[Humanist] 26.893 the turn turn

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Mar 20 07:30:30 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 893.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 19 Mar 2013 08:39:25 -0500
        From: Douglas Knox <knoxdw at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  26.890 the turn turn
        In-Reply-To: <20130319081148.25D70759 at digitalhumanities.org>

> > ... I wonder first when this habit began with reference to
> > disciplinary inclinations and whether anyone has done the homework and
> > written about it.
>  I guess 'turn' was coming up as alternative to hitherto 'paradigm
> shift', abundantly used in the 1970's. Maybe the success of the
> new term was based on the feeling that in humanities 'paradigm'
> might be too euphemistic?

"Paradigm shift" we owe of course to Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific
Revolutions (1962). Dr. Wender may be right about the adoption of terms in
the humanities, but Willard's citation of Rorty in 1961 suggests an
interesting parallelism in which "turn" might not have started as a turn
away from paradigm shifts.

In Humanist 26.844 Mark Davies offered links to some fascinating historical
comparisons of adjectives that precede the word "turn," particularly this
table, showing bigrams that occur more frequently in recent decades than in
the early nineteenth century:

The 83rd bigram in that list, "Copernican turn," resonates with Kuhn's
paradigm shifts and suggests that the some of the work to be done, if it
hasn't been done already somewhere, might involve looking at how the
historiography of science relates to disciplinary self-understanding in the
humanities. There must be something at stake in the fact that a turn is not
a revolution, though "Copernican revolution" is a more common bigram in

Do all recent turns in the humanities necessarily cross disciplines, rather
than describe developments internal to disciplines? A linguistic turn
wouldn't seem to have much to offer linguists, nor a spatial turn much for

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