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Taking Text Seriously

Remarks on the Methodology of the History of Political Thought

João Feres Júnior

Quentin Skinner's methodological project contains a fundamental imprecision that is rarely mentioned by the secondary literature: the assumption, present in several of his methodological texts, that a theory designed for the analysis of oral communication (speech act theory) can be unreservedly used for interpreting text. In this article I will use some of Paul Ricoeur's phenomenological insights on the difference between textual and oral communication in order to advance a systematic critique of Skinner's project and to suggest new methodological possibilities for the history of political thought and related disciplines. This procedure will also allow me to organize some of the criticism raised against Skinner's Collingwoodean approach since its inception.

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Sam Coombes

As Paul Ricœur notes in L’Idéologie et l’utopie, the ascription of the characteristic of being ‘ideological’ to a set of ideas has traditionally had pejorative implications. One’s own ideas are not ideological, only those of one’s adversaries.1 The philosophical and critical writings of the early Sartre do not offer an explicit discussion of the concept of ideology. Even in Cahiers pour une morale, notable for the evidence they provide of Sartre’s increasing rapprochement with Marxism, ideology per se is never Sartre’s centre of interest.

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Christine Winberg

Narratology is the study of the ways in which narrative organises perception and experience. Narratologists understand narrative as a ‘meta-code, a human universal’ (White 1987), which is instrumental in enabling the re-organisation of time, space, character and event in the construction of meaning in texts. Narratologists draw on different epistemological traditions, and develop different approaches and practices. These approaches can be roughly categorised as belonging to textual, inter-textual, and extra-textual traditions. The textual approach is exemplified by the work of Vladimir Propp (1928/1968), Claude Levi-Strauss (1958/1963), Roland Barthes (1966/1977), Algirdas Greimas (1966/1983), Paul Ricoeur (1985), and Tzvetan Todorov (1990). Narratologists in this structuralist tradition categorize and taxonomize narrative form. Propp identified 31 ‘narratemes’ (the smallest narrative units, equivalent to morphemes at the sentence level), which occur in all narratives in unvarying sequence; Greimas developed a typology of narrative ‘actants’; and Ricoeur investigated connections between time and narrative to typify ‘configurational activities’ in narrative plots and sequences. These, and other, textual approaches to narrative, show how texts selectively draw on narrative resources (emplotment, ways of representing character, hermeneutic and proairetic codes) in the construction of narrative meaning.