A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

On the Ethics of Disciplinary Conflict

I haven't posted anything in nearly a week, mostly because it's the end of the semester and I've been trying to translate a paper on the ethics of disciplinary reading and writing into a talk I'm giving to my department Tuesday.

In lieu of a real post, then, here's an excerpt from the paper's conclusion:

As Gary Olson writes: “Since the beginnings of composition as a discipline, we all have been struggling over how to define it, over its heart and soul” (30). True, Olson’s melodramatic rendering may overstate the stakes of disciplinary debate. But it should be clear by now that heart and soul, as the figurative repositories of those most affective aspects of our being, are very much a part of “composition as an intellectual discipline” (Olson 31). Equally true is that, so far, my portrayal of this struggle suggests a model of disciplinary conflict in which each stakeholder has an equal footing, in which each group possesses the same power to influence the theoretical, methodological, and practical directions the discipline will follow. But that, of course, is not the case. Irrespective of how amorphous, how open, how contested we choose to conceive of disciplinary communities, and irrespective of whether we imagine such communities to be oriented abstractly around shared epistemic values or concretely around material social practices, we must, I feel, acknowledge that disciplines derive much of their vitality from the give-and-take of the many different and—by some measures—distinct subdisciplinary systems that they comprise. That is, they derive their vitality from disequilibrium: the “energy” of disciplines is, as in all complex social systems, necessarily distributed unevenly. Indeed, disequilibrium may even be understood to be a precondition of complex social organization (Reed and Harvey). Such is the very essence of the idea of a paradigm, after all: certain groups possess disproportionate control of a discipline’s intellectual and material resources (things like editorial control of journals, representation in disciplinary governing bodies, and ability to procure grant monies).

Given, then, that it is not unreasonable to talk about groups of compositionists being in sometimes heated disagreement with other groups; given as well that the source of such “heat” is precisely the fact that our disciplinary and intellectual identities are deeply, fundamentally affective; and, finally, given that some groups tend to hold more disciplinary sway than others; then it is also not unreasonable to suggest that the “struggle” over the “heart and soul” of the discipline should be subject to similar concerns about politics and social justice as those of macrosocially-oriented identity politics.

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