If I remember correctly, it’s Lewis Gordon who writes a good number of articles about how we interact with knowledge as a society. He takes particular interest in the division of inevitably overlapping disciplines into separate categories. Gordon has also outlined some problems with this model: Some scholars tend to judge the work of others through the lens of their own disposition. For example, a physicist might be inclined to brush aside the work of an economist because the economist presents a model to which there are exceptions and deficiencies (these are generally called “market failures,” and they tend to be inevitable in even the most meticulously planned economies). Of course, there are no “market failures” in physics: Gravity doesn’t turn off given a certain set of conditions, thermodynamic laws always hold true in closed systems, et cetera, et cetera. So one could see why a physicist might not want to accept a seemingly inadequately designed econometric model as a bona fide academic accomplishment.
Gordon, in an article whose title I cannot for the life of me remember, explained why this is not a desirable model for academia, and why the division of research praxes into “disciplines” is to blame. But he never really, throughout his immense body of work, specifically outlines any form of feasible alternative. I know that, at one point, he called for the “teleological suspension of disciplinarity [sic]” (http://escholarship.org/uc/item/218618vj), but that is mostly meaningless in the context of a college whose campus has to be pragmatically designed.
And that brings me back to Professor Hanlon’s talk. More specifically, the beginning of it. He went to great lengths to describe how Colby, and universities in general, are divided into disciplines, and those disciplines are relegated to their own spaces. This spatialization of knowledge does have some benefits: I know that my econ class will be in Diamond, and that my Spanish class is probably in Lovejoy. That makes my life easier in terms of memorizing schedules and getting from class to class without having to devote a whole lot of thought to where I’m going. However, there are drawbacks, too: I’m not very likely to run into any biology majors in the hall, and I’m almost certain to never stumble across a bulletin board that advertises a bunch of exciting developments in the field of astrophysics. This is for the simple–almost arbitrary–reason that I just don’t have any classes in science buildings. The closest I get is the four hours a week I spend in Keyes for math.
So that’s my understanding of a practical application of what Professor Hanlon was talking about: the spatialization of knowledge. I’ll gladly concede that knowledge in the abstract does have a tendency to creep into places where it would seemingly be unwelcome (Case in point: The Royal Soceity, a body founded to maximize material research over oratory presentations, wound up being instrumental in hundreds of years’ worth of philosophy and novels). But still, isn’t it just a bit troubling that something as abstract and free as “knowledge” can be crammed into distinct spaces, as if one body of knowledge is never supposed to interact with other types of knowledge?