Evaluative cultures: History vs Economics!

by Michèle Lamont on June 11, 2009

<a href=”http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/LAMHOW.html”>How Professors Think</a> shows that across all disciplines, evaluations depend on taste and expertise.  Because tastes are often idiosyncratic (what is “fascinating” is what looks like me or reinforces my own line of scholarship), funding agencies should explicitly instruct panelists to value the quality of the proposal (expertise) more than what excites (a matter of taste).

How Professors Think also shows that economists and historians have very different views concerning where excellencet resides – in the object being evaluated or in the eyes of the beholder. While economists think that excellence is objective and is to be found in the proposal itself (that a clear line separates what is first rate from the rest), scholars hailing from more interpretive fields believe that evaluators play a central role in giving value to the proposals – indeed, that they are engaged in the coproduction of excellence. While participating in panel deliberations, they produce what they hope will be convincing arguments about what is good work. They don’t think that their views – their subjectivity – corrupt the process. Instead, they think it is essential to the process, because they are asked to serve in their quality as connoisseurs, as experts who have spent many years developing a very refined classification system for understanding what the field has already produced and what is new and promising. [click to continue…]

Philosophy: Ethos and Argument

by John Holbo on June 11, 2009

My Philosophy: Mind and Manners post provoked good discussion but left certain things unsaid. Let me say something more that may help the discussion stay on a generally useful track. I mentioned in passing in that post that, while there were things that philosophers do, which they regard as conversation-starters, which others regard as conversation-stoppers, which causes confusion, the opposite is also true. There are things other humanists do that they think of as conversation-starters, that strike philosophers as rude and inappropriate, because, to the philosophers, they seem like conversation-stoppers – argument-stoppers. (In philosophy, there is hardly a distinction between conversation and argument, after all.)

But first let me back up a bit. What I was talking about in that post was a tendency for a certain style of ‘but it’s your central premise just false?’ question to be taken amiss by outsiders. Let’s be precise about this: the problem is that outsiders take these questions to express deep contempt – ‘I challenge you to prove you are not an idiot, and I very much doubt you will succeed. I am going to shame you in the eyes of everyone here today.’ But to philosophers themselves, this style of question is normal and perfectly consistent with mutual respectfulness (although, of course, it is also consistent with contempt – a thing unknown to the troglodytes of the philosophy cave by no means! yet it is not a dark fungal growth peculiarly indigenous to the philosophy cave. Am I making myself clear?) [click to continue…]