7 No. 2
urges a new "discipline" of planning
job is to make sure that the academic focus of the institution is
always front and center.
Lewis, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
we’re going to be rigid, operating in the nineteenth century
and resisting change, then we’ll go the way of the Light Brigade.
Thorpe, Woodruff Professor of Health Policy and Management
Planning Steering Committee
Or, Sipping champagne from a fire hydrant
Knauft, Samuel C. Dobbs Professor of Anthropology
and Executive Director,
The Institute for Comparative and International Studies
the Bible Green?
Israelite and early Christian perspectives
on the natural world
A. Newsom, Professor of Old Testament
Mind and the Machine
Review of Digital People by Sidney Perkowitz
Neill, Professor of Psychology
scholarship takes time, it also takes place in time. And the flow
of time does not slow down for the pace of scholarship. Some disciplines
turn this fact to their advantage. Historians emphasize that recent
developments cannot be fully appreciated for years, decades, even
But with the speeding modern flow of ideas, people, and money, reflective
scholarship seems under threat. The time-space compression of the
contemporary world affects our work: it increases the scope and
scale of our information while reducing our time to digest it.
This blurry tide of new information dovetails with our accelerating
perception that time may be passing us by. In the bargain, the changes
around us become changes of consciousness. Ideas, theories, and
even personal identities are transformed over shorter and shorter
periods of time.
These trends pose special challenges for scholarship. Both empirically
and reflexively, it is increasingly difficult to delimit a “topic”
or a “problem” for inquiry. If the world has always
been interconnected, our awareness of and concern with these connections
are increasingly great.
Against these trends, the defense of traditional scholarship can
easily become a knee-jerk reaction. We may imagine an ancestral
scholarly community for whom a leisurely pace of reflection crystallized
Big Thoughts with the benefits of time. But such a time has never
really existed. In anthropology, we sometimes call this pining for
lost utopia the quest for the paleo-terrific.
If nostalgia is itself part of the late modern age in which we live
(along with Elvis and Marilyn), it forms in reaction against the
incoming swell of events and information. This reaction seems hard
to resist. Even if one appreciates this postmodern excess, a morass
of interesting and potentially important input easily turns the
scholarly repast into an exercise—as one of our graduate students
once put it—of sipping champagne from a fire hydrant.
To me, this stress provides not just a challenge but a potential.
This is not the potential of postmodernism (which I have vigorously
critiqued) but of greater creativity across geographical space and
historical time. In recent years, I have tried to mine this potential
in a range of publications and in the program called “Vernacular
Modernities,” which flourished under the auspices of The Institute
for Comparative and International Studies (see http://www.icis.emory.edu/programs/vm/index.html).
This project explored how people from different world areas and
across different time periods have become modern in their own distinct
ways. As a practical exercise of “scholarship in time”
we used creative modes of conference presentation, book contracting,
and electronic revision to identify high-quality papers from Emory
and non-Emory scholars—and to bring them to quick completion.
Our collected volume, which I had the pleasure of editing, includes
contributions by five Emory and five non-Emory contributors. The
project progressed from initial presentations to final publication
in just eighteen months (Critically Modern, Indiana University
Press, 2002). In practice, the papers that were read in first draft
by students during the first year of our program were read as a
scholarly volume published by a major university press during the
program’s third and final year.
In my present role as executive director of the Institute for Comparative
and International Studies, I am less interested in cloning past
programs than in extending their contribution in new ways. These
initiatives can cross-fertilize our strong existing programs in
world area and international studies. Many of these themes travel
under our new signature theme of “Global Citizenship in a
Plural World.” This theme was forged this past summer in strategic
planning sessions with more than forty faculty and administrators.
The full text of the plan can be found on the ICIS web site at http://www.icis.emory.edu/about/strategic_plan.htm.
In the present context, our strategic plan for global citizenship
can also be seen as our plan for scholarship in time. At Emory as
elsewhere, the biggest gripe about time is simply that we don’t
have enough of it. Despite real and sometimes strong constraints
on program funding, material support, and salaries, our time for
scholarship—for considered intellectualism in research and
teaching—is our scarcest and most precious resource.
It is ultimately hard to address this issue without confronting
the larger place of scholarship in late modernity. In a historical
and cross-cultural perspective, our concern with time reflects a
modern sense that time does not repeat but flows into an uncertain
but hopeful and expectedly better future.
Our notion of new scholarly knowledge is closely related to the
notion of time as an arrow of expected progress. A number of historians,
including Reinhart Koselleck, suggest that this notion of time was
not widely evident in Western populations prior to the eighteenth
century. This modern notion of time engages directly—and appropriately,
in my opinion—with increasing demands for scholarly relevance
and application. Here we confront academic life not just as cerebral
understanding but as an engagement with issues with practical
relevance. This aspect of late modern scholarship is not just
a necessary but a powerfully important challenge. If scholarship
needs to be managed within time, it also needs to be timely. In
my own received discipline of anthropology, this impetus has informed
the explosive growth of practical
or applied anthropology. In the process, it has spawned or invigorated
fields as diverse as medical anthropology, the anthropology of education,
contract archeology, and work with governmental organizations and
The more protracted our scholarship becomes, the more it becomes
potentially out of date. This risk of anachronism informs not only
our interactions with our students but with our academic peers.
In practical terms, knowledge delayed is often knowledge denied.
Speaking yet more pragmatically, publication delayed is often tenure
Our response to this dilemma certainly depends on our individual
goals and projects. It depends on the scope of our research problems,
the genres and deadlines of our publications, and our penchant for
applied relevance. But the demand for scholarly relevance is both
large and growing across disciplines and academic ranks—as
well as among our students.
On the one hand, our work should continue to germinate over time.
Scholarship takes more considered thought and longer reflection
than is typically afforded the politician, the nurse, the accountant,
the mechanic, and so on. The vocation of scholarship is seldom one
of unrelenting application or pure activism. Accordingly, the time
of scholarship should supply larger perspective on the developments,
perceptions, and problems of the world around us.
On the other hand, scholarship needs to reduce its received license
for the pursuit of knowledge that claims to be endless or timeless.
That learning has intrinsic value cannot be its only justification.
Our projects and reflections need to be strategically and creatively
conceived not just in space but in time. They can pace back and
forth more flexibly and creatively between collaborative efforts
and individual ones, between short articles and longer publications,
between alternative genres of writing, between private study and
public intellectualism, between experiences outside the university
and life within it. These articulations place a scholarly premium
on flexibility, dynamism, and innovation not only in the choice
of topic but in the use of time itself.
These challenges directly engage the process of scholarly review
and academic promotion. Despite other great changes in the university,
promotion and review still tend, on the whole, to favor the safety
of narrow scholarship. Such scholarship privileges the singular
over the general—and risks missing the forest for individual
leaves on the trees. This is especially true at the formative early
stages of a publication career. The safest advice is typically the
most conservative: publish your data but leave the larger and more
general ideas for later. In the bargain, flexible uses of time as
well as topic are often precluded.
To take one small example (though it makes no difference to me personally,
as an author of seven books), shouldn’t an article in the
Academic Exchange form not just part but a legitimate part
of an Emory faculty member’s CV? The point is not that articles
in AE should be sufficient for tenure. Nor that all of them are
necessarily good. It is rather that review committees should actually
read such articles and assess if they contribute in a larger sense—including
the contribution to scholarship in time.
This is not to license the superficial; scholarship needs to deepen
and enforce academic rigor. But it can do this in a variety of ways
and through a greater diversity of writing styles, experiences,
and publications. By pursuing scholarship more flexibly—through
the speeding of time rather than against it—we can make our
work more timely. In the bargain, we can more effectively combine
the pure and the applied, the classic and the contemporary, the
domestic and the foreign, the scholarly and the pedagogical, and
the academic and the public.
If this view is utopian, I see little alternative. Perhaps my suggestion
is only a newly timed version of an old truism: that scholarship
can neither be reduced to nor detached from the world around it.
The trends of the present cross more than received boundaries of
geography, history, and conceptual terrain. They offer us the challenge
of scholarship in time.