Two Cultures

I’ve commented before about the obstacles facing interdisciplinarity.

And now Terry seems to be a case study of the difficulty of articulating a conversation between Science and Arts on equal terms. Here, debates about Science and initiated by Scientists clearly dominate this supposedly interdisciplinary blog. Look no further than the list of categories on the right: biodiversity and genetics are represented, but not, say, literature or arts; the top categories are sustainability (152 posts), environment (147), politics (121, overwhelmingly the politics of science), science (105), climate change (104), and development (87); “cultural criticism” lags at 47, while “global” gets a miserable three entries.

I wonder why that is.

One of my self-imposed briefs is to add the odd thought from the perspective of the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, and I hope to do some more of that in coming weeks.

In the meantime, today is the fiftieth anniversary of what is perhaps the most famous face-off between Scientists and Humanists, the so-called “Two Cultures” debate.

Of course, the “Two Cultures” debate is in fact more complex than a simple opposition between Science and the Humanities: it involved a first broadside by a scientist-turned-novelist who posited such a divide only to lament it, putting the blame on a science-ignorant general culture; and then a riposte by the most famous literary critic of the time, who fiercely defended the claims of literature.

It’s a pity (and something of a surprise) that the original documents of this debate are not, it seems, online. I suspect that they would still stir a fair amount of discussion, perhaps even more, today.

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Jon Beasley-Murray is an assistant professor in the Department of French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies. He teaches Latin American Studies.

9 Responses to “Two Cultures”

  1. Samantha

    I just did a quick check of the Terry blog roll, and from a who is what angle, it’s actually 7 in the humanities, 8 in the sciences/applied sciences, and one staffer (who I’m not sure what background he is).

    Looks like we mainly have a case of the science-y types being a little more prolific with their posting?

    Does anyone know if this is a normal trend (i.e. generally in the web, there’s more science/tech blogs than humanities blogs)?

  2. Nick W.

    I just finished reading “What Science offers the Humanities” by local UBC Asian Studies Prof Edward Slingerland, which was very interesting (and I suspect, fairly controversial). As a science grad student, I’m not really the target audience, but Slingerland’s navigation through the morass of epistemological arguments would, I think, be of interest to both science and humanities students. Book club?

  3. Jon Beasley-Murray

    Samantha, I think I’ve touched on some of the reasons why those from the sciences should be so disproportionately keen to write on a interdisciplinary blog… and so, ironically, to ensure that it is not really interdisciplinary. Other thoughts would be welcome.

    Nick, I’m up for a book club. It would be cool if we had a series of responses to that book from different perspectives.

  4. Nicholas FitzGerald

    You can find the original CP Snow lecture by searching “the two cultures cp snow” in Google Scholar and then clicking on the “UBC ELink” next to the entry, followed by the link to the JSTOR entry on the page which comes up. For this to work you need to be on UBC campus or logged in through a proxy/VPN. I can’t find a copy of the Leavis response right now but I’ll look again later.

  5. Sarah Andersen

    I see potential for discussion from a humanities perspective on many of the recent topics/posts. Speaking personally, I don’t always feel qualified to take on that discussion, since I have not studied the social sciences in depth. In my mind, it would be great to see other Terry bloggers with such a background generate a response. Then maybe we could begin to create more of a dialogue.

    And that goes both ways of course. It would be equally nice if we could get scientific musings that are prompted by posts on literature. First, however, we need the posts on literature. But I see Dave has already put out the call for more arts bloggers so hopefully more humanities posts are forthcoming!

  6. Jon Beasley-Murray

    Ah, thanks for that, Nicholas.

  7. Jon Beasley-Murray

    …though that seems to be but a one-page excerpt. Still, you get the gist, I suppose.

  8. Phoebe

    Maybe we’ll go for the commerce compromise, the path between Science and Arts. Or to the exclusion of both.

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