[Humanist] 28.448 a matter of style?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Oct 29 09:05:37 CET 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 448.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 28 Oct 2014 09:58:43 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: the crafted object or the crafting of it?

Here is a problem I've noted before but found in a new place, in Grim et 
al, "Computational modeling and philosophical analysis", Youngman 
and Hadzikadic, eds., Complexity and the human experience (2014). 
The philosophers note,

> In their final form, papers in scientific computational modeling
> always look perfect: They appear to be the work of a rational
> investigator who thought things through step by step in advance: from
> methods, to results, to discussion and conclusion. It is appropriate
> that these papers look that way -- beneficial with regard to brevity,
> evaluation, and use in future work. That is how we want our work ...
> to look eventually.
> Of course, the polished published form of a paper can give an
> entirely misleading impression of the research trajectory -- the
> impression that both the conceptual work at issue and the path of
> design and programming were neat, tidy, and foreordained. Almost
> inevitably, they were not.

What makes the above especially relevant to us, I think, turns on the 
fact that research computing is not only mutable (as of course are all 
things, even if we choose not to notice) but moves quickly in the scale 
of human life. The argument goes that since such work as ours is, or 
should be, in principle ragged, we should heed Latour's advice (in 
"The Politics of Explanation") to show the work of making things as 
they finally are rather than want what the last sentence of the first 
quoted paragraph above says we should want: something that appears 
as if had come to us a finished object, the outcome of some inevitable 
logic, rather than as the result of a struggle.

Recently I had a lively argument with colleagues over the proper style 
for articles in the journal that I edit (Interdisciplinary Science Reviews). 
It became quickly evident that as well as varying a bit by age and 
social status, ideas of style more interestingly varied by discipline. It 
became evident that at least for some, style rather quickly became a 
matter of what they thought their discipline was all about -- roughly 
along a spectrum between a practice that discovers reality versus 
one that makes things real. Where do we situate ourselves?


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney

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