“The major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur.”
(A. N. Whitehead from Adventures in Ideas, cited by McLuhan & Fiore 2001)
Attempts to articulate the boundaries of what constitutes disciplines and practices, places works in defined categories. This is modernist principal worked for maintaining clarity in the hierarchical structures within business and academics, but it is currently doing more damage than good. What is needed instead is an acknowledgement of unmediated work.
I am particularly focused on the creation of practitioners, and importantly context and concept driven content (form follows function). The aim is that rather than narrowly defining designers or artists by their tools and traditional practices, people can work more autonomously to create work that best answers a problem or achieves a goal, rather than forcing outcomes to be oriented by work of the past or a preexisting expectation. Unfortunately to date the boundaries placed on practitioners has lead to homogeny rather than innovation.
Progressive thinking has allowed new practices and greater outcomes within the business world, marketing and in advertising to some degree. Disciplines that evolved during modernism, like trades, or jobs before then have been seen not to be appropriate for our current paradigm. This can be seen in the trend of creating new job titles that occurred several years ago within numerous tech companies and start-ups. The question is then how can we make this practice a reality; to avoiding pigeon-holing people into singular job descriptions, where everyone is a specialist in their own niche rather than continuing with the pyramid climbing, box checking society we currently have?
This is especially important in academia, where the reflexivity of modernist scholastic traditions impedes innovation, as it attempts to continue with business as usual in the name of progress, but is ultimately damaging innovation.
The structure of academic writing required by all participants is a form of non-deliberate coercion, which is having unintended consequences (Przworski and Wallerstein 1988, 12-29; Bohman 1997, 338-339; cited by Bohman 2015). The goals of academic work is to further define or differentiate what is occurring in the world. But this practice detracts from the innovative outliers that do not fall within the scope of a particular paper or project.
Immanuel Kant and Henri Bergson defined our thinking in two parallel thoughts. Kant saw that we could never achieve absolute knowledge in any field, because the scope and complexities are too great. Bergson saw that the way people function, is that we draw together only relative knowledge that impacts us or our problems in some way, so we can never see the whole picture. (Lawler & Moulard Leonard 2013)
Foucault may attempt to defy this by trying to gather a whole knowledge from all disciplines, but perhaps this is more a comment on the size of Foucault’s ego thanpractical knowledge. But I digress ...
Zoë Sadokierski’s dissertation for example had numerous insights when looking into Hybrid Novels (novels using graphic devices like photography, experimental text layout, mixed media, or other devices not found in a typical novel. They are not just written word or images, however the definition emphasises that the two in combination must contribute to the story (Sadokierski 2010, p. 2)). In the development of the dissertation it is expected given the nature of the paper that the tools to analyse work in the field would be developed. The criteria of these tools which “critique the effectiveness of graphic devices” (Sadokierski 2010, p.ix) which divide the practices in a way which is more damaging than helpful. The justification for a deeper study of the term is practical in an academic sense, but I question whether the benefits outweigh the costs.
It is easy to foresee from the past how such definitions have damaged practices. Take for example sequential art, better known as comic books, which was defined for teaching for the first time by William Eisner in the 1970’s, culminating with the work Comics and Sequential Art. This was done to teach students about comics and was successful in this. What damage it did though was to eliminate the outliers in the field who were currently practicing. So rather than creating new and innovative comic book artists, the years have gone by with comics being more homogenous than prior to that time.
Unfortunately, the modernist academic principles surrounding defining criteria in a dogmatic-scientific-approach, were responsible for limiting practice. Even at the time this was not unforeseeable, as Eisner wrote in the book, “Organising the syllabus for this course(...) brought into sharp focus the fact that during most of my professional life, I had been dealing with a medium more demanding of diverse skills and intellect than either I or my contemporaries fully appreciated.” (Eisner 1985 p.5-6)
Perhaps by beginning to acknowledge the shortcomings of academic practices we can avoid the homogeny that has occurred in other areas, and instead have innovative practices. This may mean that avoiding further deliberate definitions of certain fields like Hybrid Literature, and it may mean working in an interdisciplinary way in future for more people. What we do know is that innovation will not occur through learning textbooks by heart, attaining every skill employers are seeking out, or more of the same of the past.