[Humanist] 26.372 what goes on in the interchange?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Oct 12 06:58:19 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 372.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2012 10:12:59 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: pointing to the problem

In his detailed consideration of objections to his notion of a "trading 
zone" of exchange among scientific subcultures, Peter Galison takes up 
the power relations between unequal partners. He uses as an example 
quantum electrodynamics ("the heartland of the purest pure physics") and 
radio engineering, showing how two physicists' Nobel Prize winning 
discoveries were shaped by collaboration with radio engineers. He 
concludes with the following paragraph that I recommend strongly to your 

> From examples like the joint work of radio engineers and theoretical
> physicists a new question arises: What characterizes the forms of
> technical exchange that take place under such conditions of
> inequality? This, as it turns out, is a question that arises in
> nonscientific interlanguages. Some anthropological linguists have
> argued that the subordinate group often donates syntax, while the
> superordinate group provides lexical or referential structure. I
> suspect that something similar went on between the physicists and the
> engineers: calculational strategies were from the engineers, terms
> from the physicists. While this pattern may not be universal, it is
> suggestive. At the very least such examples prompt a set of
> questions: In instances of unequal exchanges between
> scientific-technical subcultures, what precisely does make it to the
> interlanguage from each side? It is a question that cannot even arise
> if we stop our analysis with proclamations about
> "interdisciplinarity," "collaboration," or "symbiosis." Those terms
> point at the problem; all the interest, in my view, lies in unpacking
> what the nature of this coordination is and how it evolves over time.
> If one is content to label work between scientific subcultures as
> "interdisciplinary," questions remain that are utterly obscured. Of
> course we know there is collaboration -- that is what we want to
> understand. To tackle the joint workings of different groups by
> referring to a label is not much help. It reminds me of Molière's
> quack who explains the sleep-inducing power of opium as being its
> virtus dormitiva. What we need is a much more interesting and
> effective active ingredient than "virtus dormitiva" -- instead a way
> of approaching joint work that parses what comes with what, and how
> ways of speaking, calculating, and building are coordinated.

Peter Galison, "Trading with the enemy", in Michael E. Gorman, ed., 
Trading Zones and Interactional Expertise: Creating New Kinds of 
Collaboration (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2010): 39, 40.

So I wonder: do we have the wherewithal to unpack what our uses of the 
terms "interdisciplinarity" and "collaboration" tell us about what is 
actually going on in the interchanges between digital humanities and the 
disciplines with which we interact? 



Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
(www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

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