Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Marketplace of Ideas, by Louis Menand (2001)

The Marketplace of Ideas, by Louis Menand. American Council of Learned Societies
Occasional Paper No. 49, 2001.

"The humanities occupy only a corner of the higher education marketplace, but it has historically been a very prestigious corner. Although no one is likely to take the trouble to cut the humanities disciplines off, there is some fear that the action, including the funding, is moving into areas of teaching and research that can demonstrate a more obvious market utility. The humanities disciplines don't seem to be dying out, but they do feel dislocated. They are institutionally insecure because they appear to have lost their philosophical roots. The question this paper attempts to address is exactly what those roots were in the first place" (...)

"The other critical Golden Age development, the emergence of a scientific model of research, was a reflection of the anti-ideological temper of postwar American thought—the temper epitomized in Daniel Bell's famous phrase "the end of ideology."21 To some extent the antipathy to ideology was simply a response to global political history between 1914 and 1945, but to some extent, as Thomas Bender has suggested, it was a response to all that federal money that began pouring into universities after the war. Scholars eschewed political commitments because they wished not to offend their granting agencies.22 The idea that academics, particularly in the social sciences, could provide the state with neutral research results on which pragmatic public policies could be based was an animating idea in the 1950s university. In the sciences, it helped establish what Talcott Parsons called the ethos of "cognitive rationality."23 In fields like history, it led to the consensus approach. In sociology, it produced what Robert Merton called theories of the middle range—an emphasis on the formulation of limited hypotheses subject to empirical verification.24 Behaviorism and rational choice theory became dominant paradigms in psychology and political science. In literature, even when the mindset was anti-scientific, as in the case of New Criticism and structuralism, the ethos remained scientistic: theorists aspired to analytic rigor.25 Boundaries were respected and methodologies were codified. Discipline reigned in the disciplines"

"Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Rorty's attempt to put an end to (or to transcend) the analytic tradition in philosophy, constructs its argument entirely from within the tradition of analytic philosophy, just as The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn's revisionist interpretation of the history of science, is a perfectly conventional work in the philosophy and history of science. But there is also no question that the turn in the intellectual dialectic exemplified by these works fed into the collapse of the color- and gender-blind ideal of meritocratic educational theory, and that it gave members of groups previously excluded from or marginalized within the academy theoretical equipment for the business of critiquing the traditional forms of knowledge. Kuhn's book is emphatically not a work of science studies, but science studies is what it gave birth to"

"People refer to the new organizations of knowledge as "interdisciplinary," but this seems mistaken. The collapse of disciplines must mean the collapse of interdisciplinarity as well; for interdisciplinarity is the institutional ratification of the logic of disciplinarity. The very term implies respect for the discrete perspectives of different disciplines. You can't have interdisciplinarity, or multidisciplinarity, unless you have disciplines. There is more interest on the part of administrators in interdisciplinary work, and some college catalogues now feature interdisciplinary majors, but there is nothing terribly new or anti-foundational about it. Interdisciplinary scholarship or teaching simply means the deployment of professional expertise in two or more disciplines".

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