a strange moment of resonance

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Lots of chatter yesterday over the working paper "Professors on the Production Line, Students on their Own," written by Mark Bauerlein, and covered by IHE.

I don't have a great deal to say about the report, but I would note 3 things. First, a gigantic piece of the puzzle that's missing from Bauerlein's analysis is the degree to which the administrative push towards part-time faculty has had a similarly chilling effect on the quality of instruction. I don't take issue with the fact that the current system is far more likely to reward full-time faculty for focusing on scholarship, but that's only one piece of the puzzle. Bauerlein's paper mentions adjuncts in places, but tends to lump them together with graduate students as people on-the-way to the tenure-track.

Second, there's a great deal of slippage among literary studies (where some of his most pointed arguments come from), the humanities, and education as the putative scope of this "report." As I noted yesterday elsewhere,

We need to intensify the pedagogy. Teachers must raise the engagement rates by command. For instance, they could require one-on-one conferences, add more and steadier homework assignments, build a consultation component into the syllabus, and track student progress closely during the term. Students should be made to recognize their enrollment in a course as a participatory process.

the first paragraph of B's conclusion is a list of practices that are already considered standard operating procedure by many of us in rhetoric and composition. I could be far snarkier about this if I wanted.

Finally, it was interesting to see an instance of the "network plateau" argument I chatted about the other day. To wit,

The first ten books on Moby-Dick mattered because Melville's epic had altered American literary history forever, and its critical interpretation and positioning remained partial and uncertain. But by the 40th and 41st books, Moby-Dick had lost its potency as a scholarly well-spring. An early work on Moby-Dick might have established it as a Great American Novel and changed the syllabus of American literature. But by 1995, another book on Moby-Dick, however astute and eloquent, was just that--another book on Moby-Dick. The general value of Moby-Dick as a great novel that students should read and study survives, but the necessity of researching it has withered.

In order to agree with this argument wholesale, one has to agree with certain premises about the nature of the discipline, the function of scholarship, etc., but as I don't consider myself a literary scholar, I'll leave that to someone else. I was just struck by the resonance of this line of argument with the network/scale stuff.

That's all.


And while it's been a while ago, it's worth remembering how minoritarian literature as the kind the Melville wrote will always be for the minority so long as the minor is not divided according to the molar paradigms of class and so on. Ahab is great lit because it's small lit, because ahab becomes whale. At some point, another book on -moby dick- IS just another book on moby dick. at another point, however, another book on moby dick is another book on rhetoric or philosophy or media studies or epistemology or religion . . . .

Good point, Robert. Another thing I didn't mention was how depressingly tied to the "empirical fact of the text" Bauerlein's understanding of literary scholarship seemed to be. And that's where the network argument falls apart.

His case relies in part on the difference between literary scholarship and scientific research, but then he evaluates the relevance of literary scholarship according to implicitly scientistic criteria, as though understanding is something that can simply be arrived at (by the 10th book), that doesn't change from generation to generation as culture changes.

I don't have a real stake in how many articles on Faulkner are produced annually, and I'm sensitive to the issue that scholarship is driven by a mix of push and pull (and often too much by the latter), but I'm troubled by the solution of turning the humanities into the service-oriented underclass of the university, which is where this argument can go...


What happens to a network plateau when the network branches off in a new direction?

Hi, Charles, nice question.

It's interesting to me to think of Foucault's Order of Things as one answer to that question, but I might also look to Andrew Abbott's Chaos of Disciplines for insight. Abbott suggests that disciplines split and spread fractally along the lines of the tensions that drive the discipline.

So maybe one way of reasking that question would be to see if network plateaus drive the branching--are major shifts in knowledge driven by a sense of exhaustion or saturation with so-called normal knowledge?

For me, it's an interesting question to ask of the social turn in rhet/comp. I can't attribute this to anything more sophisticated than a feeling on my part, but it's felt like after that turn was announced and explicated, the field split into a number of different areas, and led us to our current circumstances, where a lot of folk feel as though there's no center to the discipline.

And that leads me back to thinking about what exactly branching means--specialization, splitting, etc. We clearly have a vested interest in seeing our discipline as not having plateau-ed, which would leave it vulnerable to the kinds of issues Bauerlein raises. But if that's the case, then branching may be a strategy, even if it's not enacted consciously, for keeping ourselves relevant.

All sorts of interesting questions ;-)


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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on March 19, 2009 10:22 AM.

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