Book Review: The Dialectic of Academic Librarianship

The premiere issue of the Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship, the official journal of the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians (CAPAL) has just been released. It features my book review of Stephen Bales recent book The Dialectic of Academic Librarianship, in which I praise Bales for his insights into the commonly understood nature of academic libraries, as compared to the normative dialectical stance which he advocates:

For Bales, [I wrote] the academic library is not (and should not be seen as) a static, solely physical and independent repository of books and journals, but must instead be understood relationally, as a dynamic institution embedded within and functioning as a significant part of a neoliberal, late-capitalist society – what he calls the modern capitalist academic library (or MCAL).

I’ve found Bales’ work fairly indispensable in my own thinking — followers of this blog will recognize my reading of Bales strongly informed my most recent entry on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The Dialectic of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

A Review of “Caring for Difficult Knowledge: Prospects for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights” – a Special Issue of The Review of Education Pedagogy and Cultural Studies (Guest editors: Angela Failler, Peter Ives and Heather Milne).

[On November 4th, 2015 the University of Winnipeg’s Cultural Studies Research Group launched a special issue of the journal The Review of Education Pedagogy and Cultural Studies to which many of the group had contributed. One of the editors, and Lead Researcher of the Group, Dr. Angela Failler, invited me to “review” the issue and speak at the event. This is a more formal version of the speech I delivered].

 

Introduction

When it opened in September, 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights had already long been the subject of considerable controversy, both across the country and in Winnipeg, Manitoba where it is located as the only national museum to be built outside of Canada’s capital, Ottawa. From the beginning, there were public debates played out in the media over not only the museum’s design and its cost, but that its genesis was associated with the conservative ideology of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government was widely criticized for its retrograde stance on human rights (Caplan). Then there was the matter of content: Indigenous Canadians as well as those from immigrant communities that had suffered atrocities in the past – notably in Ukraine – worried that their experiences were not going to be adequately represented in the Museum’s exhibit plans (Basen).

In this atmosphere of controversy and conflicting expectations, the University of Winnipeg’s Cultural Studies Research Group (CSRG) in September 2013 issued a call for papers about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) for the journal The Review of Education Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, with the goal of “thinking through” the museum constructively, asking, how do we publicly address difficult knowledge in a pedagogical fashion? The result was a special issue of the journal entitled, “Caring for Difficult Knowledge: Prospects for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights” (Vol. 37, nos. 2-3).

At the request of one of the co-editors of the issue, Dr. Angela Failler of the University of Winnipeg, I was tasked with reviewing the special issue for its official launch event at the University on November 4th, 2015, by offering some potentially useful insights from the perspective of critical library studies – a discipline distinct from but similar in many respects to critical museum studies, in terms of its concerns regarding representation, colonialism and hegemony (e.g., Murawska-Muthesius and Piotrowski). For the purposes of this review I will offer a brief summary of the critiques of each of the authors and how they relate to the others, and then situate them in terms of some relevant theories from Library and Information Studies – in particular the writings of radical librarian Sanford Berman, historian Lora (Dee) Garrison and critical librarianship scholar Stephen Bales – with a view to identifying the broad theoretical perspective the contributors bring to our understanding of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Is the Topic of “Human Rights” Difficult or Lovely Knowledge?

In her Preface, Erica Lehrer of Concordia University sets out the issue’s task of identifying and locating the tensions between difficult knowledge and lovely knowledge: According to Pitt and Britzman, the difficult part of difficult knowledge concerning historical violence, injustices and atrocity lies not in the content of such knowledge itself, but the effects it has on us, and what we choose to do with it. It contrasts starkly with “lovely knowledge” which soothes and reassures us by reaffirming what we already know – or more accurately, believe – to be true (Pitt and Britzman, 2003).

These themes are picked up in the Introduction by editors Angela Failler, Peter Ives and Heather Milne (all from the University of Winnipeg), but carried further to frame the broader critiques to come: that interrogating the objectives, practices and physicality of the museum “offers a chance to explore a diverse set of issues that extend beyond the museum itself [including] how human rights discourses relate to genocide, colonialism, neoliberalism, issues of social justice, representations and public space” (102). Difficult knowledge, they write, “disrupts our fantasies of coherence and mastery, along with familiar ways of knowing the world, ourselves, and “others’ around us – including the commonly held…dominant cultural narrative that human rights injustices are being valiantly fought against (particularly by ‘us’ in the West)” (103).

What follows the introduction are seven peer-reviewed articles followed by four shorter reflective essays and an afterword which are all charged with this central question: to what extent does (or can) the CMHR – as a Crown Corporation (until very recently) under the authority of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s federal government – actually engage with difficult knowledge and encourage debate about it, or can it only impose comfortable, reassuring narratives about the “past-ness” of atrocities, ones that explicitly do not implicate the museum-going public?

In “Human Rights and/or Market Logic: Neoliberalism, Difficult Knowledge and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights” Heather Milne reviews and analyzes online reader comments in response to a series of highly critical articles about the CMHR published in the right-leaning populist Winnipeg Sun, many of which angrily denounced the museum as a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, as well as the very premise of the museum. She argues that the Museum must share some responsibility for this reaction, having itself participated in the neoliberal branding and commodifying of human rights discourse while positioning itself and its narratives as a part of what its exhibit designer Ralph Applebaum calls the “reality-based entertainment industry complex.”

The Museum’s narratives are constructed not merely in the exhibits, as Nadine Blumer argues in her essay “Expanding Museum Spaces: Networks for Difficult Knowledge at and Beyond the Canadian Museum for Human Rights,” but in its use of technology as well as its online and social media presence. Blumer, a Fellow with the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., sees the CMHR existing as a node in a global network of other “idea” museums, yet questions the extent to which it is capable of creating a discursive space in which human rights controversies can actually be debated, as it has aggressively positioned itself as apolitical. This has not stopped civil society groups from using the Museum as a backdrop or rallying point for their own protests – in her words, “affixing meaning the CMHR, irrespective of the museum’s seemingly apolitical stance or activities (141).”

Such activism stood in particularly stark contrast to the Museum’s silence when the bodies of Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall were both discovered in the Red River on August 17th, 2014, not far from the Museum grounds. For McMaster University’s Amber Dean, in her piece “The CMHR and the Ongoing Crisis of Murdered or Missing Indigenous Women: Do Museums Have a responsibility to Care?” the Museum’s apolitical refusal to address this issue, compounded by its cheery social media posts while thousands marched past its grounds in a vigil for Fontaine and Hall, implicated the Museum in the mainstream society’s normalization of and indifference to violence against Indigenous peoples, especially women. If the CMHR is to be a Museum for human rights, not just of them, she writes, it does have a responsibility to care about this issue, which is an especially lethal and ongoing manifestation of colonial violence.

The Museum’s grandiose approach to another historical case of racialized sexual violence which it has addressed is critiqued by Hee-Jung Serenity Joo from the University of Manitoba, in “Comfort Women in Human Rights Discourse: Fetishized Testimonies, Small Museums and the Politics of Thin Description,” and contrasted to the humble but activist efforts of South Korea’s War and Women’s Human Rights Museum in Seoul which eschews both the monumentality and comforting narratives of the CMHR, as well as to the distant “thin description” of political cartoonist Park Gun-Oong’s spare, almost abstract – yet still devastating – black-and-white panels based on anonymous survivor testimony.

Karen Sharma – a graduate student with the U of W’s Cultural Studies Research Group – considers how the design and spatial order of the museum contributes to “Governing Difficult Knowledge” for the Museum and its publics, but concretizes some problematic positionings, such as placing Indigenous experiences in the building’s roots, and thus in the past. It also, she says, makes untenable assumptions about the typical imaginary visitor as being unimplicated in and existing outside of any of the stories it tells, as not Indigenous or settler or immigrant, an uninformed tabula rasa moving from ignorance to knowledge, but without agency.

Like Sharma, the CSRG’s Larissa Wodtke also reflects on the museum’s design and form of address in “A Lovely Building for Difficult Knowledge: The Architecture of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.” For Wodtke, the monumentality and scale of the structure – and the fact that a number of visually similar buildings are part of a global movement towards “brandscaping” through iconic architecture – belies its contents, or at the very least renders them almost irrelevant to the experience. At the same time, however, the very ambiguity of its architecture, its failure to successfully contain narratives within sanctioned parameters, may indeed lead to productive critiques and hope.

It is to the museum’s aspiration to a universal and unqualified “hope” that Angela Failler critiques in her article, “Hope Without Consolation: Prospects for Critical Learning at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights,” preferring to see hope not as a shared dream for tomorrow but instead as an indication of the condition of our shared present. Failler starts by subjecting the museum’s central assumption to interrogation: what is the connection between hope and learning, and vice-versa, particularly if the narrative of hope is difficult or inappropriate to impose on a history of horror and atrocity? This quest for balance is rendered even more problematic when, as she point out (as does Sharma), that the museum’s leaders seem to assume an imaginary and homogenous public unimplicated in the events on display, particularly when these are safely sealed off in an “absolute past” beyond redress, against which viewers can only feel passive, distant regret, foreclosing a more difficult engagement with radical, unsettling realizations. Instead, she argues, the “difficult knowledge” of genocide and violent, traumatic histories needs to seen as what the late Canadian scholar of education and cultural memory Roger I. Simon called a “terrible gift:” to encourage visitors to feel themselves implicated, to feel depression and horror, and for hope to emerge from unsettling of our understandings, rather than soothing them. In this Failler echoes the work of environmental activist and scholar Joanna Macy, who argues that disseminating information about traumatic conditions is not sufficient to motivate change, and that by facing despair – in the case of her work, over the destruction of the natural world – we can experience an unblocking of our pain, a catharsis, which allows us to move beyond simple “hope” to be “empowered with” others to take action (Macy 1995).

Four short essays follow in the Discussion Section: “Insider/Outsider Ambiguities and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights” by Julie Pelletier at the University of Winnipeg, in which she recounts both her work as a peer reviewer on the Museum’s exhibit design critiquing its use of a linear timeline, as well as her own experiences working alongside migrant workers whose tenuous legal status and lack of English language skills made them vulnerable to abuses, recognizing that our own power to tell our stories and experiences is the tool all of us can use as Museum stakeholders to encourage them to get the story of human rights right. In “Do the Rights Thing” by the U of W’s Kathryn Ready and Serena Keshavjee, the authors describe the Master’s program in Cultural Studies at the University of Winnipeg, and its practicum in Curatorial Studies’ focus on the Museum, the future prospects for placing students there, and how the presence of the Museum will continue to influence the program’s curriculum. Rita Kaur Dhamoon’s (University of Victoria) and Olena Hankivsky’s (Simon Fraser University) commentary, “Intersectionality and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights” argues that a critical intersectionality approach – which sees State-based and imperial violence as gendered and often driven by capitalism – enables us to see the interconnection between historical and contemporary human rights atrocities as systems of domination, not discrete events or group experiences.

Finally, in “Closing and Openings: Afterword on “Prospects for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights” the U of W’s Dean of Graduate Studies Mavis Reimer situates the contributions of the issue first of all by noting their composition in the year prior to the Museum’s opening, noting their dependence on official pronouncements, media accounts and other contemporary discourse; as well as the strategies used by the authors to critically analyze the Museum when its presence and controversies about it have loomed so large over our city for so long.

Discussion

Many of the observations in the journal resonate closely with some of the critical literature in library science, much of which focuses on questioning the “civilizing” and assimilationist mission of the public library (Garrison) as well as the Eurocentric erasures built into the so-called “neutral” classification and subject description schemes of the Library of Congress. These tools not only similarly situate “Indians of North America” as existing solely in the past, but also assume the library’s “majority user” to be a white, male, Christian able-bodied heterosexual – as radical librarian Sanford Berman wrote in his 1971 classic Prejudices and Antipathies), one “imbued with the transcendent, incomparable glory of western civilization” (Berman, 15).

In particular, a recent book by Texas A & M University librarian Stephen Bales offers a very constructive lens for reading the journal, as it connects many of the major themes within a single powerful theoretical rubric.

The editors state in the introduction that the contributors to the special issue do not see the museum as a “fixed static site but as a site of dynamic and shifting encounters that will continue to evolve” (104), so we are to understand it as moving through time. We are further asked by Nadine Blumer to view the CMHR relationally, as a node within a network of institutions, as existing physically, digitally and rhetorically; by Larissa Wodtke in terms of the tensions between its materiality and its ideologies; by Heather Milne in terms of its situatedness as a neoliberal project, and by Hee-Jung Serenity Joo as providing ideological scaffolding for the state – what Louis Althusser called an ideological state apparatus – creating, as Karen Sharma points out, tensions between the forces of knowledge and resistance and interpretive agency. We learn from the contributors that an institution such as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is not just cultural, but political, aesthetic, psychological, social, economic and ideological – and therefore needs to be understood monistically, comprising a unified whole greater than the sum of its parts, rather than dualistically, reducible and as apart from ourselves. Most importantly, the contributors reveal the CMHR’s leaders to suffer from notions of objective idealism – the belief that a “Big-T Truth” such as “human rights” consists of an objective reality separate from ourselves, about which all can agree and all can recognize and discuss.

Stephen Bales utilizes a lens encompassing all these themes, one which, interestingly, is not actually referred to anywhere in the issue: dialectics. In his 2014 book The Dialectic of Academic Libraries Bales writes that academic libraries – and by extension and for our purposes, museums – are not (and should not be seen as) static, solely physical and independent repositories of books or artifacts, but must instead be understood relationally, as dynamic institutions embedded within and functioning as a significant part of a neoliberal, late-capitalist society.

As the study of continuously transforming interrelationships, dialectics emphasizes the transactions between material entities – including the physicalities of libraries and museums – over time, while recognizing that these entities and their inseparable ideological premises are bound by and within their contexts and historical circumstances. These transactional processes are, therefore, always incomplete, always in the process of becoming and, taken together, understood as constituting a unified monistic whole.

By contrast, the conventional view of academic libraries and museums is correspondingly non-dialectical, rational, bureaucratic, and viewed dualistically – that is, reducible and distinct from other institutions and forces. They are also, he argues, problematically devoted to the uncritical acceptance of a number of “Big-T Truth” ideals such as democracy, equity, diversity, intellectual freedom and human rights – abstractions with which the materiality of these institutions at present may not necessarily be either synonymous or sympathetic.

Absent a dialectical understanding, Bales argues, we are ill-equipped to contextualize our institutions, collections and services – and, indeed, our own ideological assumptions as librarians or curators. The political economy of information and knowledge organization, the intersectionalities of race, class and gender within an increasingly interdependent society, and how these forces play out in geographical space over time – all these factors and more are difficult to discern and act upon non-dialectically, rendering library and museum professionals less capable of recognizing their own consent for and participation in an unjust neoliberal status quo.

A dialectical view on “human rights” would also reveal it to be not so much a thing which we can simply grant to or take away from others, as it does a number of often competing discourses, all of which are historically situated and contextually dependent, and premised on a variety of ideological foundations, some of which can disguise or actually facilitate human rights abuses against those whom dominant power systems deem – as Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman put it in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent – to be “unworthy victims.”

As presently conceived, therefore, the CMHR may be seen dialectically as an ideological state apparatus, one that seeks to foster acceptance of and consent for our society’s political and economic superstructure, reproducing dominant capitalist values as it reconciles visitors with their place in a neoliberal society. In its seemingly non-dialectical orientation, the museum prioritizes events rather than processes such as racialization, “othering” and fascisms; while forces and structural causes including inequality, capitalism, and neoliberalism are left unspoken. We learn of the human rights experiences of different groups – including women, gays and lesbians, and persons with disabilities – but not of the intersectionalities of gendered state violence and systems of power and domination.

This contrasts rather dramatically with the recently-opened National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg, which quite explicitly implicates all Canadians – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – in a lifelong effort to learn the truth about their country’s history and work towards reconciliation.

In this light, then, the contributors to this special issue of the Review of Education, Pedagogy & Cultural Studies have produced a brilliantly dialectical analysis of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, one which will hopefully be read and re-read by the Museum’s curators and administrators – and publics – to inform the iterative evolution of the Museum, to better enable its visitors to engage with the “terrible gift” that is difficult knowledge, to recognize systems of domination, and to feel empowered with one another to act on that knowledge.

 

Additional Works Cited

Bales, Stephen. 2015. The Dialectic of Academic Librarianship: A Critical Approach. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.

Basen, I. (2011). “Memory Becomes a Minefield at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.” Globe and Mail, August 20th 2011. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/memory-becomes-a-minefield-at-canadas-museum-for-human-rights/article555660/?page=all

Berman, Sandford. 1971, 1993. Prejudices and Antipathies: A Tract on the LC Subject Heads Concerning People. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

Capland, G. (2014). “Human Rights Museum is Indifferent to Some Human Rights.” Globe and Mail, October 3rd 2014.

Garrison, Dee. 1979. Apostles of Culture: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876-1920. New York: Free Press.

Herman, Edward S., and Chomsky, Noam. 1988. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books.

Macy, J. (1995). “Working Through Environmental Despair.” Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, edited by R. Theodore, M. Gomes, and A. Kanner. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 240-259.

Murawska-Muthesius, Katarzyna, and Piotr Piotrowski, eds. From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2015.

Pitt, A. and Britzman, D. (2003). “Speculations on Qualities of Difficult Knowledge in Teaching and Learning: An Experiment in Psychoanalytic Research.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 16 (6): 755-776. doi:10.1080/09518390310001632135

Subjugated Knowledge in Academic Libraries pt. 1

[Excerpted and adapted with the editor’s permission from my article “Knowledge Ill-Inhabited: The Subjugation of Post-Stratfordian Scholarship in Academic Libraries.” The Oxfordian XVII (2015). Available for purchase on Amazon. ].

French philosopher Michel Foucault, in a series of lectures and interviews gathered in the book Knowledge/Power, observed that certain bodies of knowledge can become subjugated by more powerful actors:

By ‘subjugated knowledges’ I mean two things. On the one hand, I am referring to historical contents that have been buried and disguised in a functional coherence or formal systemization.[…] By ‘subjugated knowledges’ one should understand something else…namely a whole set of knowledges that have been disqualified as inadequate to the task or insufficiently elaborated;  naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity. I also believe that it is through the re-emergence of these low-ranking knowledges, these unqualified, even directly disqualified knowledges…a differential knowledge incapable of unanimity and which owes its force solely to the harshness with which it is opposed by everything surrounding it — that criticism performs its work (1980, 81-2).

In employing the terms naïve and below the required level of scientificity, Foucault was not himself being pejorative, only situating in general terms the ways in which certain discourses are routinely disqualified by dominant ones, his examples being the voices of front-line health care practitioners and those with the lived experience of being institutionalized. While Foucault did not develop or elaborate this theory further himself, the notion of subjugated knowledge has been applied to repressed knowledge domains in a number of diverse professional disciplines, including those of oppressed peoples in social work (Hartman); preventative, social and feminist approaches to health in nursing (Gilbert); experiential learning in adult education (Brookfield); and local, grassroots knowledge of practitioners from the global South in the use of sports in international development (Nicholls et al.).

Richard Jackson’s systematic analysis within his field of terrorism studies (2012) offers what is in my view perhaps a near-ideal model for situating subjugated knowledge. According to Jackson, the field of terrorism studies is dominated by an elite body of “experts”, many affiliated with think tanks situated within the political power structure, whose narrowly-defined conception of their field – that only non-state actors commit terrorism, thus ignoring the actions of states, while aggressively resisting the search for structural, root causes of radicalism in poverty and repression — accords conveniently with the interests of those in power. The dissenting views of those with alternative, lived experiences of terrorism – peacemakers, journalists, victims of conflict and former terrorists themselves – are actively shut out of mainstream discourse and are rarely called upon by the media “and thereby subjugated – for lacking in scholarly ‘objectivity’ or displaying the necessary standards of social science scholarship” (16). These alternative perspectives, while known to the experts, remain “unknowable” because of the exclusive manner in which discourse is constructed:

An important initial step towards understanding knowledge subjugation [he writes] is to consider how the field is constituted and functions as a discourse. That is, every discourse ‘allows certain things to be said and impedes or prevents other things from being said’ (Purvis and Hunt 1993, p. 485), in large part, because ‘discourses, by way of hegemonic closures, fix meanings in particular ways and, thus, exclude all other meaning potentials’ (Jorgensen and Phillips 2002, p. 186). From this perspective, the subjugated knowledge described above represents the unsayable within the dominant…discourse; these subjugated knowledges represent those alternative meaning potentials which have been closed off by the closures inherent to the discourse…In other words, it is an internal functional necessity that a discourse and its authorized ‘experts’ will suppress and exclude knowledge and meaning which would challenge the proper objects, boundaries and authorised speakers of the field (16).

Following the work of Reid (1993), Jackson describes this elite as an “invisible college” working within a “closed, circular and static system of information and investigation, which tends to accept dominant myths” as given, often without any empirical evidence (17). Particular energy is devoted to what he calls “taboo-enforcing practices” against certain research directions as a means of maintaining ontological enclosure (18-19), the ritual invocation of which becomes internalized, such that scholars practice not just self-governance, but self-subjugation.

What particularly concerns Jackson is that when a discipline is dominated in this way, and its admissible research domains so strictly prescribed, the field itself is destabilized as certain knowledges are simultaneously ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ leading inevitably to ontological contradictions” which are nonetheless tolerated, while “periodic eruptions of subjugated knowledge that destabilises the discourse” are not, requiring “meanings [to be] re-sutured and the discourse re-stabilised” (20):

I employ the term ‘unknown’ to mean that certain knowledge claims rooted in theoretical or empirical research remain unacknowledged in the scholarship or texts of the field. Such work is neither mentioned nor systematically engaged with, and if it is mentioned, it is dismissed as inappropriate, naïve, or irrelevant. By contrast, what is ‘known’ is acknowledged, engaged with and referenced, and therefore, legitimized (25).

Significantly, Jackson finds the major locus of this knowledge subjugation in the academy, in determining what is taught, in what contexts and with which texts, and in ensuring that only those within the approved epistemic community are invited to conferences and publish in the discipline’s key journals (17-18). As such, the production, availability, and pedagogical use of monographs and journal literature in a given field becomes essential in setting and enforcing these ontological enclosures, thereby ensuring their reproduction in the next generation of scholars.

Unstated but implied in Jackson’s analysis is the essential but underappreciated role of academic libraries in acquiring and organizing the literature required to support and facilitate sanctioned curricula and scholarship — and, in the process, institutionalizing this knowledge-subjugating function through biased collection development and cataloging, which, as will be shown in a subsequent post, have surely contributed to marginalizing certain voices, arguments and perspectives — and, indeed, entire paradigms.

 

Works Cited

Brookfield, Stephen. “Unmasking power: Foucault and adult learning.” Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education 15.1 (2001): 1-23.

Foucault, Michel, and Colin Gordon. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980. Print.

Gilbert, Tony. “Nursing: Empowerment and the Problem of Power.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 21.5 (1995): 865-871.

Hartman, Ann. “In Search of Subjugated Knowledge.” Journal of Feminist Family Therapy 11.4 (2000): 19-23.

Jackson, Richard. “Unknown Knowns: The Subjugated Knowledge of Terrorism Studies.” Critical Studies on Terrorism 5.1 (2012): 11-29.

Jorgensen, M. and Phillips, L., Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method. London: Sage, 2002.

Nicholls, Sara, Audrey R. Giles, and Christabelle Sethna. “Perpetuating the ‘Lack of Evidence’ Discourse in Sport for Development: Privileged Voices, Unheard Stories and Subjugated Knowledge.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport. 46.3 (2010): 249-264.

Purvis, T. and Hunt, A., 1993. “Discourse, Ideology, Discourse, Ideology, Discourse, Ideology . . . .”  The British Journal of Sociology, 44 (3), 473–499.

Reid, E., 1993. “Terrorism Research and the Diffusion of Ideas.” Knowledge and Policy, 6 (1), 17–37.

 

 

Indigenous Education “By Force?”

The University of Winnipeg (where I work) made headlines this past year with its unanimous Senate decision to mandate an Indigenous Course Requirement (ICR) for all undergraduate students starting in the fall of 2016. This was undertaken after a great deal of deliberation and consultation and is to be done in such a way that it doesn’t increase the number of credit hours that students would be required for graduation.

The move has not been without controversy, however, both within and without the University. I recall at one of the consultation sessions — co-chaired by Associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Dr. Angela Failler —  one faculty member objected to the idea that all students would be “forced” to “learn about one culture”, to which Failler replied that the ICR is not geared towards learning about so much as it is about learning from Indigenous cultures. She described how her own research into the public memory of the 1985 Air India Bombings had been informed by Indigenous world views, and considerations of Indigeneity in the Canadian context. This really resonated with me, as I had recently published an article applying postcolonial and Indigenous theories to the study of the authorship of Shakespeare.

Yet opposition remains, much of it grossly misinformed. Case in point: yesterday the Winnipeg Free Press ran an op-ed by a (white) medical student Brayden Whitlock with the inflammatory title, “Indigenous Education By Force,” in which he argues that the UW mandate is “purely anti-academic” and a “misstep”, as it promotes one culture as “more important than the rest.” He concludes,

A public university has no place in making decisions based on culture. We are here to investigate, explore and help people learn, not to decide what people learn or which cultures they should appreciate most.

Whitlock’s piece totally misses the point — and the irony, quite apart from conveniently ignoring that for generations Indigenous children and youth were violently and forcefully indoctrinated into Euro-Christian culture. Western education systems have always based their decisions according to primacy of Western values and culture, prioritizing Western thinkers, writers and leaders, and assuming that Western cultures, literature etc. should be appreciated most. American Indian historian Ward Churchill goes so far as to characterize Western education as “White Studies” by stealth:

As currently established [he writes], the university system in the United States offers little more than the presentation of “White Studies” to students, “general population,” and minority alike. The curriculum is virtually totalizing in its emphasis, not simply upon an imagined superiority of Western endeavors and accomplishments, but also upon the notion that the currents of European thinking comprise the only really “natural” — or at least truly useful — formation of knowledge/means of perceiving reality. In the vast bulk of curriculum content, Europe is not only the subject (in its conceptual mode, the very process of “learning to think”), but the object (subject matter) of investigation as well.

The Indigenous Course Requirement is but a step in correcting this totalizing imperialism of the mind, and — as Dr. Failler and I have both found — can only enrich our education and our scholarship.

 

Open Letter at American Libraries to the Shakespeare Community

This past December, I published an article on the website of American Libraries Magazine about the 2016 national (U.S.) tour of Shakespeare’s First Folio, co-sponsored by American Library Association’s Public Programs Office, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and the Cincinnati Museum Center. The purpose of the article was to highlight not only what  academic and public libraries are planning on doing to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of the “Bard of Avon” but also that this anniversary is a controversial one: that the First Folio is an extremely mysterious book, and that the authorship of the Shakespeare Canon has never been subject to more reasonable doubt than it is now.

This is a topic about which I’ve previously written extensively, for I believe it connects fundamentally with Foucauldian dimensions of subjugated knowledge and our collective epistemology in a digital age, as well as received notions about the “genius of the West” and principles of academic freedom.

As is generally the case with online articles on the authorship of Shakespeare, my piece was inundated with comments (735 as of this writing) much of it extremely heated, with partisans defending the Shakespeare of tradition and taking issue with the entire premise of my article, while proponents of the Earl of Oxford (myself included) sought to state our case.

Some of these exchanges were less than civil, let’s just say.

Once the number of comments approached 300 — and with no end in sight — I decided to try a more diplomatic approach, and posted the following as an open letter, in an attempt to defuse the controversy and establish a more civil tone in the debate.  The statement was well-received by partisans on both sides, with some fellow Oxfordians wishing to refer to it again in the future. With that in mind, I am reposting my letter here:

 

Three hundred comments! On one level I’m certainly pleased to see that my article has generated so much interest and discussion. On the other hand I find the overall tone – as is so often the case with this topic online — rather dispiriting. So, in the spirit of the season, let me offer a few comments, and a wish.

First of all, we need to recognize that the topic in which we are engaged is a matter of history, and like such matters is subject to contestation and interpretation. Even for well-documented and indisputable historical events – such as wars — historians will still debate sequences of events, causal factors, the actors involved, their motivations and the consequences of those events. Granting this, how much less certain can all of us be about what occurred between a man and his muse, writing alone, more than 400 years ago?

The fact is, we are all of us fallible humans relying on historical documents written by other fallible humans, and retained and preserved through historical events and happenstance. We simply cannot argue from certainty about matters that nobody but the author witnessed; as such, we – all of us – need to be more provisional and qualified about our claims.

Do I believe that Oxford was Shakespeare? Yes, the weight of evidence leads me to what I feel is a reasonable inference and conclusion. The works of Shakespeare make much more sense to me, and are much more rich and real to me, understanding them to come from the pen of Edward de Vere.

Can I prove it? No.

Do I believe it with the religious conviction of an unalterable truth? No.

Would I be open to being proven wrong? Yes, I would like to think so.

In that spirit, I thank all the commenters — and I’m sorry I haven’t had time to read all you’ve written here – I have learned some interesting things here. But I do wish we can – all of us – engage in this conversation in a more respectful manner, recognizing our own limitations and fallibility.

So here’s the wish: Can we please all agree that we are all Shakespeareans, that we all share a love for the writings of Shakespeare and a desire to understand them better, and are sincerely motivated by a desire to honour the author? What’s more, can we all please agree that in matters more than 400 years removed, we must be much more cautious about claiming a monopoly on truth.