Wednesday, May 2, 2007

McComiskey, "Introduction" to English Studies

McComiskey, Bruce. "Introduction." English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s). Ed. Bruce McComiskey. Refiguring English Studies Ser. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006. 1-66.

McComiskey's introduction includes a section called "The Problem of Specialization," in which he explains Stephen North's three responses to specialization before proposing his own solution: integration. North divided the responses into secession (breaking apart), corporate compromise (one subfield takes on a managerial imperative), and fusion (periods of study are stabilized, but various perspectives and methods apply from across the subfields).

Reintegration--restoring wholeness where secession has occurred--is extremely challenging, McComiskey notes, perhaps to the point of not being possible (46). He cites the implicit valuing of literature in Ohmann's English in America (1976) and points out that subtle arguments for English studies' return to the glories literary study persist.

"No single methodology from linguistics or discourse analysis or creative writing or rhetoric or composition or literature or literary criticism or critical theory or cultural studies or English Education--no single methodology (or set of specialized methodologies) can solve a complex social problem" (32). This acknowledgement of methodological pluralism echoes North's premise in The Making of Knowledge.

"A truly democratic English department (one that exercises the power of each of its composite disciplines equally in the service of a larger goal) can, quite simply, never evolve out of a discipline that defines its scope and function purely in terms of literature" (34b).

"Secession, in other words, may alleviate some immediate problems relating to curriculum and budget, but it does not solve these problems in the long run; given time, they will recur, along with the divisiveness that comes with constant specialization" (36).

Is generalization still possible? Or is specialization a given? Constant specialization is, no doubt, a formidable force (or set of ongoing pressures and prescripts), but what can be done to revalue the generalist? And is a generalist's wide-angle forays of interest and engagement crucial to an integrationist approach to the super-discipline. In other words, to what degree must we not only understand each other but even forge collegial alliances (cooperatives) across specializations?

"Corporate compromise usually involves one discipline in English studies taking managerial responsibility for the others, ideally (but certainly not always) in a democratic fashion" (37b).

"I propose that the goal of this integrated English studies should be the analysis, critique, and production of discourse in social context" (43a).

"Social context" is a sticking phrase in McComiskey's basic proposal. He explains the choice with Ogden and Richards, Malinowski, and Dewey, but Latour's Reassembling lifts the lid on this phrase. I also want to question the emphasis on discourse relative to the non-discursive (i.e., visual), and also think about the terms included in the list: analysis, critique, and production. The first two tip toward a critical or interpretive rhetoric (hermeneutics), while only the third term is oriented toward production (heuretics) (look at Arabella Lyon for this).

Terms: English Studies, disciplinarity, integration, specialization, Burke, identification, consubstantiation, history, definition, raft, secession, corporate compromise, fusion, literacy

Related Sources

Easton, David. "The Division, Integration, and Transfer of Knowledge." Divided Knowledge: Across Disciplines, across Cultures. Ed. David Easton and Corinne S. Schelling. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1991. 7-36.

North, Stephen M., et al. Refiguring the Ph.D. in English Studies: Writing, Doctoral Education, and the Fusion-Based Curriculum. Refiguring English Studies. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2000.

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