16.416 on disciplinarity

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Jan 14 2003 - 02:25:59 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 416.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2003 07:06:47 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: powerful ethnocentricity of the disciplines

    "Surrenders to conventionality are what disciplines are. The disciplines
    are social systems that raise their partial 'as if' perspectives from mere
    conventionality to mythic proportions. In the language of semiotics, their
    models move from being symbols to being signs. They move from metaphor to
    metonymy. From being known to be conventional and partial, they are
    understood to be real and whole. All the boundary-making rituals of
    everyday life in which the conventionalities of class and sex and race and
    sect are transformed into social realities are the same rituals that make
    for powerful ethnocentricity of the disciplines.

    "We will flnd them all, these rites de passages, in examinations, in
    selection, promotion, and establishment, in the residence rules of
    departments and schools, in the special languages, in the professional
    taboos. These are ways of making a blinkered view of the world seem
    mythically true. No matter that every science properly protests its
    rationality, the mood and sentiment created by each science's social
    relations make the artificiality of its perspective as natural as good and
    bad manners. As social and cultural systems, disciplines move from their
    sense of the conventional and metaphoric quality of their models to a sense
    of their naturalness and reality. Their models become signs of the whole of
    reality, not just symbols of its parts.

    "With the rise and fall of their political and social power, disciplines
    transfer their own models to their culture's mythic understanding of the
    environment. 'Supply and demand', 'id and ego', 'survival of the fittest'
    move from being recognised analytical contrivances to being objective
    descriptions of what actually happens, and reliable predictions of what
    will happen as the models gain the strength to have an undeniable and
    cosmological value in the culture at large."

    Greg Dening, Performances (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996): 41-2

    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
    7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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