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2 - The nature of disciplinary knowledge

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2010

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Summary

The distinction made in the previous chapter between the intellectual and institutional dimensions of disciplinary knowledge might appear to be a crude one. Nevertheless it provides a useful framework for understanding the social nature of such knowledge. There are two ways in which social factors affect the production of disciplinary knowledge. The first concerns day-to- day decisions about funding, resources, and so on; these are primarily institutional decisions in the sense that they serve primarily institutional interests. For this reason, as we suggested in the previous chapter, they can indeed be understood in institutional terms. The second way in which the social impinges upon the production of disciplinary knowledge concerns the intellectual preconditions for the foundation of disciplines of knowledge in the first instance, and the mechanisms of intellectual authority which safeguard the prestige of the knowledge produced by a discipline. In other words, the social impinges upon decisions about both the status and the grounds of disciplinary knowledge; such decisions, that is, are never individual or arbitrary. In the case of the grounds (or foundations) of disciplinary knowledge, these decisions concern agreements about social utility and specialization (terms which we define later); in the case of its status (or its mechanisms of authority), they concern agreements about the implementation of a formal structure by which theories may be tested or evaluated. In both cases these decisions are distinguished by virtue of the fact that they cannot be identified in any straightforward way with the interests of institutions or of a particular institution (in the way that the first kind of social decisions can be).

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Politics and Value in English Studies
A Discipline in Crisis?
, pp. 29 - 67
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1993

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