Who’s at the gate?

X-ers and others, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this article in December 10th’s Inside Higher Ed. In some ways, it argues for a lot of what we’ve been talking about on this blog: the need to re-think the entrenched disciplinary boundaries of philosophy, the relationship between that project and the rest of the humanities/university, etc. But, it’s also absent a discussion of power, which is where I understand our analysis to begin (in fact, I’d argue that the one thing that we tend to agree on most, amongst us in the collective, is the analysis of power…where we each go from this analysis of power varies…).

I’m particularly interested in your thoughts on how the article constructs the categories of “experts” and “nonexperts” in philosophy? The authors do actually say “questions about who should count as a philosopher’s peers are timely today,” but they don’t really address these questions. IMHO the article takes this question somewhat for granted, when in fact it’s probably the site of most of the conflict/tension/disagreement/power. I’m thinking particularly of the ways some people in philosophy departments get diagnosed with “thinking problems”….

But that’s enough for now. I want this to be an open thread to discuss the IHE article. So have at it!

2 thoughts on “Who’s at the gate?

  1. educated ice

    “But perhaps the most pressing is the question of whether we should extend the notion of peer beyond disciplinary bounds.”

    this. what hope do we/they have of doing that, when philosophy cannot (will not?) extend the notion of peer to those who are *within* its disciplinary bounds?

    i think you’re right, MH, that what’s missing here is an account of power; the lack of any analysis of power makes the piece blind to 1) the “internal” obsessive disciplinary policing and 2) the submission to corporatization and neoliberalism (as commenter Parrhesia put it) that the “external” demand for accountability indicates. when i hear my dean refer to the political economy of higher education (the student debt bubble, the reliance on contingent labor and the end of tenure, MOOCs, etc) and then say “we can’t just ignore these trends,” what he means is that we must submit to them. if philosophy still has any purchase, it is that it is in a good position to be “accountable” to these phenomena by rigorously critiquing them.

    i want to distinguish this from the idea, however, that allowing “outside” peers “in” leads necessarily to the abdication of philosophy’s role as critique; the piece at IHE implies that philosophers must engage with the non-philosophical “outsiders” and respond to their “problems” with philosophy, on the model of physicians, perhaps. this assumes that these “outsiders” are not philosophical and in fact cannot be; philosophy is a one-way street: “We’re basically more interested — if I can speak for my co-authors on
    this point — in getting philosophers to engage with non-philosophers (about their problems) than we are in getting non-philosophers to engage with philosophers (about our problems)” (Britt Holbrook). thus the “bieberians” crack. this is bullshit. as we are trying to map out here in this space, it is precisely this assumption that is the root of the problem. this is where we part ways with the discipline of philosophy, even as we exist inside it, to some degree or another and always on the periphery, perhaps; it is how we are (on our best days) trojan horses, packed with all the impossible philosophy from outside the city gates, carefully and lovingly honed to sharp points.

  2. herreticat

    This is such a strange article. I totally agree with the call to “expand one’s peer group” and “lose control”– sounds great. Go team. But this idea that there is this “purity within disciplinary boundaries” to begin with is so… strange. I was reminded of Roderick Ferguson’s claim in the preface of _Aberrations in Black_: “Contrary to canonical claims, intellectual inquiry is always shaped out of heterogeneity, never neatly contained within the presumed homogeneous boundaries of a discipline. I would also like to point to the productive nature of that heterogeneity– that is, its ability to inspire new horizons for thought and action.” I feel like the best parts of this article reiterate claims that people working IN philosophy– and people challenging disciplinarity in general, as in Ferguson’s work on queer theory and sociology– have been making for a long time, with the important difference being that many of these other thinkers (like Ferguson) center power in their analyses, which complicates the discussion of the “gate” and “gatekeepers” (and the inside/outside more broadly).

    As for the expert/non-expert question, I keep thinking about the battles in my own graduate program about who is “qualified” to judge the work of students doing feminist, queer, race, postcolonial theory. Several members of the faculty are very fond of talking about how they can judge the work of ALL grad students because they are “experts” in the field, because they have been trained in philosophy broadly, etc. And that very often seems to be the case with, say, faculty who specialize in Heidegger being able to understand and comment on work that takes up Aristotle. But many of us who work on Irigaray or feminist philosophy or Fanon (to take just a few examples) know that our work will not, in fact, be judged by faculty who have much/any background in these conversations, texts, methods. And several of us have had the experience of being judged rather harshly, with no acknowledgment of the fact that there might be difference WITHIN the gates (as educated ice so awesomely put it with the trojan horse comment), not just outside.

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