18.665 interdisciplinary isn't poaching

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 26 Mar 2005 06:55:37 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 665.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Alexandre Enkerli <aenkerli_at_indiana.edu> (87)
         Subject: No Discipline is an Island

   [2] From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com> (17)
         Subject: Re: 18.664 interdisciplinary isn't poaching

         Date: Sat, 26 Mar 2005 06:50:45 +0000
         From: Alexandre Enkerli <aenkerli_at_indiana.edu>
         Subject: No Discipline is an Island

We can certainly expect thoughtful discussions on interdisciplinarity here.

Some random personal thoughts on Dasenbrock's article.

Well, it was food for thought with "nutritional" value.
The critique of pseudo-interdisciplinarity is quite fun to read though not
necessarily ground-breaking. After all, these issues have been discussed
for quite a while. And literary studies aren't alone in this lack of true
interdisciplinarity. Still, nice to read.

Because it's easier, I'll focus on criticizing Dasenbrock.

A relatively minor point. Dasenbrock's "anti-anti-disciplinary" position is
intriguing but not developed very explicitly. Those of us who do in fact
wish for disciplinary boundaries to finally collapse aren't offered very
convincing arguments as to why these boundaries should remain.
As one is explicitly encouraged to associate Dasenbrock's position to that
of a Dean, it's easy to perceive a struggle between Dasenbrock the dean and
Dasenbrock the champion of boundary-crossing.
I was reminded of an anecdote by anthropologist and ethnomusicologist
Anthony Seeger at the 1998 meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology. When
asked to become dean at a given institution, he declined, saying that he
didn't believe in disciplinary boundaries. Can't recall the exact details.
So maybe there's something about becoming a dean and losing one's
perspective on knowledge.

About half of Dasenbrock's piece revolves around one specific example of a
possible collaboration between English and Spanish faculty to focus on
Latina/o literature. Using geographic arguments related to the culture
importance of diversity in the Southwest, Dasenbrock (English faculty and
CAS dean at UNM; a similar piece was presented in Utah) asks us to follow
specific guidelines for interdisciplinary work.
So in opposition to the theoretical reappropriation of outside ideas by
literary scholars, Dasenbrock proposes a bi-departmental team-taught course
on a specific literary genre. Such an approach might be
"buzzword-compliant" and help "market" a specific course (or even a
program) to administrators, but it has very little to do with true
interdisciplinarity, in my humble opinion.

Or maybe we should define our terms. Interdisciplinary work still requires
the existence of specific disciplinary "spaces." But isn't true
interdisciplinary supposed to make boundaries irrelevant, instead of
reinforcing them? In this day and age, can we really afford to remain in
such tiny pigeonholes that anything we do needs to be defined by the
disciplines to which we "belong?" Don't we need a "peripheral vision" of
knowledge? Shouldn't a "holistic perspective" on education be our goal?

I read Dasenbrock's coming back from our faculty meeting: the College of
Liberal Arts and Sciences at Indiana University South Bend, a mid-size
regional campus of the "IU system."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the topic of interdisciplinarity came up during the
meeting (while talking about requirements for the general education
program). A colleague suggested Julie Klein's work as a basis to understand
the difference between inter- and multi-disciplinarity.
As it so happens, our faculty meetings are very positive experiences.
Extremely collegial and friendly. Genuine laughter. Very efficient
discussions. In fact, we lengthily applauded our dean this morning for his
ongoing good work. Perhaps not a common experience for most of you, but
certainly a pleasant one.
Contrary to the situation described by Dasenbrock, Foreign Languages,
English, or Sociology and Anthropology are not in any way problem
departments. In fact, some of the clearest interdisciplinary work involves
faculty from these three departments in connection with the rest of the
campus. Our dean is a mathematician.
So, a wonderful context for the type of work which extends beyond
disciplinary boundaries. Those boundaries still exist but are seen as less
important than our common goal: knowledge and its transmission.
We're talking about true "liberal education" here. Including "liberal
sciences." A broad approach which links scholars in organic, fluid,
contingent ways.
Just one example of how it might work. The whole campus decides on a yearly
theme. The one for the next academic year is "The Mutable Body" and people
are thinking of different activities to connect to this theme. "Wet
scientists" may as easily connect to this theme as humanists and social
scientists. Some connections are direct and explicit, others are more
indirect. But people are encouraged to join in a campus-wide conversation
(not just a dialogue). As different people on campus are linked to
different networks, plans are being made to bring people from other
institutions under that broad theme.

I don't want to offer this as a success story. I just can't help but
noticing that Dasenbrock is tied to a very rigid system where even fellow
literary scholars need to be asked explicitly before they can connect to
each other so they can work on a specific literary tradition.
  From the perspective of a French-Canadian ethnomusicologist and
cultural/linguistic anthropologist, Dasenbrock's approach sounds in fact
quite insular.
If this is the direction in which we are going, we're evacuating
interdisciplinarity for the profit of new turf wars.

Alex Enkerli, Teaching Fellow, Visiting Lecturer
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Indiana University South Bend, DW
1700 Mishawaka Ave., South Bend, IN 46634-7111
Office: (574)520-4102
Fax: (574)520-5031 (to: Enkerli, Anthropology)

         Date: Sat, 26 Mar 2005 06:51:08 +0000
         From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com>
         Subject: Re: 18.664 interdisciplinary isn't poaching

First of all, I would never include in a definition of
'interdisciplinarity' something so miserable as an "administrative
unit". and I can point to lots and lots of work in medieval literature
which shows deep and substantial knowledge of work in other fields.

However, we in English do indeed snap up trifles from here and there. And
on occasion we get them wrong. Staying in my own part of the woods for an
example, I am appalled to see how many of my colleagues casually use the
term "feudal system" while medieval historians are busy getting rid of the
term forever and showing how useless and meaningless it is.

It requires work to stay up in other disciplines. (On the other hand, I
often have more fun going to the history, art, philosophy, etc. sessions at
medieval conferences rather than staying in my own field and hearing
someone do warmed over Chaucer criticism for the umpteenth time)

We're probably do it wrong part of the time, but limiting the term to
actual working with others seems wrong -- what is publication for if I
can't sit down and read it ? But making the term mean working in groups
with grant money and administrators and all that irrelevant stuff seems to
me to demean the term instead of define it.
Received on Sat Mar 26 2005 - 01:57:50 EST

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