19.162 beyond disciplines

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 20 Jul 2005 07:14:57 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 162.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Patrick Durusau <patrick_at_durusau.net> (83)
         Subject: Re: 19.157 in their own image?

   [2] From: "Wayne Hanewicz" <hanewiwa_at_uvsc.edu> (54)
         Subject: Re: 19.157 in their own image?

         Date: Wed, 20 Jul 2005 06:33:49 +0100
         From: Patrick Durusau <patrick_at_durusau.net>
         Subject: Re: 19.157 in their own image?


Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard=20
McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:

>Lubom=EDr Dolezel (Slavic, Toronto) begins his article, "Possible
>Worlds of Fiction and History", NLH 29.4 (1998): 785-809, with the
>following observation on interdisciplinarity:
> >The contemporary researcher is engaged in a losing struggle with the
> >information explosion. The struggle is especially desper-ate in
> >interdisciplinary research, where no one can master all the
> >published literature in all the special fields. As interdisciplinary
> >investigations become more and more necessary, they become more and
> >more difficult. An easy way out of this difficulty is to interpret
> >the problems of other disciplines in terms of one's own. This
> >practice is typical of quite a few humanists and theorists of
> >literature. While claiming to cultivate interdisciplinarity, they
> >give philosophy, history, and even natural sciences a "literary"
> >treatment; their complex and diverse problems are reduced to
> >concepts current in contemporary literary writing, such as subject,
> >discourse, narrative, metaphor, semantic indeterminacy, and
> >ambiguity. The universal "literariness" of knowledge acquisition and
> >representation is then hailed as an interdisciplinary confirmation
> >of epistemological relativism and indeterminism, to which
> >contemporary literati subscribe.
>Let us put aside the question of an "information explosion" to focus
>on Dolezel's sharp observation about how disciplines typically
>respond to matters outside their ken that for some reason are deemed
>necessary or desirable to recognize. He cites literary studies, but
>any discipline or group of them would do. The point is that
>disciplines construe the world in a particular way, and that this
>becomes a problem when ambition drives them beyond their limits --
>when, as Greg Dening says, they become cosmological. Dolezel notes
>that a disciplinary scholar behaving in this way is not being
>interdisciplinary, he or she is poaching. Interdisciplinarity is
>really something else.
>Consider the case in which an academic job is advertised by an
>English department for someone in the areas of digital media and
>literature, virtual cultural production and media history and theory.
>Given the very wide scope that English has taken for itself, should
>we say that this a job in humanities computing, or is it a job that
>reflects how humanities computing is typically construed by that
>discipline? Among the aspects of the field omitted in the advertised
>list is the extra-disciplinary stance and so ability to relate, for
>example, to French, history, music. In light of Matt Kirschenbaum's
>quotation from Ivan Tribble (Humanist 19.139), what happens if the
>occupant of the advertised position decides to build tools?
I am curious what you see as the markers of an "extra-disciplinary stance?"

Is it "extra-disciplinary" with regard to=20
traditional humanities disciplines? Does=20
"extra-disciplinary" include humanities=20
computing? It seems to me to be a devilishly hard=20
place to reach if the requirement is to have no discipline at all.

While I readily agree that the wholesale=20
imposition of a discipline, literary studies=20
being a favorite example, onto other disciplines=20
is simply wrong, it is also that case that a view=20
of any discipline is going to be from a point of=20
view. And that point of view, literary studies or=20
not, is going to carry baggage that may or may=20
not be recognized from within the discipline under view.

Viewing multiple disciplines is even more=20
difficult, particularly if they are so divergent=20
as to lack a common basis for comparison. That=20
requires construction of a frame of reference=20
that supersedes the individual ones within=20
disciplines in order to say anything at all about the disciplines=

While I agree that humanities computing should=20
urge good scholarship, including no poaching, I=20
am not sure it advances its cause by claiming to=20
exist outside of the "discipline based views" that lead scholars into error.

Hope you are having a great day!


Patrick Durusau
Chair, V1 - Text Processing: Office and Publishing Systems Interface
Co-Editor, ISO 13250, Topic Maps -- Reference Model
Member, Text Encoding Initiative Board of Directors, 2003-2005

Topic Maps: Human, not artificial, intelligence at work!

         Date: Wed, 20 Jul 2005 06:34:39 +0100
         From: "Wayne Hanewicz" <hanewiwa_at_uvsc.edu>
         Subject: Re: 19.157 in their own image?


Regarding WM's discussion on the relationship between
interdisciplinary work and conceptualization is, as is often the
case, intriguing. In spite of the difficulties, it still seems fair
to say that the DIFFERENCES among the various disciplinary conceptual
schemes and taxonomies are inherently valuable. These differences
allow us to see things in a different light, to appreciate something
that we might have otherwise overlooked had we not "tried on" the a
new schema. After all, is this not why the different schemes were
developed in the first place. None of this, I assume, is
particularly new or controversial.

However, I also agree that the drive to difference has sometimes
overlooked the equally important search for sameness among the
disciplines. God (or at least a Dean) forbid that we allow our
differences to supply the justification for the "advocate" model seen
in the legal system. In this model the differences become battle
lines, and the contest is determined by more or less formal rules in
an attempt to rule OUT exactly what WE must rule IN, viz., the
subjective experience of individual people and their
perceptions. The history of scientific inquiry is replete with
reminders of how subtle can be the pressure to reify one's point of
view; the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness" has been committed by
too many of us in moments of frustration, discouragement, or solitary

Toward this end, I have wondered if we might work our way back from
several current, and quite different, conceptual schemes (say, for
example, literature and psychology, or information security and
biology) to the point where we begin to see common concepts. The aim
of this "conceptual backstepping" is to get us as close as the human
perceptual apparatus permits to that which gives rise to the first
level of concepts. This view sees various conceptual schemes as
having a common root in direct human experience; this direct human
experience is then conceptually organized according to different
histories, disciplinary rules of knowledge, philosophies, etc. It is
debatable whether a human being can actually have a "direct human
experience" of anything, but that need not concern us here. What is
important is that we can get closer to that experience and learn how
it gives rise to different conceptual paths for further analysis and

This approach assumes that concepts, and the conceptual schemes of
which they are a part, are recursive in the sense that each
succeeding level of concepts contains something fundamentally
isomorphic to the preceeding level. Without this isomorphism, or
sameness, we would not be able to grasp that one level is a variation
or generation of another level. I believe that this is the source of
analogy and, especially, metaphor. Others, including Hofstadter and
Lakoff, suggest similar opportunities for insight. It would not be
that difficult to organize an interdisciplinary team to develop a
good research project that could begin to make progress in
understanding the role of conceptualization in creating disciplinary
boundaries as well as the fundamental connections among schemes that
are seemingly unrelated. Perhaps it could be a move toward a more
common interdisciplinary language. Anyone interested?

Received on Wed Jul 20 2005 - 02:19:28 EDT

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