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Legal Theory and the Media of Law

Thomas Vesting

As many disciplines in the humanities have experienced a focus on culture’s impact in recent decades, questions surrounding the significance of media such as writing, print and computer networks have become increasingly relevant. This book seeks to demonstrate that a media and cultural theory perspective can also be highly productive for legal theory.
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Chapter 3: On the orality of oral cultures

Thomas Vesting

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Just as language is embedded in conditions of dynamic stability, knowledge is a time-dependent form of practical conduct, one that cannot be sought in a continuity of tradition or “system” of signs separate from contemporary practice. Knowledge should not be understood as some kind of time-resistant inventory, as always already prior and pre-given pre-understanding in the sense of Gadamer’s hermeneutics or the attendant (synchronic) substance of language as in Saussure’s linguistics.1 Rather, knowledge must be imagined along the lines of an (invisible) symbolic machine, as knowledge that “runs in the background” like a computer processor and thus can also be assumed in everyday situations without further reflection, as when “assessing situations related to street traffic or medical treatment, dealing with clocks and calendars or doing Christmas shopping, using tools and machines or socializing, reading the newspaper or recognizing others’ intentions.”2 Following this, knowledge and common knowledge are closely connected to each other and also linked to the ongoing reproduction of culture and society. Strongly emphasizing the collective character of knowledge is not the result of some new brand of holistic (“totalitarian”) thinking, however. The point is rather to untangle the concept of knowledge from the unproductive alternatives of universality and particularity in order to more precisely clarify, beyond the idea of vertical knowledge architectures – i.e. beyond the epistemology of printed books – the relationship between knowledge as a collective (diffuse) phenomenon and the modalities of acquiring subjective knowledge and seeking out information.

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