Friday, January 20, 2006

Inside Higher Ed :: Notes from the Underground

Here's an interesting analysis of the latest developments in "academic community" - the only point missed is the importance of the internet to those of us at smaller schools who don't always feel like we teach with "like minds" in as diverse a way as we would like.

Inside Higher Ed :: Notes from the Underground: "Of course, two casual gatherings for lunch does not a profound cultural shift make. But it was hard not to think something interesting had just transpired: A new sort of collegiality, stretching across both geographic and professional distances, fostered by online communication but not confined to it.

The discussions were fueled by the scholarly interests of the participants. But there was a built-in expectation that you would be willing to explain your references to someone who didn’t share them. And none of it seems at all likely to win the interest (let alone the approval) of academic bureaucrats.

Surely other people must be discovering and creating this sort of thing — this experience of communitas. Or is that merely a dream?

It is not a matter of turning back the clock — of undoing the division of labor that has created specialization. That really would be a dream.

But as Bender puts it, cultural life is shaped by “patterns of interaction” that develop over long periods of time. For younger scholars, anyway, the routine give-and-take of online communication (along with the relative ease of linking to documents that support a point or amplify a nuance) may become part of the deep grammar of how they think and argue. And if enough of them become accustomed to discussing their research with people working in other disciplines, who knows what could happen?

“What our contemporary culture wants,” as Bender put it in 1993, “is the combination of theoretical abstraction and historical concreteness, technical precision and civic give-and-take, data and rhetoric.” We aren’t there, of course, or anywhere near it. But sometimes it does seem as if there might yet be grounds for optimism."

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