Monday, April 09, 2007

Holey Scholarship

In a thought-provoking discussion with DK on Thursday, we talked about the idea that in academia, nothing you ever publish will be all that you want it to be. In some sense, all articles, conference papers, etc., have that feeling of the night-before-it's-due seminar paper. You could have always done more and there will always be an imperfect paragraph or an underdeveloped idea.

Initially, I was disheartened by this thought. I used to be a perfectionist and this goes against that tendency. But, giving it some thought, maybe that's what perpetuates our field! Just like God would cease to be if people of faith had all the answers, maybe the "holes" in our work are absolutely necessary to sustain scholarship.

That said, I am NOT advocating lazy scholarship There are divots, and then there are deep, gaping chasms. I guess we have to set our own guidelines, in some respects. Maybe that's where we should start...ask ourselves "What is important?" What is important might change in different contexts, sure. But there should be some sort of baseline intellectual integrity that we establish for ourselves...some minimum level of "I've done my work" even if the work isn't polished or finessed.

I think most of us do that naturally and I'd venture that we've all had those moments where we knowingly sacrificed that integrity (and probably got the response we deserved). The hard part is establishing that integrity as some sort of uniform mandate. We know that there are the "scholars" who basically amount to yellow journalists. If they have holes in their research, they either plagiarize or simply manufacture the facts. Sometimes this is because they are lazy or opportunists. But I wonder how much of this has been stimulated by an ever-increasing need fill in every last hole in order to establish any kind of real credibility.

I once heard a paper based entirely on someone else's gap in another paper. It was not a large gap, just a reasonable question mark that, once answered, would have perpetuated exploration into different and exciting offshoots. But instead, this paper chose to belabor the point to the extent that the whole reason for the topic ceased to exist. It was obvious, at least to me, that this person had absolutely nothing new to contribute, but only wanted to jump up and down and alert everyone to the emperor's nakedness. Even that fails to be all that useful at some point.

So, to summarize this meandering and hole-ridden's to gaps, and holes, and divots, and cracks. Let's try to fill them in, but not at the cost of forgetting the joy of inquiry as our impetus.

(Cross-posted to LiveJournal)

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Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea