A discipline remixed?

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Couple of days ago, I had a conversation with a colleague, and in one of those hallway moments, we chatted about how interesting it would be if we could do a collection where we invited a bunch of folk from the discipline to each take a piece of the disciplinary/organization network, and revise it as we saw fit. On the one hand, there are a lot of big issues that could stand to be solved, not the least of which are things like institutional classism, over-reliance on and undercompensation of part-time faculty, disciplinary overproduction, etc.

But I guess we were thinking more along the lines of the smaller things that could ripple out into broader improvements. The problem with tackling the large issues is that they are embedded so completely into the interlocking systems of profession, organization, institutions, and culture that they're not easily solvable. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be working on them--on the contrary, they should be our constant focus. But it's equally interesting to me to think about all of the small things that could improve given a creative nudge.

There'd be no way to organize and publish such a collection in time for it to have value, of course, and that in itself is one of the things that's wrong. One of the potential advantages of having a large disciplinary organization is aggregation, but that's something that happens infrequently in our org, and even when it does, it's done in less than ideal ways. What might be aggregated? Oh, information about graduate programs, graduate courses, conference papers, emerging writing majors and the courses taught there, teaching strategies, syllabi, position announcements, membership contact info and cv's, etc. And that's really just off the top of my head. One of the potential disadvantages of having a large disciplinary organization is that it can reinforce patterned isolation, and crowd out any attempts to circumvent that problem to the outskirts of members' attention.

That's all for now. Maybe I'll toss up a post later that outlines my imaginary chapter. But I've got some actual chapter writing to complete first.


so would something like a "_____ wiki" (where you fill in the blank with your own discipline) work for some of what you're pointing out here, like the aggregation of information, programs, etc?

One thing I think is interesting is how philosophy people have gathered so much around Brian Leiter's blog and his ranking of the programs, which is problematic in so many ways, and yet I find the fact that _everyone_ turns to one central place for online discussion and announcements very comforting, reassuring. It could be because philosophy is just such a smaller and more unified discipline, whereas the modern lit and languages (and presumably comp/rhet) simply have too many people and too many divergent methods to all come together around a single information portal.

I think that's part of it, the too many people thing. It may be that these kind of resources are only feasible if they're built around smaller groups of colleagues.

But I think that answer might scale--smaller groups are more easily centered around these kinds of efforts because there are fewer folk to center. And that's why I've spent as much attention on this blog to the organization--I think that there's a balance of centralization and decentralization that has to be struck.

The size of my discipline makes aggregation too large a job for any one person (or small group), especially when they're usually expected to volunteer their time. But if there's some sort of center driving it, I can see it working. That's how we have a national conference and journals, after all. But once a group hits a certain size, it takes more than a bright idea for change to happen. At some point, energy and resources have to be put behind it.

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on March 21, 2009 12:58 PM.

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