[csaa-forum] RE: Another attack on CS in the Oz

Mark Davis davismr at unimelb.edu.au
Fri Jul 28 22:13:24 CST 2006

With all due respect to those concerned, I'm not convinced that Emma
Dawson is making any attempt to 'delegitimise' academic discussion. As she

>Lest I be sternly rebuked by fellow students and researchers, let me make
it clear that I fully >support rigorous scholarship and will vigorously
defend the right of academics to contribute to >the intellectual
development of the human race at the most theoretical level. The
apparently >abstract and often obscure work by researchers in social
sciences and cultural studies is >essential to the development of ideas.

Nor, as someone suggested, is she suggesting that: 'it is OK for academics
to engage in abstract theorising, but then says we can't do it in relation
to this topic.'

Rather, she raises some salient points about the failure of 'theory' in
public debate, whilst deriding conservative anti-multiculturalism.

There is, I think, a useful and necessary debate to be had about this lack
of impact. Bewilderingly, from where I sit, even after three decades of
'theory' - and of neoliberalism - it is still primarily old-fashioned
liberals representing progressive positions in public debate. While there
are plenty of institutional reasons for that, I don't think 'we' can blame
others for ever. The penultimate para of her piece stands both as a
defense of our intellectual practice, and as an indictment of our relative
failure to work the public sphere proper:

>Australia can ill afford this kind of intellectual segregation: while
conservatives lament that our >universities are held captive by left-wing
thought, progressives should also be distressed by >their inability to
penetrate the public sphere and to counter the often destructive and
ill->informed statements of commentators whose pronouncements could
easily be destroyed by a >well-researched and clearly written argument.

Disclosure: while I don't know Emma, I do know her work and am one of the
OzProspect board members who granted her fellowship.

Best wishes for the conference

NB: someone earlier made a throwaway point about Emma's belonging to a
tank whilst criticising them. OzProspect is non-partisan and survives,
just, on a miniscule budget compared to multimillion dollar partisan
juggernauts like the CIS. Equivalence? We wish!


Mark Davis
Publishing and Communications Program
Department of English with Cultural Studies
University of Melbourne

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