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.