Saturday, April 22, 2006

Pockets of disciplinarity

As I continue my reading and research on audience, I have noticed the way that disciplines are often unaware of each other. And not only are they unaware of each other, they are decidedly unwilling to become aware of each other (in some cases). I've always thought of composition and rhetoric as a discipline that has always taken other disciplines into account--cognitive psychology, education, to name a few. It seems, though, that as comp/rhet becomes more established, it has drawn from other disciplines even less. Even worse, is the complete ignorance other disciplines have of comp/rhet. For example, I can read an article from computer science on blogging and audience that I find perfectly interesting, but which is not situated at all within an academic understanding of audience. For that reason, perhaps, comp/rhet folks will ignore that article. And yet, it offers an interesting quantitative and qualitative analysis of bloggers and their audiences which might be useful to us in thinking about approaching blogging as a pedagogical tool.

There are good reasons, of course, for these disciplinary distinctions. As a discipline grows, it's difficult enough to remain well read in one's own discipline, much less with other disciplines that may overlap with one's own. There are also the inevitable misunderstandings and misinterpretations of another discipline when one is not studied in that discipline. I've seen this happen in reading comp/rhet articles that have attempted to incorporate research from disciplines I happen to have more than a passing familiarity with because I'm married to a researcher in Artificial Intelligence whose also deeply interested in cognition and learning. For example, I read an article that attempted to incorporate emergence into their work and I dismissed it because they relied on a single researcher in that field from 20 years ago. I happen to be familiar with many other researchers from more recent years. I've also seen, in my participation in an emergence research group which consists of researchers from economics, literature, biology, social work, computer science, history, and other areas, people misinterpret and misunderstand each other's disciplines.

These misunderstandings and gaps and deliberate ignorance of other disciplines seem to be a direct call for multidisciplinary work. True multidisciplinary work. I think I'm attempting to accomplish that somewhat, except that I'm aware that comp/rhet is the lens through which I'm viewing educational technology and network theory, etc. Or is it the other way around! It's far more interesting to be thinking in these ways, though I'm finding myself having to be constantly vigilant for those missteps that might cause someone from the other side of the fence to dismiss my work.

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