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savoir of connaissance

When Foucault wrote about power-knowledge (or knowledge-power) he always used the word,
savoir, never connaissance (a foreign concept to Americans, and one to which I shall return
shortly). If discourse in a theory course is viewed as a contest, the players with the most
knowledge (savoir) will become the winners (i.e., the ones who determine what we come to
understand as truth). This is pure Foucault, but it is also as it should be. After all, what savoir
do, for example, white males have about stigmatized identities? My knowledge (savoir) pales in
comparison to that of the women and the minority students in our class.
If Nancy White were to meet me, she would quickly pronounce me as someone who dont
know diddly squat about bein Black (and I would quickly concur). So how dare I speak up?
How could I be so presumptuous to think that I know more about Nancy Whites ideas than the
experts among you?
The easy answer is that Im the professor (i.e., I have the power to claim the superiority of my
savoir over yours within this theory-course contest). In a sense this is true, of course. But
what sort of savoir is this? After all, I am the first one to agree with Nancy and, possibly,
many of you that diddly squat is the extent of my savoir about the topic. Instead, my
knowledge of White is one of connaissance not of her savoir. My savoir is thus a
savoir of connaissance. And it is conveying this type of know-how to you that is my entire
objective in this course. This is the skill, the know-how, the savoir of doing theory.
Connaissance is the word French people use when they refer to their knowledge of each other.
(I knew Jack Kennedy, and youre no Jack Kennedy.) Native English speakers have a curious
way of thinking of people as manipulable resources, as if knowing my wife was somehow
similar to knowing motorcycle maintenance. In most of the rest of the world, people see these
as fundamentally different things (not different kinds of knowledgethats English thinkbut
different things entirely). Subjects (e.g., wives) and objects (e.g., motorcycles) are unlike. If
you have connaissance of a person, you have know-why not know-how. That is, you have a
concise way of interpreting why she says what she says. For example, all of Nancy Whites
monologue is based on her (theoretical) assumptions that people are born lazy (i.e., they use
whatever resources they have to keep themselves from doing hard work), that people are
susceptible to flattery (a.k.a. moonlight boogie-joogie), that adults are people who have been
socialized (a.k.a. having had the Devil whooped out of them) to rely on themselves (i.e., not to
flatter themselves [as being smarter than anybody, p. 154] or others [in trying to trick each
other, p. 151]), and that freedom is not being the object of others trickery.
But isnt this just a different reading of Whites words? What makes these statements by White
any different from other things she said? The answer is that these statements are ones of her
underlying assumptions, whereas the rest of her words are derived from these few assumptions.
For example, consider Whites opening statement where she cites her father as saying that the
only two people who were really free was (sic) the white man and the black woman (p. 143).
This sentence is not fundamental to her argument. It does comprise an application of Whites
assumptions, however. A seminal theory (like this one) is one with ideas so provocative that
their diverse applications could fill volumes.

OK, so what is a theory? A theory is a set of assumptionsthe ideas of which all a theorists
other words comprise mere applications. Postmodernists refer to theories as metalanguages.
As Derrida argued, connaissance of a theory is knowledge of its grammar (just like knowing
ones wife is knowing the principles that guide her behavior). It is not sufficient merely to be
able to talk the talk (i.e., to speak the theorists metalanguage). This is why I always curtail
our discourse about theories when they go off on applied tangents. Our task is to make
theorists assumptions explicit, to specify their grammars.
How can I tell the difference between an application of theoretical premises (or assumptions) and
the premises themselves? The ability to answer this question is the skill that I shall talk about
again and again this semester. Lets return to my assertion that only white men and black
women are free is an application but not an assumption of Whites theory. You can tell an
application from a premise in that the former follows from the latter, but not the reverse. In this
case, the above statement can clearly be seen to follow logically from the following premises:
1) White men try to trick others.
2) Black women are immune to trickery.
3) Freedom is not being the object of trickery.
There is no way that you can deduce these premises from the statement that only white men and
black women are free. The three premises comprise (part of) a theory; the statement does not.
This is not merely a question of different readings of a text; it is a matter of digging deep into
authors theoretical articulations, and pulling out those key premises from which everything else
that they write can be generated. Only once you have made these premises explicit can you
legitimately claim connaissance of a theorist. Mere know-how doesnt comprise
understanding. Social theories explain why behavior occurs; doing theory requires know-how
about making others premises explicit. As the semester proceeds, we still have many
opportunities to develop your savoir of connaissance. Yet, it is important that you be able
to distinguish it from other types of savoir. Allow me to venture a theorya modification of
Nancy Whites:
Every social field defines a set of legitimate moves. Savoir within a field corresponds to ones
mastery over these moves. Savoir is thus field-specific, and when savoir from one field is
introduced into another, this is moonlight boogie-juggie (MBJ, for short). Novices are players
in social fields who have difficulty distinguishing among various varieties of savoir. But
novices have two types of knowledge that they can develop at this pointa mastery of moves
within a single playing field (savoir) and a mastery at recognizing the set of moves that is
legitimate within their current playing field (savoir of connaissance). If they lack the former type
of knowledge, they are doomed to lose; if they lack the latter, they are doomed to be mystified by
MBJ.
And so I hope that you can now see that my objective during the course of this semester is that
you become immunized from MBJ. A first step in this direction is that you learn to distinguish
legitimate versus nonlegitimate moves in our theorizing game. To the extent that your
objective is to play a particular theoretical game (i.e., to apply a specific theory), you will find

yourself making nonlegitimate moves in our game. (Although we can never be certain of each
others objectives, you will note that such awareness does require mutual connaissance.) This
is not to say that there is something illegitimate about making these moves. Surely applying
theories helps us verify among ourselves that we understand a theorys premises correctly.
However, what should not be lost in our playing with theorists premises is our ongoing
awareness that these illustrations are only moves toward making these premises explicit. That is,
we are ongoingly aware of the danger of changing our social field from a theorizing game to
a specific theorists game.
Thus we are all umpires as well as players in our theorizing game. As players we share the
common objective of gaining the skill of finding premises among applications. But at the
same time we are umpires who never forget that playing each theorists game requires an
application skill specific to that theorya skill that is other than (although surely related to)
the skill we are developing. As umpires we always keep in mind that this other type of savoir
is something secondary to our game. Once sharpened, our skills as umpires will restrain our
bedazzlement with any one theorists game, so that we are not tempted to believe that the
theorists assumptions are better than all others. Within our theorizing game wouldnt accepting
such a belief merely be an acknowledgement that we have succumb to the theorists moonlight
boogie-joogie?