[Humanist] 24.489 on collaboration

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Nov 16 07:42:33 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 489.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 16 Nov 2010 06:37:52 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: on collaboration

By virtue of editing my journal, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, I 
have received a copy of John N. Parker, Niki Vermeulen and Bart Penders, 
eds., Collaboration in the New Life Sciences (Ashgate 2010). For our 
purposes here I note in particular the concluding essay by Wesley Shrum, 
"Collaborationism" (pp. 247-58). "Collaboration", he writes, "if we can 
agree on nothing else, is a kind of cooperation or working together 
towards some end.... Nearly always imbued with a positive connotation in 
the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, it has momentarily 
lost meaning as a descriptive term." He praises the contributions to the 
volume because "they typically do *not* treat collaboration as a 
'scientific good' but offer a healthy, analytical buffer to such 
views.... The evaluative connotations are important to bear in mind, 
since the labelling process is crucial and to call something 
'collaborative' is typically to call it good." Hence, as he says, less 
than half-jokingly he invokes the older sense of the word, "to return 
collaboration to its World War II roots as a traitorous relationship 
with an enemy". Bringing back that meaning helps him, and would help us, 
to dispense with the lineaments of a transcendental virtue and so to 
think critically about what is going on in the digital humanities.

Shrum distinguishes three reasons for collaboration: (1) the need for 
resources, exemplified by most parts of physics; (2) as part of a 
broader strategy for asserting the status of a discipline, by 
associating with more established, higher-status fields; (3) the need 
for information supplied by other fields, essentially because of the 
complexity of the problems involved.

Does this taxonomy of collaboration suit us? What seems to be missing 
here is (4) the need of a purely methodological discipline for problems 
to which its methods can be applied. But, then, does the digital 
humanities exist only in collaboration? Is it a condition sine qua non? 
If it is, then how possibly can we be critical of it? Are we in the position
of those during WWII who had to collaborate in order to eat?


Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Professor, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney,
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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