideas vs. matter, subjective vs. objective, epistemology vs. ontology, and, of course, nature vs. culture. This, roughly speaking, is the orthodoxy that proponents of the “ontological turn” in anthropology claim to identify and wish to overturn.” (Heywood, 2017)

Material Turn

The material turn has led to a new interest in the non-verbal and non-signifying aspects of the material world/ materiality of things/objects.

The focus is on how knowledge works in culturally created and used objects or things: What do artefacts/objects/things say about a society and its history, or what meanings do they transfer?

Debates on the material turn are often based on considerations formulated within the framework of practices, but in some cases, they also go beyond this, insofar as they think of the social as no longer only or necessarily human, as in actor-network theory or affordance theory, which considers “non-human beings” such as artefacts or animals (cf. also Human-Animal Studies) as essential components of the social.

  • Material trap: „: saying that something is “material” or qualifies any research object as “material being” usually hides more of it than trying to find the right terms to define what you are looking at. “Materializing” everything could become a semiotic trap full of meaningless keywords. So without denying it and taking into account this “material turn”, we should stay focused on our field data and maybe find another way to say that we care about “materiality” (

Connected concepts/ theories: ANT, Affordance Theory, Assemblage Theory…

Basically: Material and non-human actors matter

Historical Turn

The historical turn was a reaction to Kant (not exactly sure why need to read more about Kant)

This turn was/is characterized by a tendency to analyze philosophical problems by situating them in their historical context. Kuhn perspective on scientific knowledge concerning paradigms plays an important role here and I can see similarities to some of Foucault’s ideas (some discourse being restricted/allowed in a certain period).

Basically: The circumstances in a specific period are important in how we see the world.

Practice Turn- work in progress

Not sure this fits in but I have seen it more and more recently:

The practice turn explores the role of practice and practices in human activity à might write a practice blog post

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