19.170 beyond disciplines

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 24 Jul 2005 12:12:40 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 170.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca> (73)
         Subject: Re: 19.168 beyond disciplines

   [2] From: Wendell Piez <wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com> (79)
         Subject: Re: 19.165 beyond disciplines

         Date: Sun, 24 Jul 2005 11:59:11 +0100
         From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca>
         Subject: Re: 19.168 beyond disciplines


You mentioned my intuition that "studiers" ought to consider
disciples more than
disciplines. Another [Patrick?] used the metaphor of "baggage" to describe the
point of view of a particular discipline.

I would like to adopt the "baggage" metaphor, because I think that a discipline
is, in fact, the "baggage" of disciples. Or maybe, what "disciples" carry
inside the baggage -- like the standard issue for a soldier -- ie. in order to
be a literary critic, you need to have a good Shakespeare, a ration of the
Romantic poets, and a pair of modernist socks (to protect you from the

The organization of information (where, I contend, "disciplines" become
separated from "disciplines") has its similarities to the study of governance &
organizational design in the political sphere. There may be something here to
"get at" interdisciplinarity. I'm paraphrasing most of this information from
Peter Aucoin's reader on Organzational design for his students. I can get a
citation if anyone wants it.

Essentially, when talking about organizational design for the public sector, we
refer to the 4 Ps: purpose, place, people & process. So, one creates
government departments based on one of these four dimensions. Purpose-style
departments exist to perform some kind of function -- for instance, a
department of national defence serves to protect the country from invasion.
"Place" & People departments focus on a geographical area or groups of people
-- for instance, in Canada we have a department of "Veterans affairs" and
"Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency." "Process" departments focus on the
"how" of various government operations -- Public Works, Intergovernmental
Affairs, Service Nova Scotia, etc.

I think the early presumption is that disciplines will be purpose-based. For
instance, a department of national defence most frequently involves the
disciples of war, (ie. soldiers). And a department of Natural Resources
involve natural scientists. And the history meshes as well -- if you look at
the early history of Canada, most departments have been purpose-based.

It is in the other Ps that you begin to get "inter or multi-disciplinarity."
For instance Women's, & African Studies are popular areas of interdisciplinary
research that are people and place oriented. I would argue that these
categories began to grow out of political movements that developed after the
second world war.

I think "process" categories have begun either to take shape or have formed out
of "purpose" disciplines. For instance, librarianship -- a discipline that
held a purpose relating to the preservation, access and organization of
information (mostly books) -- has turned into "information studies" or "library
and information studies" or then more radically, into "information" or
"knowledge management" and, I argue, has or will become a profession that
develops methodologies for other people to preserve, organize or access their
information. Other "process" disciplines would include any management
discipline, computer science, the history of science and -- the "old" exception
to prove my rule -- philosophy.

Humanities computing, I would argue, is a "process" discipline. The problem is
that purpose disciplines have been given hierarchical precedence in history in
the organization of information. Thus, the "process," "people" and "place"
categories have been considered only sub-headings of the purpose disciplines
(ie. History, then Canadian History rather than Canada, then Canadian history).
It is through this meme that your discipline has remained hyphenated and, I
would suggest, the reason why you have to "enter through the back door" and
remain somewhat marginalized in a purpose department.

Arguably, many humanities disciplines have become process disciplines
as well --
for instance, literary studies in present day is more about "how" to study a
novel more than it is about the novel itself. However, humanities doesn't have
the organizational problem that humanities computing has because it has its
linguistic beginnings in a purpose discipline -- "to study English literature."

Outside the academic world, I would argue that the "process" disciplines are
very important and considered highly prestigious. A CIO often shares the same
status as an Operations Manager with fewer people reporting to him/her. And
since the so-called "outside" world is increasingly gaining influence in
academic institutions, so are the "process" disciplines gaining influence.
Except that these outside influences are fighting a culture (the university
movement) that is international in scope and thousands of years old. So, in
the tree of knowledge, you can bend the branches, but not the stump.
The only
solution to the stump is to cut the tree down and plant another one -- except
this tree would probably knock out half the globe in falling!

All the best!

Ryan. ..

         Date: Sun, 24 Jul 2005 11:59:35 +0100
         From: Wendell Piez <wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com>
         Subject: Re: 19.165 beyond disciplines

Dear Willard,

I think there is a deeper commonality between the perspectives
offered by you and Patrick than might at first seem evident.

It is true that the different metaphors suggest quite different views
of the paradox of our situation. We confound the "tree of knowledge"
by growing not politely, as another branch with a known address, but
rather invasively, like a fungus, into every branch already there.
Likewise we confound the "territories on a map" by being not a new
territory but a more widespread movement, a kind of rude
trans-national uprising. To the extent we believe we might not
destroy the nations but complement them, or might not kill the tree
but transform it, they also hint at different views of our promise.

Yet whichever metaphor we use, I think many of us share the
experience of how a study jealous in its narrowness and exclusivity,
if one chooses to remain aware, can suddenly open to speak, by
implication or overtly, to the whole world ... if only it knew how to
listen. The center is indeed everywhere. So, for example, I found the
topic of my own doctoral dissertation (which was firmly anchored in
the disciplines of literary criticism and philology), Walter Pater's
"ascesis" (and what could be narrower than the study of a single word
as used in the smallish corpus of a single obscure author?), to have
the broadest implications for understanding not just Pater and his
period, but much more as well, about art, words, life and the mind.
(It didn't hurt that Pater himself wrote about this phenomenon.) Any
discipline and any subspecialization within a discipline, I think,
has this potential, if worthily pursued. "The Fool who persists in
his Folly becomes Wise". Or maybe this is a descent into hell, and
the only way out is through.

If this is the case, then the solution to our problem might not be to
carve out a space for ourselves, or to insist the tree grow a new
branch, or to infect the tree and kill it. Rather, if what we are
doing is a discipline (but let's not speak of "we" too soon -- maybe
we should speak only of you and I?), it will be made a discipline by
-- by discipline. Discipline itself (and in that long-forgotten work
I paraphrased Pater's "ascesis" as "aesthetic discipline", although
it is much more than that) is that which is learned by its own
practice, like riding a horse, playing the flute, or giving thanks
five times a day. Of course in their own terms, disciplines are
incommensurate. By creating themselves, they create their own worlds.
But viewed in terms of one another, they are all media.

This year in Victoria, Melissa Terras gave a terrific paper which was
underattended enough I feel I can take the liberty of paraphrasing
it. She basically showed (with "hard" data!) how whatever-you-call-it
("humanities computing"), has all the characteristics of a
"discipline" except an established and widely-replicated
institutional framework. Major criteria that constitute something as
a discipline include such things as mythologies and culture heroes,
known venues and channels of communication, higher-order social
organization including cliques, pecking orders and betes noires (I
interpolate into what Melissa actually said :-), mechanisms of
introduction and advancement such as structured ways to participate,
awards, ritual activities (banquets!) etc. etc. Not only was it a
marvelous paper, but it's a marvelous world it describes.

Given this and the evident vitality of it, I am trying not to be too
concerned about the "discipline" thing. It's another problem that is
taking care of itself. If there's a discipline, we'll practice it,
and soon there will be a "discipline". They don't understand us, but
that's fine -- they don't understand each other either, and in fact
that's part of what makes them disciplines, so why should we sweat
it? As to how far it will go before there's a "Department of
Humanities Computing", that's really up to them, not us, so again,
who's to worry? Like all true aspirants I will casually dismiss all
problems of how to secure funding for next year, turning instead to
the VR I've got running on the desktop of my own PC -- it's plenty
interesting enough. Especially since at the end of the long dark
tunnel, beyond all the piled up treasures and hidden portals to other
worlds, I think I can see a light.


At 02:19 AM 7/22/2005, you wrote:
>So much depends on the metaphors one thinks with....

Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
    Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML
Received on Sun Jul 24 2005 - 07:30:45 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Sun Jul 24 2005 - 07:30:45 EDT