18.183 metaphors of hard and soft

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 31 Aug 2004 07:38:13 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 183.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 31 Aug 2004 07:28:01 +0100
         From: "Jenny Fry" <Jenny.Fry_at_niwi.knaw.nl>
         Subject: Re: 18.167 metaphors of hard and soft

Dear list,

I have been studying the cultures of the disciplines in the context of
scholarly communication and first came across the distinctions between
hard and soft sciences in Tony Becher's highly illuminating and superbly
written anthropological account of "Academic tribes and territories"
(1989 & 2000). He draws on earlier work of educationalists Biglan (1973)
and Kolb (1981) who were concerned with the extent to which knowledge
structures are concerned with nature or people (crudely summarised).
They constructed a taxonomy of the sciences based on the dimensions of
hard/soft and pure/applied. Becher characterises the physical sciences
(e.g. physics) as having a "hard-pure" knowledge structure, humanities
(e.g history) and pure social sciences (e.g. anthropology) as having a
"soft-pure" knowledge structure,technologies (e.g. engineering) as
"hard-applied" and the applied social sciences (e.g. education) as
"soft-applied". To each he attaches a cultural description. For example,
"soft-pure" knowledge structures are "reiterative; holistic; concerned
with particulars, qualities, complication; resulting in

Such taxonomies of the sciences are always problematic in that they
tend to discuss absolute examples and are difficult to apply to
interdisciplinary fields that encompass a mixture of intellectual
cultures. Becher is sensitive to relating knowledge structures to the
specialist scholarly communities that inhabit them, but many taxonomies
simply take an institutionalised disciplinary view. Anyway, hope this
adds some clarification to the discussion of metaphors of hard and soft
in science.

Jenny Fry

Jenny Fry, Ph.D.
Networked Research and Digital Information
Joan Muyskenweg 25
1090 HC Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 462 8737
Email: jenny.fry_at_niwi.knaw.nl
Web: http://ncp.niwi.knaw.nl/en/nerdi2/toon

>>> "Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty
<willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>)" <willard_at_LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU>
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                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 167.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                       Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

     [1] From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com>

     [2] From: "Clai Rice" <cxr1086_at_louisiana.edu>
           Subject: RE: 18.162 metaphors of hard and soft

           Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2004 07:21:08 +0100
           From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com>
           Subject: Re: 18.162 metaphors of hard and soft

Willard, as best I can recall, when I was an undergrad in the 50s we
Chemistry, Physics, and Biology "hard" sciences, but we never called
anything a "soft" science. The opposition was between the hard
and the social sciences (when my future wife and I first met, I was
technically a Chem major [on my way to changing it officially to
and she a Sociology major, so the terms came up from time to time in
friendly argument).

In recent years I used to tease my friends in Biology by calling it
"gooey science".

And structural linguistics, when I was first learning it in the late
was sometimes claimed to be a 'bridge' science, but between "hard' and
"social", not "soft".

I have no idea when "soft' became a term in the discourse, nor did I
hear anyone suggest that gender had anything to do with the matter.

           Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2004 07:21:37 +0100
           From: "Clai Rice" <cxr1086_at_louisiana.edu>
           Subject: RE: 18.162 metaphors of hard and soft

Burton Melnick has a nice cognitive metaphor analysis of the metaphors
line at http://www.clas.ufl.edu/ipsa/journal/1999_melnick01.shtml

--Clai Rice

WM writes:
.... More for the pile welcome, esp.
> items that deal specifically with the hard vs soft metaphors.
Received on Tue Aug 31 2004 - 02:47:26 EDT

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