Praxis: The Innovator

In addition to getting a crash course in html and css, we’ve spent our time in the fellows’ lounge this week actually putting some prose together for our charter.  One of the great things about this process has been the way in which working on the charter has actually provided a platform for us to get to know each other and to begin to have a number of other important conversations.  Will we continue with Prism?  Who is Prism for: academics, researchers, teachers, the entire web-surfing public?  Is it possible to address the needs of all the disciplines we collectively represent in this project?

This process has also raised another concern for me that I only began to articulate yesterday.   One of our motivations for working on our own version of the charter was to convey our own ethos in the text.  As Gwen pointed out during one of our first meetings, we don’t want to create problems by foreseeing them.  If the charter can be seen as a self-fulfilling prophecy—an attempt to articulate the desired goals and experiences for the next year that will motivate us to meet those goals—we didn’t want to convey an expectation of problems and conflicts.  So far, I think we’ve been successful in this regard.  But it has left me wondering what else we are importing into Praxis without notice or intent.

To my mind, the Digital Humanities represent a possibly radical corner of the academic landscape.  Here—as the word “interdisciplinarity” instructs us—we are not supposed to adhere to the confines of our disciplines.  What other “rules” are we meant to challenge?

In pondering that question, my sociological mind turns to cultural theory.  One of the things that sociologists often talk about is the way that culture instructs us not only in what we should do, but in how we should do it.  We take an immense number of things for granted, assuming that other options do not exist.  The cultural instructions for how to do something in one area of life often spill over into another.  Something meant to be innovation becomes mundane.

These cultural instructions that we rely on are difficult to notice.  Thus, we might import the rules and processes of bureaucracy, for example, into our own project without realizing it.   This was one of my concerns this week when we discussed potentially including a clause for conflict resolution (requiring a neutral third party) into our charter.  Not only did this seem to contradict the ethos we wanted to convey, but it imposed a seemingly overly bureaucratic construct into what has the potential to be a new kind of scholarly work environment and project.  In another example, there have also been concerns (from myself included) about how our project will fit the requirements of respective disciplines and be accepted as legitimate scholarship.  While we certainly benefit from structure and clearly articulated goals, why must we rely on the taken-for-granted goals and rules of bureaucratic educational institutions?

I want to encourage us to be on the lookout for these taken-for-granted assumptions.  I want Praxis to be something that breaks academic molds–something innovative.  Doing this requires both attentiveness and a willingness to have our own assumptions and habits challenged.

1 Comments

  1. I want to encourage us to be on the lookout for these taken-for-granted assumptions. I want Praxis to be something that breaks academic molds–something innovative. Doing this requires both attentiveness and a willingness to have our own assumptions and habits challenged.

    This is a great thought, Claire. One of the most striking thing about working in a diverse, interdisciplinary group is that you almost have to be intentionally obtuse to not have your own habits and assumptions challenged. I almost feel like the Praxis fellows have more to teach the regular Scholars’ Lab staff in this regard than vice versa.

    Someone (and I can’t remember who now) brought up the idea of not even having a charter at all. It might be useful to explore this notion more, if anything to make sure that, should the group decide to write and agree to one, we have a better sense of why we did in the first place. Having worked in places and on projects where there was no charter, I’m in support of writing one. But I’d love to have the conversation anyways, since it would be a welcome opportunity to clarify and update my own position on it.

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