Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Craft & Craftiness

One of the reasons I worry about plagiarism is that it undermines the craft of research. Paraphrase is an art. So is source criticism. It's something you learn how to do well through practice. An academic text consists of a lot of paraphrase of reliable sources, and when we see a source quoted or paraphrased or merely cited in support of a fact we know how to read it. This means that if a quotation is presented as a paraphrase, or a citation is left out (or cites the wrong text), then we are being mislead as readers.

Plagiarism is certainly also an offense against the writer from whom the material has been stolen. But I've always been more interested in the offense against the plagiarist's community of peers. This, as I always say, is a community of craftsmen. It's a community that is able to perform a range (sometimes a quite narrow range) of intellectual operations efficiently and effectively. They respect each other's ability to do this. It is always disappointing to see someone you thought was an able craftsman resort to tricks to produce a particular effect. They become merely "crafty".

As academia increasingly turns into a "game" (in the sense popularized by The Wire), its participants are increasingly likely to succumb to the cynical pleasure of "playing" it. Plagiarism is an extreme version of this. It displays a great deal of craftiness (and one can even vaguely acknowledge the thrill), but very little respect for the craft itself.

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