16.420 disciplines & conversations beyond them

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Wed Jan 15 2003 - 03:47:49 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 420.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

       [1] From: Patricia Galloway <galloway@ischool.utexas.edu> (2)
             Subject: Re: 16.416 on disciplinarity

       [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (56)
             Subject: advancing the field

             Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2003 06:57:50 +0000
             From: Patricia Galloway <galloway@ischool.utexas.edu>
             Subject: Re: 16.416 on disciplinarity

    Gosh, sounds like Bourdieu. Symbolic violence.
    Pat Galloway

             Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2003 07:22:52 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: advancing the field

    Conversation is what it's all about, as Bob Amsler says in Humanist 16.412:

    >To me the essence
    >of being in a field of work is the effort to take part in a conversation
    >going on among its practitioners, to critique their lines of thought, add
    >one's own comments on them, and ADVANCE THE FIELD.

    I am repeatedly struck, however, by the irony of conversations within
    disciplines -- namely, by how much and how many they tend to exclude. It's
    relatively rare that someone will try to communicate with outsiders in
    terms the intelligent beginner can understand. For most disciplines we
    brush up against that's precisely what we are. I'm not just talking about
    density of jargon, though that is a problem. Rather more, I think, the
    problem is tuning in on the debate, which in computing-related fields may
    be hard to find if one doesn't attend all the right conferences. The ACM
    Computing Surveys series is one good move in the right direction; the
    Springer series Lecture Notes in Computer Science is another. But even
    within such volumes the assumption seems often to be made that the contexts
    for what is being said are already understood -- if indeed those saying it
    actually know of the relevant contexts.

    An example. Many of the essays in Lorenzo Magnani and Nancy J Nersessian,
    eds., Model-Based Reasoning: Science, Technology, Values (Kluwer/Plenum,
    2002), are quite important for the sort of work we do and represent
    significant contributions to the literature on modelling. The editors have
    not, however, taken the trouble to supply an introductory essay
    establishing the context for these essays, something to orient the
    beginner, something to indicate where they fit into a half a dozen or more
    ongoing conversations in philosophy, history and philosophy of science,
    cognitive science, psychology, AI & al. Contrast Robert Franck, ed., The
    Explanatory Power of Models (Kluwer, 2002). The editor takes significant
    trouble to sum up the arguments and give the book a real shape, and to
    establish the context within the social sciences. Unfortunately he seems
    of much outside the social sciences. Fair enough, you say -- the book is
    ADDRESSED to social scientists. Yes, I reply, exactly my point. The
    half-century of "deep malaise in the social sciences" that he speaks about
    quite pointedly -- the gulf between empirical researchers and theoreticians,
    across which they do not communicate -- is an instance of the problem.
    I am suggesting that research outside the social sciences could help
    a very great deal.

    Sergio Manghi, in the Preface to Gregory Bateson's Mind and Nature: A
    Necessary Unity (Cresskill NJ: Hampton Press, 2002): xiii, speaks of "the
    most precious, and also the most difficult thing we can learn from an
    encounter with his work. Not to learn more, more than before, more than
    others... but to know ourselves and the world we live in *in another way*.
    A way that is self-reflective and participatory, a way that can reveal to
    us -- by continually placing it *in a wider perspective* -- the
    extraordinary story of what we already know, what we already are...."

    It's not just that the interdisciplinarity of humanities computing requires
    us to browse far and wide -- farther and wider than our own individual
    turfs-of-origin -- and so to help others browse beyond theirs, even entice
    them to do so. The very situation we are in as scholars and interested
    parties in the life of the mind would seem to require wide-ranging
    conversation. Those who pay the bills certainly require it of us -- or are
    trying to. So far the forms of expression that we are being handed
    (e.g. "transferrable skills" checklists & other forms of "quality assessment")
    are mockeries of a truly helpful response. But there's no question about
    the real imperative, which is intellectual, moral, social.



    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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