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Ira and I were talking about how trying to do interdisciplinary work often makes you feel like a dilettante, and I came across a relevant passage in an article about the disciplines by Max Weber:

“Scientifically, a dilettante’s idea may have the very same or even a greater bearing for science than that of a specialist. Many of our very best hypotheses and insights are due precisely to dilettantes. The dilettante differs from the expert . . . only in that he lacks a firm and reliable work procedure. Consequently he is usually not in the position to control, to estimate, or to exploit the idea in its bearings. The [dilettante’s] idea is not a substitute for [the expert’s] work; and work, in turn, cannot substitute for or compel an idea, just as little as enthusiasm can. Both, enthusiasm and work, and above all both of them jointly, can entice the idea.” from “Science as a Vocation” (1918)

It seems to me that academic researchers do make use of the dilettante’s fresh perspective as a source for ideas every time they introduce a new student to their discipline. But for us, “enticing” interdiscplinary digital research into existence might require (to extrapolate from Weber) cultivating a kind of generosity, allowing and even fostering a dilettantish and perhaps painful poking around in any discipline’s basic assumptions. cris, have you dealt with this in collaborations?

One Comment

  1. some nasty defs from dictionary.com

    dilettante
    A dabbler in an art or a field of knowledge.

    dabbler
    One who engages in an activity superficially or without serious intent.

    sciolist
    an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge

    amateur
    1. A person who engages in an art, science, study, or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession.

    2. One lacking the skill of a professional, as in an art.

    I think we need another term. These defs scare and depress me.
    What do you call someone who rigorously dabbles with “serious” intention as a profession? -untenurable;-o

    “…perhaps painful poking around in any discipline’s basic assumptions”
    This sounds like very productive poking. I think the very construct of “discipline” needs to be poked at as well. Look how terrifying these defs are:

    discipline
    1. Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.
    2. Controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self-control.
    3. Control obtained by enforcing compliance or order.
    4. A systematic method to obtain obedience: a military discipline.
    5. A state of order based on submission to rules and authority: a teacher who demanded discipline in the classroom.
    6. Punishment intended to correct or train.
    7. A set of rules or methods, as those regulating the practice of a church or monastic order.
    8. A branch of knowledge or teaching.
    Holy Shit!!!!!

    That was a refreshing read. Now I’m beginning to think we need a new term to replace “interdisciplinary” as well.

    time to return to my sciolistic dabbling


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