[Humanist] 24.337 what we are & seem to be

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Sep 13 23:48:19 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 337.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2010 12:18:22 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: vampire disciplines, mollycoddling & other ills

Reading Eduardo De La Fuente's article in The Australian for 26 May 2010,
"Vampires latch on to learning"
and wondering about my own, I wonder if the author has considered the
ongoing HBO series "True Blood"? The refiguration of the human continues
apace with the refiguration of the disciplines.

And in the o-tempora-o-mores department one also finds here Joseph Gora's
article, "Drowned by Dr Verbiage"
which rather misses the point of its own examples. In some UK universities
students can resit examinations as many times as they like -- in August,
mind you -- including exams for courses whose meetings they've rarely or
never attended.

How would you vote if your idea of higher education had been formed on the
basis of reports such as these? The absent-minded professor stereotype,
harmless drudge or mad scientist would seem far less damaging. Anecdotal
evidence from radio and television suggests that people are now openly
questioning the university-as-job-training-centre idea, to which some of us
in humanities computing appealed, and for a while quite successfully, to get
students. In some places research income from granting agencies is
sufficiently uncertain that justifying the existence of a department on that
basis has become difficult. So perhaps it would be a good idea to think a
bit, and discuss again, what we say we're good for. The second of the
articles cited above goes after the argument that the humanities train
students to "think critically". I know what I think we're good for, but will
an appeal to a life of the mind work in today's world?

An interesting case to consider is cultural studies. I refer particularly to
Ien Ang, "From cultural studies to cultural research: Engaged scholarship in
the Twenty-First Century", Cultural Studies Review 12.2 (2006). There Ang
squarely faces cultural studies' desire "to align intellectual work with
progressive social change"; the empty posturing that sometimes comes of
this; the feeling that academics should just be concerned with questioning
received knowledge and formulating it afresh; the dilemma of cultural
studies' foundational commitment to "the Foucauldian truth... that knowledge
is always ultimately 'political'"; and so the hard job of figuring out how
genuine connections between academic research and ordinary life may be
forged, with "concrete intellectual practice" a result (184-6). Of course
the response she works out is particular to cultural studies, but changing
what needs to be changed the article is a fine example for others.
Not an answer, of course, but a way of talking in a situation that requires
from us a story we can live with.


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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