Figured Worlds are the cultural spaces in which we as individuals participate. Through our participation, we begin to define ourselves and the worlds we inhabit. Upon entering the world, and overtime, we learn the rules of the “game” ala Vygotsky, eventually internalizing the rules well enough to improvise our moves within the allowed parameters of the world. Eventually we have inculcated the figured world to such an extent that we no longer think about the game, but have become the game.
I wonder at what point we stop being thinking agents in the figured world and when do we become so enmeshed in the culture of the figured world that we are controlled more by the unspoken aspects of the world than we are improvising agents in that world? Much of the concept of figured worlds reminds me of James Gee’s view of tacit and implicit ideologies. Everyone functions with/in an ideology, it is either an unacknowledged ideology (tacit), or acknowledged ideology (implicit). But no matter which one is in place, the ideology determines the kind of discourse that can take place. The same is true for figured worlds. We define ourselves, and are defined by, the worlds we have entered, or where we have been placed, either as an active participant, as the older members of the AA meetings discussed in Holland, or as hesitant/resistant members as some of the girls in the chapter on romance in Holland. Of course, we create our inner selves with the socially allowed discourses. As Mead wrote, “The mechanism of introspetion is therefore give in the social attitude which man necessarily assumes toward himself, and the mechanism of thought, in so far as thought uses symbols which are used in social intercourse, is but an inner conversation” (Mead 1913, p.377).
I do wonder how consciously the members of the AA group refigured their narratives to better fit the normative/normalizing narrative to better follow the palimpsest laid down originally in “The Big Book.” Does a person change to enter into a figured world or is he absorbed into the collective, changed by the figured world he is entering? Or perhaps both at the same time; the changer and the change shifting positions in an on going reciprocal relationship.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s description of the waiter as only being the waiter when he is in the act of waiting on tables, or Martin Heidegger’s hammer is only a hammer when it is being used as a hammer comes to mind, as well, when I read about figured worlds. A person’s existence is made manifest through her action in the world from an existential viewpoint; whereas, the identity of the individual manifests itself through active participation in the norms of the figured world. The participants in the AA meetings became alcoholics only when they accepted the narrative structures of the group. The Chicana/o activists through their similar experiences leading toward a “raised consciousness” (or culturally defined way of knowing), saw themselves and the larger figured world of whitestream society in a new light, thus defining themselves simultaneously in a new figured world, that of the Chicana/o activist, and as an agent in resistance to the oppressive hegemonic whitestream world.

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