The role of literature in the institutionalisation of emergent scholarly disciplines

  • Eich, S. (Keynote/Plenary speaker)
  • Charlotte Beyer (Keynote/Plenary speaker)
  • Daniel Davison-Vecchione (Keynote/Plenary speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPresentation


Organised a panel on 'The role of literature in the institutionalisation of emergent scholarly disciplines'. In Shaping Human Science Disciplines, Christian Fleck, Matthias Duller, and Victor Karády write that “‘[i]deas’ are certainly an essential part of what constitutes the field of scholarship. Nevertheless, this field is structured by other forces, most notably institutional, which also deserve to be taken seriously.” This panel will pay attention to those institutional forces by analysing how they are affected by ‘the work of literature’. As such, the panellists will consider institutional opportunities and limitations (such as disciplinary conventions and the REF exercise, etc.) in relation to their own work within fields that largely draw their scholarly identity from being ‘interdisciplinary’, namely environmental humanities, intersectionality studies, childhood studies, and whistleblowing studies. UK Research and Innovation has recently announced some early decisions for the Research Excellence Framework exercise in 2029. Within the ‘Contribution to knowledge and understanding’ element “at least 10% of the score will be based on evidence of the broader contributions to the advancement of the discipline” (‘Early decision made for REF 2028’). Such a strong emphasis on disciplinarity necessarily raises questions about institutional opportunities and constraints which allow for such advancement. With the increasing marketization of the Higher Education sector, the question of disciplinarity is no longer asked solely based on intellectual and scholarly value, but also on the basis of institutional risks and profitability. In brief critical provocations, the panellists will give evidence of how the study of literature can intervene with processes of institutionalising emergent scholarly disciplines. While some disciplines, including the environmental and energy humanities, are inherently multi-, inter-, trans- or de-disciplinary, disciplines that are traditionally more focused on regional and national literatures such as Scottish studies are frequently understood to be more ‘insular’ and inward-looking. Based on her experiences of working within and between disciplines, Julia Ditter will explore how productive such terms and attributions are and will address the challenges and opportunities of (inter-)disciplinarity in relation to methodology, pedagogy and institutionalisation. The broader idea of ‘English’ as a discipline is similarly often subjected to a need to justify its outward-looking or inward-looking orientation. Contested in the current political climate, it is often accused of being a “siloed” discipline, and the study of literature regarded as non-creative and abstract. Rejecting such limited and limiting perceptions of English, Charlotte Beyer will explore how employing intersectionality studies with literature enables us to address vital social justice issues and yield fresh perspectives on the politics of decolonisation. Charlotte argues that, through its imaginative and creative potential, literature has the capacity to enrich and complicate scientific data. Such an approach foregrounds the workings of power, marginalisation, and resistance, all issues that speak to the challenges we may encounter in our work within universities. These issues also resonate in Sandro Eich’s contribution which will address the potential value and challenges of institutionalising ‘whistleblowing studies’ within the HE curriculum. Considering how contemporary fiction and non-fiction writing about whistleblowing informs our cultural imaginary of whistleblowing as an accountability technique, he entertains how such a field could house valuable theoretical and practice-based debates ranging from philosophical and legal debates to policy interventions for the ‘wicked’ problems of the 21st century. Ultimately, Daniel Davison-Vecchione's contribution will explore these issues in the context of sociology's relationship to literature, in particular to speculative fiction. He will discuss how late 19th and early 20th century sociologists drew on the resources of literature and engaged in imaginative speculation when constructing their social theories, how these more overtly speculative and literary dimensions were left by the wayside in the early-to-mid-20th century as sociologists in the US renewed the quest to find their discipline's distinct scientific foundations, and how there has been a more recent and consciously interdisciplinary turn to reconnect sociology with these 'lost threads'. This includes Daniel's ongoing collaborative research with the literary scholar Sean Seeger (University of Essex) on speculative fiction and social theory. This will be followed by a group discussion which may address, but is not limited to the following questions:

• What are the foundations through which we measure the success of having institutionalised a new scholarly field?

• How can the value of (inter-)disciplinarity, particularly located at the crossroads of literature and science, be structurally embedded within the academy?

• How can the study of literature diversify our methods of learning and teaching, research, and potentially even administration?

• What are the challenges and opportunities that arise in relation to (inter)disciplinarity for different national research and teaching cultures (esp. UK, Denmark, Germany)?

• Can we still justify forming disciplinary boundaries around national literary cultures when our research and teaching are becoming increasingly international, comparative and interdisciplinary?

Ultimately, through collaborative discussion with the audience, this panel aims to raise awareness of institutional challenges and opportunities which the study of literature can help to navigate.
Period10 Apr 202412 Apr 2024
Event titleInternational Conference of Three Societies on Literature and Science
Event typeConference
LocationBirmingham, United KingdomShow on map