Synecdoche of a paradigm distortion mumble mumble device
July 17, 2008 2:09 PM   Subscribe

I need a human thesaurus. Looking for a word that means examining an aspect of something as a method of examining/reflecting on the whole.

This is driving me nuts. I'm trying to write a project description, and cannot find the right word. I know I've run across a term for it before but I've been mulling it over since this morning without success.

I can't get into specifics because it's for work (but do MeMail me if it's vital), but it would be like looking at a neighbourhood's approach to social interaction by examining the use of front gardens.

It's a deliberate device and the examined aspect isn't in itself a representation of the whole, more a way of turning the conventional perspective around through this constructed way of looking. 'Lens' is currently the most useful approximation. An implication of manipulation is ok, a primary meaning of deception is not.

(Words from any context, whether scientific or dramatic or literary criticism, would be fine. The actual context is art, architecture and urban form.)

Rejected words:
- paradigm: the examined things may be typical aspects, and the 'paradigm shift' concept shows up elsewhere, but I think the widely understood meanings make it unhelpful
- sample: in the statistical sense, and too related to the thing being a microcosm of the whole
- microcosm: ditto
- synecdoche: ditto
- macguffin: the idea of using an anything as the device relates, but the anythings are relevant to the whole. also, not everyone using the document is as detectived-up as i am, but that wouldn't put me off if it were perfect.
- device: definitely part of a written-out definition if I can't find better, but not the word in itself.
posted by carbide to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by bac at 2:15 PM on July 17, 2008

Seconding extrapolation.
posted by anansi at 2:20 PM on July 17, 2008

Probably not even close, but:

posted by WPW at 2:22 PM on July 17, 2008

'Lens' is currently the most useful approximation.

So the state of one's garden is indicative of a broader social responsibility?

So it's that. An indicator.
posted by rokusan at 2:28 PM on July 17, 2008

posted by spamguy at 2:30 PM on July 17, 2008

As a general process you're describing inductive reasoning ("The process of deriving general principles from particular facts or instances"). For a specific word, I would second metonymy, as suggested by WPW, or indicator, as suggested by rokusan.
posted by jedicus at 2:39 PM on July 17, 2008

posted by Roger Dodger at 2:43 PM on July 17, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the suggestions so far.

Just in case my emphasis was wrong, I did mean that the part was a method of reflecting back on the whole with the part highlighted(really through its role/part in it) rather than that examining the part alone would act as reflection on the whole.

Erk, or maybe that's even less clear.
posted by carbide at 2:46 PM on July 17, 2008

Response by poster: rokusan: more that reflecting on whether people sit in their front gardens/talk to neighbours over the fence might give a clue to the neighbourhood needing a public square, I guess. Weak fake example on my part.
posted by carbide at 2:47 PM on July 17, 2008

Abduction or Abductive (?)
posted by w_boodle at 2:56 PM on July 17, 2008

Data mining?
posted by tomcooke at 3:01 PM on July 17, 2008

prism - prismatic?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:08 PM on July 17, 2008

My PhD advisor used to like to call such things "a laboratory for" looking at whatever phenomenon.
posted by redfoxtail at 3:23 PM on July 17, 2008

what about 'exegesis'? kinda, maybe... nah. maybe... i dunno.

i looked it up in the dictionary, but that's not what it means to me. to me, it means poring over some ancient greek or aramaic or whatnot, exegeting the shit out of every word. trying to understand more fully by translating and retranslating every word. like in the beginning of the fifth element, only without the guy from 90210. aziz! light!
posted by stubby phillips at 4:24 PM on July 17, 2008

Is it dialectic (dialectical)? That could be vaguely related... (wiki=)
posted by yoHighness at 4:42 PM on July 17, 2008

It's a deliberate device and the examined aspect isn't in itself a representation of the whole...

Then you're generalizing.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:46 PM on July 17, 2008

From Certeau and Bourdieu I think the closest is "metaphor." They both use it to describe spatial analysis of objects in relation to practices. Metonymy is in the ball park. Try to nab a handbook of terms from Bourdieu or Mauss--it seems that the front lawn as metaphor would fall into a subset of their "habitus" in genealogical "trees."
posted by beelzbubba at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2008

I'll vote for indicator as the operative word.
posted by tkolar at 6:32 PM on July 17, 2008

whether people sit in their front gardens/talk to neighbours over the fence might give a clue to the neighbourhood needing a public square

So in terms of the example, if neighbours chat across their fences, then the neighbourhood could benefit from and would probably use a public square?

Touchstone, maybe?

"The degree to which neighbours spontaneous interact is a touchstone for the development of public spaces."
posted by CKmtl at 6:48 PM on July 17, 2008

If I were absolutely wedded to using a single word for this I might resort (lastly) to the term 'type.'

'Neighbors use of front gardens amounts to a type of social relations in the community as a whole.'


1. a. That by which something is symbolized or figured; anything having a symbolical signification; a symbol, emblem; spec. in Theol. a person, object, or event of Old Testament history, prefiguring some person or thing revealed in the new dispensation; correl. to antitype. in (the) type, in symbolic representation. [OED]
posted by jamjam at 8:23 PM on July 17, 2008

Best answer: Some ways of expressing what you appear to be trying to do is applying the hermeneutic circle or thinking systemically about a problem (what Wikipedia refers to as "systems thinking," after Churchman's use of the term. Checkland calls this systemic thinking to emphasize the priority of analyzing interconnected elements over viewing the system as a whole.
posted by Susurration at 8:25 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Studying the trees for the forest?
posted by Pronoiac at 8:33 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

case study
posted by Morpeth at 9:10 PM on July 17, 2008

scientifically, it's looking for self-similiarities, from the fractal where the small scale is indistinguishable from the large scale.

there's a no doubt a good word for this but I too can't think of it.
posted by yort at 10:17 PM on July 17, 2008

Response by poster: weapons-grade pandemonium: Then you're generalizing

Quite the opposite, although that probably doesn't come across clearly in what I've said. I'm not taking an atypical part and assuming the whole follows the same rules, but reflecting back on the (gloriously varied, etc) whole in light of examining one part close up.

beelzbubba: Cheers, I'll see if I can track their work down!

Hermeneutics obviously ain't the word, but the concept comes closest so far. If that clarifies anything (I'm not really looking for self-similarities at all), I'd still love suggestions, but thanks so much for the help, everyone. I'll dig around a bit more.
posted by carbide at 12:22 AM on July 18, 2008

Best answer: I was going to say Hermeneutics, but someone already said it. However, I can go a bit deeper and suggest Gadamer's Hermeneutics, which is specifically about contextualising method. See: Truth and Method.
posted by munchbunch at 1:29 AM on July 18, 2008

Best answer: You could say garden behavior is a proxy for hypothetical public space behavior. Or that it's a facet of the neighborhood or a cross-section of variety in the neighborhood. You could also say you're deconstructing residents' self-situation in the re-agrarianization that inheres in yardkeeping without totalizing their différance (sic) qua différance, thus redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor. But I think that may be overdoing it.
posted by eritain at 3:14 AM on July 18, 2008

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