12.0008 disciplinarity, mad cows and smoke

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 8 May 1998 22:39:41 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 8.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Fri, 08 May 1998 22:33:46 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: disciplinarity, mad cows and smoke

For those interested in the rise, fall and mutation of academic disciplines
-- in their contingency -- the latest issue of the Times Literary Supplement
(4962 for 8 May 1998) has much of interest. The discipline in question is
anthropology. I found especially instructive the review of Marcus Banks and
Howard Morphy, eds., Rethinking Visual Anthropology (Yale UP), by Paul
Henley, "Seeing is understanding". I find the mutability and overall
contingency of disciplines interesting in the context of humanities
computing, as a good counter to those who take a principled stand against
the scholarly nature of our practice on the basis that it is not a
"discipline". Red herring.

Another article of interest is A. M. Daniels, "Coughing up: The unholy
alliance between greed and puritanism", reviewing Peter Pringle, Dirty
Business: Big tobacco at the bar of justice (Aurum). One of the
text-analysis projects I have been tempted to give to students is an
analysis of the collected online texts pertaining to tobacco, of which there
are many. They bear out what Daniels is saying, that the whole issue is shot
through with multiple ironies. I have done a similar project using online
texts concerning BSE/CJD (bovine spongiform encephalopathy / Creuzfeld-Jacob
disease), a.k.a. Mad Cow Disease. These, and I suspect the tobacco ones as
well, move among three positions, or did more clearly before the current
government was elected: the Major government, in deep denial that BSE was a
problem; the scientists (those not in the hire of the former), who were
getting on with the research; and the newspapers, interested in selling
papers by stirring up, shall we say, public concern. For text-analysis
purposes these are just right, since with certain key words (e.g. "body")
you can pick apart the texts fairly well for their political alliances.
Daniels' article would make a good reading assignment in conjunction with
such a project.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk

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