Anti-Professionalism, Pluralism and the Problem of Critical Authority: An Inquiry into the Disciplinary Structure and Logic of English

Howard Hastings

Major Professor: .

Johnson Center, 240A
November 03, 2005, 07:00 PM to 07:00 PM


"Cultural Studies has traditionally posed the form and organization of disciplines within modern research universities as itself a problem for critical practice, particularly the manner in which disciplines define fields and objects of scholarly/critical research, informing and norming them, while at the same time rendering invisible their necessary conformity to a larger logic of institutional/disciplinary organization whose knowledge productionUalways conditioned by needs and cultural norms of the larger society upon which the university is dependent for fundingUis also the reproduction of a specific national culture. In this examination of the disciplinary logic of English, I argue however, that current accounts of disciplinarity which emphasize the hierarchizing and exclusionary character of disciplinary knowledge are inadequate to explain the expansive and inclusive tendencies of humanities disciplines such English, which require more the constant incorporation of new methodologies and subject areas in search of fresh perspectives than a steady accumulation of settled, retrievable knowledge. The first stage of my inquiry reviews recent debates over the nature of professionalism in English which have attended its assimilation of deconstruction, feminism, and Cultural Studies, to foreground a structural contradiction arising from the accommodation of a disciplinary object still valued in culturally conservative terms as the expression of uniquely individual and privatized experience to the requirements of disciplinary knowledge production. The second stage examines the genesis of this contradiction by turning to the historical development of English, especially its emergence in nineteenth-century U.S. research universities, where the displacement of the classical curriculum of U.S. colleges by the principle of election and the emergence of a pluralist system of formally equal, departmentalized disciplines radically altered the conditions under which cultural artifacts, especially texts, could circulate with authority. As English professionals negotiated the boundaries of their field with neighboring disciplines, pre-disciplinary constructions of English as object of rhetoric regulated by a common sense epistemology and ideals of stylistic perspicuity were recast in a form more amenable to routine research. The adaptation of positivist methodology to literary criticism led to an emphasis upon literary form as a means of stabilizing critical authority, and this emphasis, in the context of a now thoroughly monolinguistic critical practice, enabled a methodological pluralism which, by the mid-twentieth century, was adaptable to other fields and subject matters, becoming one condition for emergence of U.S. Cultural Studies. I close with speculation as to how the structural contradictions and monocultural tendencies of English may carry into Cultural Studies as well. "

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