Postdisciplinarity   A  talk  given  at  the  Humanities  Research  Centre  at  the  ANU.  May  2011.

  Simon  During     Three  points  to  begin  with:     1. the  question  of  disciplinarity/postdisciplinarity  is  best  understood  in  


relation  to  administrative  institutions.    It  is  not  just  an  intellectual  matter,   e.g.  a  question  of  method,  topics  and  so  on.   2. National  differences  are  key:  in  this  talk,  I  am  concerned  with  Anglophone   disciplinarity,  but  also  want  to  insist  on  important  differences  between   the  US  and  Australia  in  particular.   3. This  paper  mainly  concerned  with  the  humanities  and  social  sciences,  not   sure  how  much  it  relates  elsewhere   I  want  to  present  three  models  of  the  relations  between  academic  institutions   and  academic  work,  one  past,  one  present,  one  tentative  and  in  the  future.  The   first  is  the  disciplinary  or  departmental  model;  the  second  is  the  post-­‐ disciplinary  or  school  model;  the  third  I  will  call  the  entrepreneurial  “centre”   model.     A. Past.  The  disciplinary  or  departmental  model   1. Academic  work  carried  out  in  disciplines  housed  in  departments..   2. These  disciplines  are  autonomous:  they  have  to  a  greater  or  less   degree  their  own  traditions,  their  own  methods,  their  own   pedagogical  practices,  their  own  topics  and  problems,  and  their  own  

  charismatic  founders.    These  disciplines  are  themselves   characteristically  divided  into  smaller  often  feuding  intellectual   formations  (in  English,  Leavism,  in  philosophy  Wittgensteinan;  in   sociology  ethnomethodology  etc).  Disciplines  also  have  their  own   ethos  (i.e.  their  own  values,  styles  of  deportment,  affective  patterns,   which  may  spill  out  of  university  settings).  And  they  tend  to  address  


their  own  legitimation  questions:  they  ask  of  themselves  what  makes   this  discipline  worth  pursuing.    And  in  relation  to  that  attention  to   legitimation,  they  often  have  a  critical  or  non-­‐synchronous  relation  to   present  social  and  intellectual  currents,  because,  at  least  in  the   humanities,  they  acquired  their  legitimacy  in  the  pre-­‐modern  past,  on   terms  that  did  not  appeal  to  social  utilities.    This  allows  them  still  to   stay  outside  and  perhaps  to  resist  modernizing  forces.       3. Historically:    The  Anglophone  disciplinary  structure  joins  the  German   research  model  (not  really  itself  disciplinary  based)  to  social-­‐ democratic  meritocracy.    It  is  marked  by  systemic  elitism.  It  does  not   exist  in  Europe  proper.   4. Ethically  disciplines  shaped  by  the  idealism  of  what  we  might  call   “pure  love”.  Love  of  learning  as  it  is  expressed  by  participation  in  a   particular  discipline  “for  its  own  sake”  as  was  said.    Also  marked  by   “collegiality”,  an  internally-­‐democratic  professional  honour  code,   which,  however,  often  disguises  powerful  patronage  systems.   5. Administratively:  disciplines  housed  in  departments  (this  a  post   1914  phenomenon)  themselves  housed  in  Faculties.  Financially   organized  around  the  allocated  tenure-­‐based  “line”.  These  

  departments  more  or  less  internally  hierarchical.    They  have  an   autonomy  based  in  tenure  and  academic  freedom:  they  are  self-­‐ selecting  (less  so  outside  of  the  States).  They  have  representation  at   the  Faculty  level  and  participate  in  university  decision-­‐making  


processes.    In  the  US,  disciplines  also  represented  by  national  (and  to   some  degree  international)  professional  bodies  (e.g.  the  MLA  or   American  Historical  Association)  who  facilitate  the  dissemination  of   scholarship/research,  help  rationalize  hiring  processes,  provide   guidelines  and  standards,  lobby  government  and  so  on.   6. Research:  happens  largely  in  relation  to  particular  departmental-­‐  and   journal-­‐based  research  cultures.  Journals  often  not  peer-­‐reviewed  or   blind  in  their  selection  process,  but,  like  departments  or  department   factions,  allied  to  forms  of  particular  internationalized  disciplinary   formations  with  strong  departments  forming  their  own  localized  set   of  research  cultures.  This  still  true  of  the  most  prestigious  journals  in   literature  at  least.  E.g.  journals  like  Critical  Inquiry  or  Representations   which  remain  departmentally  based.  One  great  example  of  this  mode   of  local  departmental-­‐disciplinarity  is  Australian  materialism  in   Philosophy  or  Andersonianism  in  Sydney.       7. Pedagogically:  teaching  and  research  is  tied  together  in  the   “research”  universities,  especially  past  introductory  years.  In  terms  of   teaching,  departmentalized  disciplines  aim  to  provide  “coverage,”  (i.e.   introduction  to  basic  disciplinary  topics  and  methods).  In  the  British   system  especially  they  offer  major  and  honours  as  pathways  to  

  research  and  academia.    In  the  US  graduate  course  work  has   approximately  the  same  function.     B. Present.  School  model.     1. Academic  work  carried  out  in  Schools  which  belong  to  Faculties  and  


contain  within  them  “programs”.  These  programs  are  either  remnants   of  departments  or  teach  newer  “postdisciplines”.    This  model  all  but   universal  in  Australia,  but  does  not  exist  in  the  research  Universities  in   the  US  and  is  still  relatively  rare,  in  older  universities  at  least,  in   Britain.   2. Postdisciplinarity  is  not  to  be  confused  with  interdisciplinarity,  i.e.   with  flows  across  and  between  formed  disciplines.  Postdisciplines  are   usually  named  “studies”:  cultural  studies,  visual  studies,  American   studies,  Chinese  studies,  museum  studies  etc…  Importantly  they  have   very  different  kinds  of  histories  or  genealogies.    They  can  emerge  out   of  teaching  needs  in  non-­‐research  university  setting..    Or  they  can   emerge  in  relation  to  new  topics  or  methods,  but  for  which  resources   are  lacking  for  full  disciplinarity.    (Indeed  it  may  be  impossible  to   establish  a  new  discipline  now.)  Some  postdisciplines  based  in  post  68   progressive  identity  politics:  e.g.  gender  studies.  At  any  rate,  typically,   they  lack  long  traditions,  charismatic  founders  or  firmly  delimited   methods.  But  also:  older  disciplines  can  become  postdisciplinized:   English  becomes  “literary  studies”  for  instance.    In  terms  of  method:  in   postdisciplines,  “theory”  (e.g  Foucauldianism)  which  crosses  

  disciplines  often  stands  in  the  place  autonomous  disciplined  method.   Postdisciplines  are,  in  the  end,  legitimated  in  governmental  and   managerial  terms,  basically  as  providing  “skills”  for  a  trained   workforce  and  productive  economy,  so  that  they  can  viewed  as   hybridizations  of  pure  academic  disciplinarity  and  vocational   knowledges.   3. Historically:  In  Australia,  the  formation  of  schools,  a  response  to  the   Dawkins  reforms  of  the  early  80s  and  all  that  has  followed   subsequently  in  their  spirit.  Dawkins  reforms  primarily  in  the   interests  of  democratization/extension  of  postcompulsory  education   itself  in  the  interests  of  national  productivity.  A  joining  of  post-­‐68  


demand  for  relevance  and  identity  retrieval  in  which  disciplines  were   perceived  as  enforcing  limits  and  rigidities,  and  a  neo-­‐liberal   extension  of  the  market  paradigm  across  social  zones.    (This  alliance   between  sixties  liberation  politics  and  neo-­‐liberalism  works  across   many  social  domains  from  the  eighties  on.)    In  the  1990s,  these   reforms  become  combined  with  management  protocols  developed  in   business  schools  and  most  of  all,  according  to  Simon  Head,  the   “balanced  scorecard”  or  BSC  management  theory  which,  in   introducing  the  KPI,  had  enormous  impact  in  the  British  and   Australian  university  systems.   4. Ethically  schools  and  postdisciplines  marked  by  pragmatic   professionalism  and  careerism  (and  the  cult  of  stars  and  “seniority”)   rather  than  the  idealized  “pure  love”  of  the  disciplines  and  which  was   pursued  through  localized  hierarchies.  But  one  great  qualification  to  

  “professionalism”:  in  this  model  (as  in  Australia  in  the  older  


disciplinary  epoch)  academics  are  employees  of  particular  universities   which  are  themselves  in  competitive  relation  to  one  another  for   funding  and  prestige.  So  academics  are  not  independent  in  the  full   professional  sense  and  their  primary  responsibility  is  to  their   employing  university  not  to  the  discipline  and  its  extramural   institutions.  This  competitive/  employee  system  not  in  place  in  the  US   where  academics  can  move  relatively  easily  from  one  university  to   another.   5. Administratively:  Schools  often  combine  programs  and  academic   interests  in  a  higgedly  piggedly  manner,  without  disciplinary   rationale.    They  are  managed.  Programs  do  not  participate  in   important  decisions  at  the  university  or  even  Faculty  level,  and  the   processes  of  disciplinary  representation  in  university  committees  etc   is  abandoned  under  this  new  organizational  structure.  That  is  to  say,   disciplines  and  programs  and  even  schools  themselves  lack  autonomy   in  relation  to  the  University’s  academic  managers,  with  important   academic/disciplinary  decisions  now  often  being  made  by  managers   rather  than  by  disciplinarily  trained  and  competent  academics.  This   even  true  of  academic  staff  selection  for  instance.  University   management  continually  respond  to  quantified  signals:  and   international  rankings,  the  State’s  rankings  (ERA),  policy  settings  and   funding  guidelines  and  so  on.   6. Research:  is  individualized  (that  is  it  is  not  viewed  and  credited  as  a   product  of  collegial  or  disciplinary  networks).    Disciplines  and  


7   postdisciplines  both  become  code  numbers  whose  metrics  are  viewed   as  the  sum  of  individuals’  productivity.    Collaboration  becomes   formalized.    Under  what  I  am  calling  the  School  structure,  research  is   mainly  if  not  only  carried  out  in  situations  and  frameworks  which   require  individual  project  funding  (ARC  grants)  and  is  measured  in   quantifiable  units  (publications  in  audit-­‐accredited  “peer-­‐reviewed”   journals  etc).  But  also  performed  in  extramural  meetings,  seminars   like  this  which  somewhat  escape  managerial  accountability.  etc.       7. Pedagogically:  Teaching  and  research  are  disjoined.  It  becomes   possible  for  academics  not  to  teach  at  all:  “research  only.”  (Outside  the   sciences  this  not  possible  in  the  States.)  Teaching  is  ordered  by   administrative  and  financial  requirements,  and  is  drained  of  prestige.     Large  classes;  inflexible  curriculum  and  so  on  become  mandated.   Honours    and  majors  downplayed.  

  C. Future:  Centre  Model.   1. Research  carried  out  in  centres.    These  centres  are  project-­‐based.   They  are  funded  for  finite  periods  (five  years,  maybe  renewable),   employ  researchers  primarily  as  collaborating  teams  on  contract.   Teaching  is  carried  out  in  schools  which  are  increasingly  organized   around  postdisciplines.   2. Historically:  the  post-­‐68  democraticizing  and  reformist  impulse   behind  first-­‐wave  School  system  and  postdisciplinarity  disappears.   Now  the  system  organized  simply  as  a  national  resource  which   increases  productivity  or  which  attracts  “export  dollars”  in  the  form  of    

  fee-­‐paying  international  students,  that  is,  in  the  interests  of   democratic  state  capitalism.     3. Ethos:  “research  entrepreneurialism”  based  on  developing  projects  


within  the  given  funding  structures.    Entrepreneurialism  is  shadowed   by  academic  subalterneity:  i.e.  the  condition  of  those  often   demoralized  short-­‐term  contract,  part-­‐time  etc  academics  who  bear   the  brunt  of  teaching.    This  structure  of  academic  life  proceeds  under   the  hegemony  of  models  that  are  developed  in,  and  most  suitable  to,   the  applied  sciences,  and  especially  those  able  to  produce  patents  and   other  forms  of  commercializable  knowledge  or  products.   4. Administratively:  Again  crucial  decisions  with  academic  bearing  are   made  by  managers  and  politicians  with  no  disciplinary  or  even   postdisciplinary  expertise.  Non-­‐academics  control,  most  notably,  what   to  fund  and  at  what  level  using  audits  of  various  kinds  as  tools.     Managers  also  participating  in  that  shift  of  resources  to  themselves   which  has  happened  right  across  the  business  world,  partly  because   their  success  depends,  among  other  things,  on  the  relative   pauperization  of  some  other  university  employees.,  i.e.  by  the  shift  of   resources  away  from  teaching.   5. Research:  Because  it  is  carried  out  in  politically  and  administratively   mandated  research  centres,  research  as  based  on  the  localized   collegial  disciplinary  paradigm  is  increasingly  hard  to  maintain  except   under  what  one  might  call  clandestine  or  subaltern  conditions.  In   dissertations,  in  collective  cultures  that  escape  managerial  attention   and  in  one’s  own  private  time.  

  6. Teaching.  Similar  to  that  of  the  school  model  but  increasingly   removed  from  research,  increasingly  postdisciplinary  and  geared  to   vocational  outcomes.     Summary     1. Not  especially  interested  in  critique  and  judgment  here,  rather   interested  in  mapping  out  the  situation  in  terms  that  show  how   nuanced  and  difficult  critique  is  and  under  what  frames  it  needs  to   proceed.   2. But  point  to  a  central  incoherency  and  difficulty  in  the  School  and   Centre  Models.  The  pathways  for  generational  reproduction  of   academic  scholarship  and  research  are  stretched  thin  because  of  the   disjunction  of  teaching  and  research  and  the  lack  of  real  interest  in   pedagogy.  And  because  of  the  clash  between  pure  love  and   instumentalism  of  any  kind.   3. The  downgrading  of  undergraduate  teaching  can  probably  not  be   sustained  on  other  grounds  too.  There’s  a  tension  between  that   downgrading  and  rising  costs  to  students  of  such  education.   4. This  linked  to  the  way  in  which  disciplinarity  continues  to  underpin   postdisciplinarity  even  as  the  School  and  Centre  models  weaken  the  


disciplinarity’s  foundations.  In  part  this  dependence  is  hidden  because   disciplinarity  remains  in  place  in  the  strongest  university  systems  and   sectors  internationally:  ie.  in  the  US  and  in  Oxbridge  and  similar   British  institutions.    Today,  outside  of  the  postdisciplines,  Australia  no   less  parasitic  on  the  “world  best”  institutions  than  it  ever  was.  These  


10   institutions  supply  key  academic  infrastructure  and  support:  journals,   graduate  training,  renovation  of  disciplinary  formations,  stimulating   research  and  scholarship,  benchmarks  etc.  But  they  do  so  in  an   intellectual-­‐institutional  framework  that,  as  I  say,  is  not  supported   here.   5. Audit  administration  routinely  turns  means  into  ends,  ie.   measurements  of  “performance”  into  rules  guiding  performance.  This   creates  a  space  between  the  managed  academic  system  and  its  actual   intellectual  purposes  and  contents  in  which  critique,  demoralization   and,  thence,  renewal  and  reform  become  likely.   6. The  question  of  critique  of  the  university  system  becomes  a  regional   moment  in  our  judgment  of  democratic  state  capitalism  as  a  system   itself  (a  system  that  was  once  called  “totalitarian  democracy”)  because   the  academy  is  so  fully  integrated  into  the  total  system.  In  other   words,  critique  of  the  university  system  tends  to  pass  into  and  out  of   critique  of  democratic  state  capitalism  itself.  

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