chapter  7
7 Context
Pages 17

Figured worlds “explain,” relative to the standards of some group, why words have the various situated meanings they do and fuel their ability to grow more. Figured worlds, too, are usually not completely stored in any one person’s head. Rather, they are distributed across the different sorts of “expertise” and viewpoints found in the group much like a plot to a story (or pieces of a puzzle) that different people have different bits of and which they can potentially share in order to mutually develop the “big picture.” In Chapter 6 I pointed out that figured worlds are connected to prototypical simulations we can run in our heads. Because we humans share ways of looking at things with other members of our various social and cultural groups, we all have the capacity to form prototypical simulations. Prototypical simulations are the sorts of simulations you will run in your head (of things like weddings, parenting, voting, and so forth) when you take the situation to be “typical.” Of course, what is taken as “typical” differs across different social and cultural groups of people. Your figured world of weddings, for instance, is connected to the sort of simulation or simulations you will run (imagine) when you imagine what you (and your social group) take to be “typical” weddings. However, figured worlds, while connected to the prototypical simulations we can run in our heads, are, as we have said, not just in our heads. An upper-middle-class parent may have specific figured worlds in her head about child rearing (e.g., a piece of one may be that early experiences in childhood are crucially connected to the child’s later gaining admission to a prestigious college). The parent, however, shares these figured worlds with her social group, from whom she picked them up, and can learn more about them from that group. Figured worlds link to each other in complex ways to create bigger and bigger storylines. Such linked networks of figured worlds help organize the thinking and social practices of sociocultural groups. For example, we saw in Chapter 6 that some people use a figured world (really a connected set of them) for raising young children that runs something like this: Children are born dependent on their parents and then they go through various stages during which they often engage in disruptive behaviors in pursuit of their growing desire for independence. This figured world, too, is not solely in people’s heads-it is often supplemented from sources like self-help guides for raising children, guides that tend to reflect the theories and values of middle-class people. This figured world, which integrates models for children, child rearing, stages, development, and independence, as well as others, helps parents explain their children’s behavior in terms of values the group holds (e.g., independence). It is continually revised and developed (consciously and unconsciously) in interaction with others in the group, as well as through exposure to various books and other media. Other social groups view children differently: for example, as beings who start out as too unsocialized and

whose disruptive behaviors are not so much signs of their growing desire for independence as they are signals of their need for greater socialization within the family, i.e., for less independence (less “selfishness”).