19.166 beyond disciplines

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005 16:56:36 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 166.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005 16:54:18 +0100
         From: Hartmut Krech <kr538_at_uni-bremen.de>
         Subject: Re: 19.165 beyond disciplines


in an earlier contribution to this continuing discussion (Humanist
18.669), Ryan Deschamps made the important point -- with a view to
the original meaning of the word -- that "a discipline consists of a
body of (living and dead) disciples, rather than an objective body of
'knowledge.'" Therefore, it would also be quite fitting to speak of
"(sub-)cultures" of knowledge about certain subject areas with
respect to disciplines. Apparently, this understanding of disciplines
is rather old (and antedates the actual term "discipline"), if you
see my quotation from Aristotle (Humanist 17.798). It is opposed to
the designation of philosophical schools as "haireseis" or "sects" or
"factions" by Diogenes Laertios in his 'Lives and Teachings of the
Philosophers.' Of course, we are now aware that cultures also have
their conceptual and practical limitations and particular views of the world.

Ryan's remarks are not without consequence with respect to the
current uses and misuses of interdisciplinary or even
extra-disciplinary studies. At least in regard to German
universities, it could be shown that the unexplainable upsurge of
"interdisciplinary" studies during the past decades coincided with
drastic cutbacks of the budgets allocated for undergraduate teaching.
The statement is well justified that the quality of university
education has suffered significantly from this doubtful popularity of
interdisciplinary studies. Currently, there is a student-to-professor
ratio of up to 200 to one professor at certain university departments
in Germany, as compared to twenty students to one professor in the
Netherlands or in Australia. This situation is also reflected in a
growing number of unemployed academics (about 3,500 only in one
northern German city that is heralded as the City of Science of the
Year). Of course, the specializations of these unemployed academics
is of no interest at all, when it comes to relieve them from social
welfare benefits. This is a vicious circle reproducing itself, and
interdisciplinarity does not seem to be the answer.

Of course, we could emphasize the technical or methodological aspects
of the disciplines, as it was customary to differentiate disciplines
by the word endings of their names. There is still a difference
between "ethnology" and "ethnography", to take just one example.
About twenty years ago, I proposed the terms "ethnotechnics" and
"ethnopraxis" in my dissertation to open up new possibilities of
study and practical work for anthropologists. So far, I have not been
given the opportunity to elaborate these possibilities.

Best regards,
Hartmut Krech
Bremen, Germany
The Culture and History of Science Page

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

> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 165.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005 07:16:17 +0100
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> >
>Patrick Durusau, in Humanist 19.162, in reply to an earlier message,
>responds to my phrase "extra-disciplinary stance" by asking,
> >Is it "extra-disciplinary" with regard to
> >traditional humanities disciplines? Does
> >"extra-disciplinary" include humanities
> >computing? It seems to me to be a devilishly hard
> >place to reach if the requirement is to have no discipline at all.
> >
> >While I readily agree that the wholesale
> >imposition of a discipline, literary studies
> >being a favorite example, onto other disciplines
> >is simply wrong, it is also that case that a view
> >of any discipline is going to be from a point of
> >view. And that point of view, literary studies or
> >not, is going to carry baggage that may or may
> >not be recognized from within the discipline under view.
>So much depends on the metaphors one thinks with. Looking at
>something from a "point of view" is a good place to start, so let's
>run with it. What are we looking at? If it's a tree of knowledge,
>then I have a problem with the fact that the branches are already
>grown and with the implication that a human construct, the
>disciplines as we currently know them, has been naturalized. If we
>think in what's essentially European geopolitical terms, of "turf" or
>of "domains" of knowledge, then without warfare there's no life other
>than the gypsy -- as that life is prejudicially viewed by the
>long-term permanent residents.
>My point was that the experience of doing humanities computing
>full-time, as one's main thing, simply does not fit disciplinarity as
>ordinarily constructed. If one thinks in disciplinary terms, as
>above, then what I and many others do is essentially invisible. In a
>world where disciplines are all that exists, humanities computing has
>to sneak in through a back door, say into an English department, and
>so, depending on the situation, has to configure itself in terms that
>its host-discipline allows. Nor would it do, really, for us, if we
>could, to create a new "discipline", since as disciplinarity is
>constructed, this would force a limiting ethnocentricity on us as
>lords of a ring-fenced dominion. Then we'd be the pot calling the
>kettle black -- as well as in a fatally weak position. We'd find
>ourselves excluding most of those who at present are colleagues,
>friends and relations.
>As for the baggage, for the limitations of being centred somewhere, I
>think of the ancient formula, "centrum ubique, circumferentia
>nusquam", "centre everywhere, circumference nowhere", or as Northrop
>Frye said in On Education, "It takes a good deal of maturity to see
>that every field of knowledge is the centre of all knowledge, and
>that it doesn't matter so much what you learn when you learn it in a
>structure that can expand into other structures" (1988: 10).
>Note especially the word "expand". Ask, how does humanities computing
>expand into the disciplines it encounters?
>[NB: If you do not receive a reply within 24 hours please resend]
>Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
>Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7 Arundel Street |
>London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax: -2980 ||
>willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Fri Jul 22 2005 - 12:11:17 EDT

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