Here is one simple question bothers me: Why not just use “interpreting” instead of “understanding”? I have to say when I read these two chapters, I could not stop thinking, “This is an interpretation”, and “This is an interpretation again”. The word “Interpret” makes more sense for me. I feel most “understanding” of arts (especially visual arts) is essentially interpretation.
Also about our discussion in class, here are some follow-up ideas from information science perspective: Data is different from information, meaning, knowledge, wisdom, etc. Data are facts, but information may or may not be. Most natural sciences deal with data/fact. Culture provides information but is not merely data.
Concerning the methodology, it is highly complicated to establish a perfect experimental and falsiable environment to test human behaviors and group dynamics, since it is both difficult to simulate social systems as complex systems characterized by various and long-range interactions, and to collect unbiased and representative data as from “repeatable” experiments on (non-complex) physical systems.
For example, in social science experiments, subjects usually are fully aware of being observed, which might strongly influence their behavior, and most of such experiments are not “repeatable”: Society and human beings are always in a dynamic and changeable process. In addition, interviews and questionnaires can only handle sample sizes of only several dozens, and need require a lot of time and resources to deliver statistically meaningful assertions. If we consider one way to define a discipline is subject and methodology, then we know why culture/social studies cannot be approached by the same way as natural sciences.
I agree with Jeff’s comments that there is a preference to “data” in academia (also in business). My background is philosophy but now I’m in information “science”. I think we are social scientists but we do try to do research like natural scientists (e.g. I deal with “big data”, experiments, network analysis, statistics, etc.). I have to say sometimes it is very confusing. Culture is also one of my focuses in my research, but I’m thinking: Can culture be analyzed quantitatively and statistically?
To the question why there is no single way to define understanding of visual culture, one answer may be: It is non-textual representation interpreted by textual representation. The activity of representation serves to capture or “re-present” an object, activity or attribute in the target domain through the medium of the modeling domain. Language is the most normal way to “represent” the target domain (meaning, ideas, concepts, etc.). Although there are a lot of discussions such as Wittgenstein’s language game, conduit metaphor and toolmaker’s paradigms of language, etc., it is still easier for language and textual material to be understood than visual culture which is non-textual representation, because people are tend to use “language/text” to understand (interpret) them, as what the author did in the book, what we did in the class and what we are doing here now.