DH and the Liberal Arts: Some Possible Worlds


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Some random notes on Scholarly Cognition

Scholarly Cognition is the 90% of academic knowledge production that does not find its way into papers, books, curricula, policy documents, and histories. It is how we come to know how to operate within an academic space. It is also often the space of privilege and abuse, of intangible joy and crushing disappointment. It is what we must learn to navigate to be successful in academic space.

It includes different modes of knowledge production (scientific, technical, professional, humanities, arts) and different kinds of institutions. All these spaces are like complex ecosystems.

Initiatives like the digital humanities raise questions about the ecosystems within the humanities. This is also true of changes in other areas of the university as well.

I call this “scholarly cognition” to bring to mind the advances in the cognitive sciences, particularly in the 4EA approach: embodied, embedded, enactive, extended, affective. This differs from top-down and from computational models of cognition which have dominated the cognitive sciences. If cognition is embodied (not located only in the brain, but dependent on our physical being in the world), embedded (within a social world), enactive (depending on an active exchange between an organism and the environment), extended (makes use of our technology and other things), and affective (tied to emotion, mood and how we face the world), it means that we do not start with first principles of an area and then structure a set of theories and methods based on that. It means that the university is far more like a complex and unpredictable ecosystem, and we learn to navigate that the way we learn to navigate any complex system. It also means that to develop something new means to attend to that complexity on the ground, not to make decisions in the abstract which are supposed to enhance metrics or raise an institution’s position in rankings.



  1. Areas, questions, theses: How are questions generated?
  2. The poiesis of scholarship: is knowledge created, or just derived?
  3. Scholarly cognitive embodiment – how (literal) piles of things are part of the scholarly process. Scholarly cognition and space/place.
  4. Scholarly cognition and emotion and affect. Can we see our research fields as something to “face”, with an attitude and an affect?
  5. Models, analogies, simulations: How are they built, where do they come from, how do we decide that they are adequate?
  6. The knowledge commons – Elinor Ostrom. How do complex social groups organize so the group can be sustained? What happens when it fails?
  7. Team cognition and scholarly cognition – how do we work in teams?
  8. Science, humanities and scholarly cognition – what are the border issues between these ecosystems of knowledge?
  9. The scaling of scholarly communities. i.e., philosophy now involves far more people than it ever did. These people are more diverse in every way. It used to be that if you followed a relatively few journals, and went to a relatively few conferences, you knew the area, especially in the sub-areas. Now, this is almost impossible. Our cognition is not geared to process the level of interaction we currently have. So, there are machines to maintain this – online groups, Academia.edu, preprint sites like Philpapers, and so forth. Less obvious are the strange attractors, the individuals or places that have emerged as authoritative, influential, or worth reading. Some of these are blogs (e.g., Brian Leiter, Daily Nous).
  10. But these arbiters of academic culture and aggregators don’t necessarily lead to better philosophy, or perhaps not even philosophy at all. And, they don’t necessarily lead to more reading, judging from the range of citations on many papers. It is often the case that arguments are made that have been made before, but for which there is no acknowledgement. And perhaps this is unavoidable.
  11. User/reader input and scholarly cognition – how does an interface change the scholarly process
  12. Digital humanities and scholarly cognition – how does the move to DH change classic disciplinary method, and make SC an issue?
  13. Reviews (book reviews, not refereeing) – in the past, mechanisms for community formation, authorization and accreditation of knowledge. How do they evolve in a data-rich environment?
  14. Refereeing and impact factors vs. preprints, hit counts and other forms of research feedback.
  15. Scaffolding cognition in the scholarly arena: digital and other tools and the scholarly process
    1. Views, citations, hits, impact factors – how do I know if I’m being taken seriously?
    2. Blogs, threads and op-eds – scholarly work at the edge of the academy and the public.
  16. Breaking down the teacher/student distinction – students as researchers
  17. Breaking down the scholar/public distinction – participatory and citizen science/humanities
  18. Collapsing the border between pedagogy and research
  19. Scholarly cognition and disciplinary and institutional structures for gatekeeping, review, and incentive – are these adequate for scholarly cognition?
  20. What kind of knowledge is incentivized? How do those incentives operate? For example, how do granting organizations incentivize particular kinds of engagement? (e.g., public facing humanities, public education, open access, etc.) How do university bureaucracies incentivize some kinds of knowledge and not others? How do states and regulatory agencies mandate some forms of knowledge and not others? (e.g., assessment as knowledge about curriculum and programs)


Deleuze and scholarly cognition
What if “becoming-other” became a guiding principle in scholarly cognition? Disciplinary method might remain largely the same, but the process of generating knowledge at the individual and team level would change. The scholarly process is not a mechanism but a machine.

There was a time when disciplines were seen as positivist. They built on past knowledge to future knowledge, based on evidence, axiomatic principles and well-understood rules of inference. Marxist theory intervened in some of these positivist patterns in some disciplines (particularly anthropology, economics, politics, sociology, and some others), but this only meant a different kind of progressivism, one which proceeded by dialectic instead of positivism.

What if that progressivism is itself a problem? At one level, many academics already know this – philosophy certainly has not had progressivist method for a long time. And yet, there is a new kind of progressivism being brought to bear on scholarly contexts. It is the progressivism imposed by a managerial class in academics, aided by external standards modelled on businesses. The disciplines and approaches that are valuable are the ones that produce monetizable goods, either in the form of intellectual property, alumni/ae jobs, or student credit hours.

Deleuze offers a different model, one which is based on non-teleological becoming. And, it has significant implications for the ways in which scholars operate. For much of the history of the university, we have operated with exemplars of knowledge, standards of how knowledge should be discovered, justified, and communicated. We have the exemplar of the scientific method, for instance, and its sub-versions within different scientific disciplines. We have had exemplars of historical research, and philosophical, and so forth.

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