I picked up the term “teratogenesis” from an environmental toxicology course that I took in the early 90s. The professor explained the origins of the term to the class: the making of monsters. Assuming the etymology is Greek, I created the partner term “ergatigenesis” – meaning the making of labourers. By labourer, I mean the “everyday worker” or as some might say the “proletariat” or member of the working class. Even here the meaning isn’t quite right. I mean the domesticated, socially conditioned, materially maintained, and culturally compliant worker who fits in society because society has a place for this person. There are those that won’t or can’t quite fit in – and others that are meant to fit in.
Social teratogenesis and ergatigenesis are focused on the “making” rather than the “being.” Those promoting facial recognition technologies could for example assert how superficial characteristics of the face might be attributed to being a criminal. Similarly, a statistician noting how the prison system appears to have a high representation of particular groups might suggest that people belonging to these groups are predisposed to being in prison. Such quasi-intellectual observations are founded on the “being.” In this blog, I emphasize how the enabling belief systems extend from the unsophisticated use of data. On the other hand, in order to study the “making,” quantitative approaches are quite crude and ineffective.
I first need to emphasize that I am not calling people that fit poorly monsters. I am saying rather that society, although not explicitly labelling them as such, might treat misfits with ambivalence and loathing, perhaps because of fear and apathy. People are made out to be monsters. I take the assertion a bit further by saying that people are literally sometimes transformed into monsters. This is not to say that the monster came out. But rather it was put it. I find it difficult to accept the premise that people are ever “born evil.” I am not saying that there are no bad people in the world. I just mean that it is a great challenge harnessing diversity so that society is inclusive. It is an investment in time, effort, and perhaps creativity helping to create paths and opportunities. It is probably not enough to simply have good intentions. It might require science – a new kind of science.
Arguably, “science” as we know it has been greatly influenced by the methodologies available. These methodologies are limited by the technologies available. Because science emerged long before computers were invented, data associated with scientific research might not require much computing power. The methodologies associated with science have become scientific methodologies – rather than methodologies used by science perhaps due to lack of alternatives. The emphasis on clinical research – although I do not question the merits or mathematical soundness – I suggest is partly related to the fact that it can still be performed on a calculator or simple spreadsheet.
Even before getting to the calculations, scientific experiments are constructed basically to help support the ultimate goal of gaining calculatable results – that is to say, results that can be handled if necessary by a calculator. This approach is problematic when dealing with what I call “open data objects” where the structure is not predefined by the end-goal. For example, when studying indigenous suicide rates in different communities, science is likely to lean towards a medical perspective: i.e. there is something wrong inside the person. Science – i.e. calculators – cannot deal with stories and narratives. Nor have there been methodologies to deal with this type of data; nor a framework for life events to gain expression as data; nor a means of retaining the ontological context or placement.
If I take the role of a social teratogenecist or ergatigenecist, difficult as these terms might be to pronounce, I would analyze the narratives. The main storyline of course belongs to the individual; but there are also the broader storylines relating to society. I would use “codified narrative.” The codification of narrative leads to symbolic representation of events, situations, and circumstances, allowing for systematic analysis. There are many interesting operations that can be done on narrative data: e.g. determine the level of similarity between stories in relation to the environment, characters, circumstances, and forensic evidence. It is possible to determine the level of association between character patterns. Risk scoring can be done based on the events in one’s life to develop and justify remedial action plans.
Why would a form of narrative analysis be worthwhile to the study of making of “monsters” and “workers?” Well, although people might be unfamiliar about monsters, certainly in relation to workers, I suggest that they are definitely made. A few bad experiences, negative comments, harassing situations, and workplace accidents can make the soft clay that enters the system harden into something deformed and unrecognizable. In fact, I would say that the absence of positive work experiences to make an honest living might make this route seem implausible – to get through life and support one’s family. In fact, even the idea of supporting a family seems like a butchered dream if employment opportunities are limited and society is full of barriers. In short, the stories matter – a lot – especially the personal narratives. The fact that science cannot accommodate these stories doesn’t mean they don’t matter – but rather that science in terms of its approach to problems hasn’t evolved in hundreds of years – at least not enough to deal with certain types of real-life problems.
I mentioned in a number of blogs my use of codified narrative. By day, I do work normally associated with the duties of a quality analyst and reporting analyst. I study performance and market changes. I enjoy my work. Nonetheless, I recognize the limitations of quantitative analysis. Numbers provide a superficial perspective. This is not to say that a deeper perspective is not business oriented or might not have some kind of role to play in commercial settings. There is a “cost geometry” affecting what companies do. If it takes a lot of effort and expense to collect and study certain types of data in particular ways, the geometry prevents the research from happening. In situations where relationships are of high value and the number of cases is sufficiently limited, the use of codified narrative is more economical. My use of a socially teratogenic and ergatigenic lens extends directly from my research in the area of social disablement.