The incommensurability of academic writing(s)

Capturing perspectives (as though there were any point in time at which they remain stationary)

What intrigues me about ‘academic’ writing is that it is referred to as a static entity that can be taught yet it is as slippery and untransferable as the array of perspectives on knowledge that it tries to embody.

In 1975, Paul Feyerabend (Professor of Philosophy at Berkeley and Zurich who died in 1994) wrote a book called Against Method in which he claims:

A river may be subdivided by national boundaries but this does not make it a discontinuous entity (p. 150)

With a little help from the philosophy of mind, can we make a case for the unity (identity) of academic writing by claiming that although it is divided into disciplinary boundaries (and sub-boundaries) such as:

– humanities (history, philosophy, literature, etc.)

– social sciences (economics, education, sociology, etc.)

– sciences (physics, biology, maths, etc.)

– IELTS, EAP, ESAP (I list these separately because they are generally taught separately from the disciplines and have developed their own distinctive genres)

it (academic writing) remains a continuous entity?

How can this be so? What theory of identity would we need in order to claim that there is unity in what we mean by ‘academic writing’?

Academic writing is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary so the disciplinary (national) boundaries I listed above don’t really work any more. For example, what will ‘academic writing’ look like if we go down the interdisciplinary route that Finland is courting whereby knowledge is taught as a phonomenon, not a discrete dicipline? Presumably, our rhetorical, stylistic and content boundaries will begin to blur/to become contaminated/to be diluted/to become something Other:

children will also learn via periods looking at broader topics, such as the European Union, community and climate change, or 100 years of Finland’s independence, which would bring in multi-disciplinary modules on languages, geography, sciences and economics.

Feyerabend’s notion of incommensurability may be relevant to the ways in which we understand, teach and learn academic writing (pages 152 and 171). He sums up what he means by incommensurability with this image:

perspectiveand says:

Interesting cases of incommensurability occur already in the domain of perception. Given appropriate stimuli, but different systems of classification (different ‘mental sets’), our perceptual apparatus may produce perceptual objects which cannot be easily compared. A direct judgment is impossible. We may compare the two objects in our memory, but not while attending to the same picture

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One thought on “The incommensurability of academic writing(s)

  1. Pingback: Using history to understand academic writing(s) | Academic Emergence

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