[iDC] musing on humanities and other jails

John Sobol soboltalk at gmail.com
Tue Jul 12 14:29:08 UTC 2011

first of all, I love this...

On Sat, Jul 9, 2011 at 9:37 PM, Janet Hawtin <lucychili at gmail.com> wrote:

> imagine if every local region did a census of species. regularly.
> perhaps citizen collected like a human census.
> indigenous and introduced, food, fibre, and habitat.
> imagine if each community took as its first principle that any species
> indigenous to that area must have
> room to live sustainably in a coherent ecology. that the continuation
> of biological diversity was a foundation goal for each local area and
> the planet as a whole. plan that space. mean it.
but more important for our discussion is this:

> not sure if this helps with humanities. to me it is the ecologies
> which are more marginalised

and this:

On Mon, Jul 11, 2011 at 4:47 PM, Geert Lovink <geert at xs4all.nl> wrote:

Often humanities are dull and asleep, and straightout
conservative. I really wonder if such organisational constructs from a
perspective of radical politics are defendable to start with. Authors
are. Libraries, for sure. To make your school, yes, that would be brave!


Although no doubt in your own academic institutions there are very real
conflicts between the humanities and STEM (what gets taught, who gets hired,
who gets funding, who gets respect, etc.) I think it is a mistake to project
this conflict onto society as a whole. Because at a macro-level these two
'competing' curricula actually have a great deal in common, notably their
overlapping epistemologies and shared role in shaping the intertwined
industrial and intellectual architectures of America/Europe past and

I know that some of you will object to my suggesting that there is a single
dominant epistemology in the humanities, but there is, and it is extremely
clearly defined by academia's immutable knowledge certification tools,
including marks, essays, footnotes, tests, dissertations, degrees,
peer-reviewed research, etc.etc. These authentication tools define knowledge
in the same way that science defines knowledge, i.e. as fixed facts. So at
an epistemological level there really is no crisis, just a shift in

At a social level there is indeed a crisis, but it arises as a consequence
of the unsustainability of this monological epistemology that has no ears to
hear the sound of its own imminent doom, not as the result of an internecine
squabble between social scientists and physical scientists. Ask yourself:
would a massive reorientation towards the humanities result in a massive
reorientation of society towards ecologically sustainable principles? I
don't see how anything more than blind hope could lead one to draw the
conclusion that it would. More teaching of Thoreau will not a green world

At least not the way Thoreau is taught today in humanities classes. Stripped
of all experience, of all subjectivity, of all revolutionary courage and
sweaty effort. But if we threw away marks and picked up shovels, threw away
essays and picked up journals, threw away degrees and picked up the will to
change and challenge and dream. If we actually taught Thoreau's real lessons
by living them, instead of teaching literate lessons about his book, then
the true crisis would come into focus at many levels. And that is the crisis
between fixed facts and possible futures, between sustainable wholes and
unsustainable parts, between pride and humility on an evolutionary scale.

To make your school, as Thoreau did, that would be brave. To argue that we
need more tenured humanities profs is not. Our world is in crisis and if the
humanities are to be of any help whatsoever in saving it for our children,
their transgressive and radicalizing legacies will need to be reclaimed and
reenacted far beyond the classroom and the campus, on behalf of our unknown
futures and not our overglossed past.

It seems to me that Mobility Shifts may already be helpful in these
respects. I look forward to more...

John Sobol

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/attachments/20110712/ac244d41/attachment-0001.htm 

More information about the iDC mailing list