Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Ghosts in the academic writing machine?

I immediately suspected that Latour would have cited Gabriel Tarde as a precursor to actor network theory. So one needs to be extremely careful about where the critiques of cosmopolitanism in Schillmeier's article could end up taking you.

Derrida also wrote a slim volume on cosmopolitanism (a popular term in social theory that has been favourably mentioned previously on this blog), so I must check the bibliography of said article, and once I get hold of it, trace other elective affinities as well.

It's the sort of conversation that I believe could and, moreover, should, be taking place more generally in Continental philosophy circles as well (including the blogosphere), but it does not seem to be. From what I've seen lately on blogs, the greater focus there is on (the usual, hermetically closed off, internal conversations) regarding subjects such as whether Deleuze's philosophical system presupposes a biological metaphysics.

Fine, do a rigorous scholarly philosophical reading in such terms, but even if you disagree with the conception of philosophy as "underlabourer" for the social sciences, why not still attempt to foster as well a more expansive public debate, say along the lines of the Steve Fuller references I've also listed here? Why just address another philosopher and not the representative of another discipline or some other greater public interest/representative? By the same token, why just append some contemporary philosopher to the latest movie, dubstep album etc, as per usual in the Continental philosophy blogosphere, when you are not really logically obliged to stand behind your words by being made answerable to the subject in question? How high, really, are the stakes in those kinds of "analysis" anyway? [once they become ends in themselves]

I say this because I can remember derridata voicing some strong critiques years ago of a fellow philosophy postgrad who was deep in the throes of a doctorate: "it should be finished's practically writing itself". Precisely my point: the student becomes a mere ghost in an academic writing machine, thanks to the autonomy of the discourses in question. It's almost like a game.

I know that someone such as Geoffrey Bennington would argue that my line of reasoning presupposes "already knowing what politics is", so it can only amount to something like "journalism". But surely this pro forma response is itself nonsense? For how could a philosopher already know what form the conversations would take until they had made the leap of faith and attempted to dialogue with the other? Bennington writes commentaries (or exegesis if you prefer), but he also teaches in an institutional setting (a university), where surely he does not believe that such a formal setting, by virtue of its very existence, closes off all possibilities for dialogue? It's hard to see how he could justify his existence as a [tenured] philosopher if he believed otherwise. So why wouldn't the same principle apply in other formal (or even less formal) settings, albeit outside of the academic circuit, where Bennington could also test his philosophical propositions?

I don't mean to imply in every case this requires participating in something like a science court. It could be as simple as posting some thoughts to a blog [outside one's immediate area of expertise] that addresses important scientific debates with clear public ramifications, such as, for example, Telic Thoughts.

It's one thing then to argue that the death of the author thesis absolves the academic philosopher of personal responsibility, and that the upside of this is that your work will be taken up subsequently in all sorts of other contexts you cannot personally control (so writing is like a message in a bottle). Changing metaphors, it's another thing though to acknowledge that the apple does not usually fall very far from the tree, which becomes immediately obvious when one notes the similarities between academic practice and what goes on in the Continental philosophy noosphere. The only difference I can see is a greater willingness by the latter to apply the canon to popular culture, but with the publication of titles such as The Matrix and Philosophy, even that gap may be rapidly narrowing. How about a reflexive inquiry then to try to explain why this might be the case? I'm pretty sure though that thinkers such as Zizek would only be pleased with these developments, as he has cannily played both sides all along. Of course, I'm not claiming that none of this kind of work can be of any value, I'm simply wondering why so often it seems in some circles to be "all there is".

And so to some articles I hope to acquaint myself with before making any further attempts to try to fill in the gaps.....

The Social, Cosmopolitanism & Beyond Michael Schillmeier

History of the Human Sciences 2009;22 87-109
History of the Human Sciences 2009;22 87-109

Review symposium: Steve Fuller's The New Sociological Imagination: introduction: Steve Fuller, The New Sociological Imagination. London: Sage Publications, 2006. 240 pp
Zaheer Baber
History of the Human Sciences 2009;22 110-114

Fuller's project of humanity: social sciences or sociobiology?: Steve Fuller, The New Sociological Imagination. London: Sage Publications, 2006
Francis Remedios
History of the Human Sciences 2009;22 115-120

The fabrication of man: Steve Fuller, The New Sociological Imagination. London: Sage Publications, 2006
Peter Baehr
History of the Human Sciences 2009;22 121-127

Disenchantment of the world and the devaluation of human species: Steve Fuller, The New Sociological Imagination. London: Sage Publications, 2006
Chai Choon-Lee
History of the Human Sciences 2009;22 128-132

Fuller's nostalgic imagination: Steve Fuller, The New Sociological Imagination. London: Sage Publications, 2006
Christopher Kevill
History of the Human Sciences 2009;22 133-137

In search of sociological foundations for the project of humanity: Steve Fuller, The New Sociological Imagination. London: Sage Publications, 2006
Steve Fuller
History of the Human Sciences 2009;22 138-145

Ghosts in the Machine: Publication Planning in the Medical Sciences
Sergio Sismondo
Social Studies of Science 2009;39 171-198

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