THE TRIANGLE IS THE BINARY OPPOSITION OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Why is it that scholars are suddenly so drawn to the triangular graphic model, as though three-ness eliminates all of the shortcomings of binary logics? Don’t get me wrong; I don’t intend to be (wholly) snarky here, as I find that all my own best thoughts about conceptualizations and categorizations seem to come in threes. But it seems to me a very different thing to say, on the one hand, ‘here are three possible ways of thinking about this phenomenon,’ or even ‘here are three aspects of this phenomenon,’ than it is, on the other hand, to draw a triangle. Threeness suggests a kind of openness, a sense of more potential possibilities. A picture of threeness, though, does not; a triangle is closed, contained, complete. (2.45 pm)
Steve Jones, in his keynote address, asks a series of questions about Internet Studies that have long been asked about other such interdisciplinary programs or modes of scholarship: Is Internet/Media/Cultural/Etc. Studies a field? Is it a discipline? Does it matter which, and if so, what’s the difference?
There are, as Steve notes, significant material, institutional implications for such questions: disciplines are housed in departments, and as such get budget and tenure lines; fields, when they are acknowledged institutionally, are housed in programs, and as such are the poor stepchild of academia, with minimal budgets and only the rarest of tenure lines. There’s a certain political expediency, in this regard, in the seemingly inexorable movement toward disciplinarity; develop a canon and a curriculum, indicate your rules and borders, and you too might be graced with resources that enable not just survival, but growth.
However, Steve points out that there’s a significant downside to such institutionalization, to the disintering (dis-inter-ing, that is) of the interdiscplinary: the existence of a discipline allows those working in other disciplines to “offload responsibilities” for considering the object in question. Thus (to grab wildly for one example), once there is a Media Studies department, the English department can tell the student interested in questions that touch on media other than print, or print’s own mediations, “We don’t study that here; go talk to them.” While fields remain interdisciplinary, the disciplines cannot wholly shirk their responsibilities for them. (4.40 pm)