Friday, February 27, 2009

Against Context (2)

"Contingency is a feature of knowledge claims that is not normally experienced by the knower." (Steve Fuller, Thomas Kuhn, p. 340)

On Wednesday, I said that the difference between content and context in organizational life is defined by strategy. This is of course related to the idea that strategy determines the difference between the organization and its environment. How can we transfer this insight to academic writing?

Your publishing strategy will define a context for your writing in a very basic sense. It should tell you where you will send your work for peer-review and, therefore, who will decide whether or not it is publishable. And this will begin to indicate a community in which certain assumptions are shared, certain theories are in general use, and certain principles are in force. You are defining an intellectual "domain" or "area of validity" (see Thomas Presskorn's comment to Wednesday's post.) Once this context has been defined as one you share with other writers, content again becomes a meaningful notion.

Having accomplished a context by means of strategy, you can plan the content of particular papers. This will require tactics, even tact, but the most important thing is that you can now largely take your context as given. Plan your paper as a series of claims—methodological, theoretical, and empirical—that engage with your chosen context. At this point, you must set aside your postmodern awareness of the contingency of your relation to your context. "The opposite of contingency is necessity," Fuller reminds us, "not universality" (338). What you are trying to do is arrange for yourself a region of local necessity in which it is meaningful to say to something particular.

Kasey Mohammad uses a quote from Barrett Watten as an epigraph for his book of poems Deer Head Nation. "How to write: go to your nation and strive." I suppose what I'm saying here is that as an academic writer you must go to your context and strive. That is, you must set yourself against your context. And that will require that you define very clearly what you want to say. Your content.

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