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On the couch: etiquette March 6, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.

In recent analysis, we often make a point of mentioning the emotional or moral qualities of the scientist–what about the emotional or moral qualities of the historian? As more red dots appear on my map, and as I pile on the posts, I start to feel a little nervous about these little grains of thought I’m sending out into the void at a ratio now of about 7 posts to one of Jenny’s. I’ve received some nice encouraging feedback from people I know. But, still, as the only history of science blog that makes a point of talking regularly about what constitutes good and bad (or boring) work, I start to worry that I sound like an ass, and that I’ll never get another job, etc. What is it that makes me so awesome that I can talk about what history should or should not look like?

The long and short of it is that I’m writing as though I were participating in a culture that I wished existed, as though everyone in science studies had their own blog, and traded ideas about what they liked and didn’t like. What I have in mind when I blog is something like the culture of criticism that exists in film or music–not high-minded critical theory, but the hooks and jabs and freestyle speculation that take place at sites like The A. V. Club over topics about what it is we like and don’t like in our pop culture. I’ve encountered this raucous atmosphere when I’ve visited certain places, like Imperial College in London, but I haven’t found it much elsewhere. I have from time to time asked people to justify their work, but if you do that in the wrong crowd, it’s like you’ve kicked their dog. I was once accused of being “uncollegial”–but what makes our little community different from any other community where people get up on a stage and present their creativity to the world? Isn’t it healthy to ask what makes our work worth the price of admission? I want a culture of vigorous criticism because I love what I do, and because when I write, I try to emulate what I like out there (which is a lot), and to avoid what I don’t.

Next: looking at a high profile target–the 2006 HSS Distinguished Lecture. Are we out to reform the world or to fulfill the needs of our audience?



1. Jenny Ferng - March 10, 2008

Hey, I am trying to do at least one post a week. A bit difficult between dissertation writing and archival visits. Did you plug our upcoming debate yet?

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