Policing Of The State of Scholarship

Posted by on Jan 22, 2014 in Blog, Modeling/Prototyping

[submitted by Adam Foster]

One of the most progressive aspects of studying humanities in the digital era is that the potential for complete access to all scholarship exists. Ventures such as Worldcat and Zotero seek to catalogue the entirety of scholarly manuscripts and articles, and make them accessible to any scholar. This seems like a more-or-less reasonable goal – as new works are published, they are added to the database and eventually librarians will eventually finish adding older articles and monographs that were released prior to the advent of online cataloguing. As a scholarly tool, this sounds pristine and flawless – all is included (both scholars and scholarship), and there is no power structure that prioritizes work according to an inherent ideology or mindset. We might, therefore, say that digital scholarship is apolitical.

This, however, is false. The act of the scholar or critic in choosing his citations is an incredibly political act, and this distinction carries over into the digital realm instead of disappearing. Before it is possible to analyze the politics inherent in digital scholarship, it is important to first elucidate the political nature of more traditional means of scholarship.

There exists an inherent social-intellectual framework that measures and qualifies the arguments we make in academia. In some ways, this is indicative of the State philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari; that is, a representational mode of thinking inherent in the tradition that renders “each mind an analogously organized mini-State morally unified in the supermind of the State”(Massumi 4), or, in line with the inherent ideology of the powers of control. This is to conceive of knowledge spatially. Mainstream scholarship would be akin to a city-state, and to think outside of what is mainstream or accepted in scholarship is to exist outside of this city-state through nomad thought (Deleuze, “Nomad Thought” 149). The meaning of this metaphor is this: only certain arguments are deemed acceptable in academia. While this claim at first seems rousing, it is quite common place: a scholar of any discipline would admit certain arguments made in their field fall into the mainstream, and others do not.

However, if the powers that control scholarship are to be indicative of the power a state holds over its subjects, this state is not one that has remained static over the years in its appearance; this is to say, the ideology of scholarship is ever changing. Perhaps the best example is the way in which Jacques Derrida and other deconstruction scholars grew popular during the 1990’s and completely transformed the projects in which humanities scholars undertook – an ideology which has now waned.  This is to say that, instead of their being a singular State philosophy of academia consistent throughout time, one should instead think of academia having various time-specific State philosophies.

The question that follows is, how is this adherence to the State philosophy maintained? Such considerations lead one away from Deleuze in order to consider Jacques Ranciere’s notion of policing. Ranciere argues that “the essence of the police is to be a partition of the sensible characterized by the absence of a void or a supplement: society consists of groups dedicated to specific modes of action, in places where these occupations are exercised, in modes of being corresponding to these occupations and these places. In this fittingness of functions, places, and ways of being, there is no place for a void”(Rancière 21). This is to say, if one conceives of the state as a cohesive whole in the Deleuzo-Guattarian sense of a machinic-body whose component parts are all interconnected and codependent in their functions of working towards the whole (Deleuze and Guattari 1–2), then the policing of the academic functions may be the assurance of rigid disciplinary boundaries allowing scholars only to address certain questions that fall within the confines of their discipline. It is true that there are some disciplines that have more porous boundaries, but none the less there are only certain questions or topics someone of a certain faculty or discipline can answer – not to mention ideological or theoretical currents within a discipline. The question that follows is, what are these policing functions in academia? They are the editorial boards of journals and publishers; it is them who decide what is and what is not published, and in doing so ensure that scholarship takes a certain form.

As an example, if a biologist were to write a piece of scholarship arguing that Gilles Deleuze works within the confines of Hegelianism (a deliberately unpopular thesis), their work would be rejected by both their fellow comrades in biology as well as those who study Deleuze. It is not foreseeable that such a work would ever be published on both counts. Even if only one of these conditions existed, it is still difficult to foresee the work being published. This is an example as to how there exists control over what arguments can and cannot be made.

Instead of overthrowing the police function to establish the true democracy of dissensus, as Ranciere would argue, the point is instead to acknowledge the inherent political nature of scholarship. In this vein, it is possible to thus consider new ventures in the digital humanities undertaken by INKE researchers. A common thematic is the visualization or manipulation of big data, whether it be through Zotero or New Radial. The key component of such projects is the creation of the map, establishing the scholar as a cartographer. Cartographies – that is, the pluralistic approaches to creating a map – are defined by Michael Shapiro as “articulations of geographic imaginaries and antagonisms based on identity-differences” (Shapiro 18). Samson Opondo and Shapiro thus argue – drawing on Ranciere – that maps police “and reproduce regimes “for the distribution of bodies into functions” and determine what bodies are recognizable and what they can and cannot do within the spaces and times they occupy” (Opondo and Shapiro 2). This is to say, a map situates its bodies – which refers to anything with the power of action and force of existence (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy 93) – into a specific location and a specific role.

This is not to say that maps are necessarily a reaffirmation of the State philosophy of scholarship. While it is possible for one to recreate the traditionalist and precharted map of the status quo, Opondo and Shapiro argue that there exists the potential for a new cartography which “presupposes a struggle between the aforementioned “policing” forces and the forces of “politics,” that disturb or interrupt the refrains, ontologies or rhythms that seek to configure what is intelligible, sensible and therefore possible […] with the aim of proposing and examining different though related critical responses to modern culture” (Opondo and Shapiro 3).  This mode of the new cartography is exactly what I would argue is the function of INKE; it provides fresh and new ways of thinking about and engaging with scholarship. However, replacing one politics with another does not change the inherent political ontology of scholarship. In so far that the visualization of big data in the digital humanities is an act of cartography, it is an act of power and thus inherently political then. One should not view this negatively, as it is an inherently inescapable aspect of scholarship. Instead, in moving forward with such projects, we as scholars aught to be attuned to the form of politics or state that our new digital environments and practices instill and enforce – both within the confines of INKE and otherwise.


Deleuze, Gilles. Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York; Cambridge, Mass.: Zone Books ; Distributed by MIT Press, 1990. Print.

—. “Nomad Thought.” The New Nietzsche. Ed. David B. Allison and David B. Allison. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. Print.

Massumi, Brian. A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992. Print.

Opondo, Sam Okoth, and Michael J. Shapiro. “Introduction : The New Violent Cartography: Geo-Analysis After the Aesthetic Turn.” The New Violent Cartography: Geo-Analysis after the Aesthetic Turn. Ed. Sam Okoth Opondo and Michael J. Shapiro. London [etc.]: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Rancière, Jacques. “Ten Theses on Politics.” Trans. Rachel Bowlby and Davide Panagia. Theory & Event 5.3 (2001): n. pag. Project MUSE. Web. 20 Jan. 2014.

Shapiro, Michael J. “The New Violent Cartography.” Cinematic Geopolitics. London; New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

1 Comment

  1. Marc Muschler
    January 27, 2014

    How could a program such as NewRadial break through the State philosophy of scholarship which you suggest? I agree with you that there is an inherently political aspect to the assertion, interpretation, and categorization of any form of scholarship, but it seems to me that the cartographical possibilities of a program such as NewRadial would allow for a new method of visualizing the impact of such structures in academics. The mapping of such regimes does not necessarily translate to an imposing of the same ideas within a digitized visual environment. While we do risk such concerns through visual representation, at the very least it could provide a useful method of representing the true power of “mainstream” arguments within a specific vein of academics, thereby using it as a tool expression instead of imposition. It seems to me that we might be imposing limits on its capabilities by suggesting that, as of now, we are currently using these programs to reproduce regimes that we have the potential to take down.


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