Torsten Pettersson: “Challenging the Gap"
- Date: –15:00
- Location: Engelska parken - Eng9-1017
- Organiser: The Department of Literature
- Contact person: Torsten Pettersson
The Higher Seminar in Literature
“Challenging the Gap and Moving towards a Genuine Exchange between Science and Human Studies: The Examples of Medical Humanities and Bibliotherapy”. Torsten Pettersson, Professor of Literature, initiates a discussion/debate.
Present-day Western societies entertain a dual epistemic culture, that of the natural sciences, on the one hand, and that of the humanities and social sciences on the other. This divide is taken to correlate with the distinction between “explanation” and “understanding”; “description” and “interpretation”; quantitative and qualitative methods; and “hard” and “soft” evidence, for instance for medical practices. Attempts (encouraged by the Swedish Research Council) are continually being made to bridge the gap, for instance in Medical Humanities, but the perception and description of the gap itself are usually not challenged.
In this paper, however, Torsten Pettersson argues, firstly, that the pervasive epistemic duality reflects a need for disciplinary self-definition by contrast and exclusion as much as a fundamental difference based on the subject matter of various disciplines. This can be compared to the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s general and wide-reaching distinction between “friends” and “enemies”. Pettersson further argues that a first requirement for a full development of Medical Humanities is counteracting the social patterns described by Bauman.
Secondly, all endeavours to close the epistemic gap must apply “translation” in a sense described by the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, i.e. as an ongoing practice of negotiation between different world views in modern Western societies. As a fruitful testing-ground for such endeavours Pettersson points to bibliotherapy and its dual allegiance. On the one hand it has its roots in the heart of a humanistic culture, in imaginative literature and more generally in the effects of the human use of language. On the other hand it also lays claim to effects on health and well-being which should be measurable in “humanistic” terms (which to date is frequently the case) but also in scientifically reliable ways (which to date is only rarely the case).