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  • From the Editor:A Plea for Research
  • Laurent Dubreuil, Editor

Quite obviously, diacritics is concerned with the place and boundaries of scholarly research in the humanities. In recent years, this place has expanded, due, in part, to the growth of electronic platforms for publication and to new collaborative modes of exchange and elaboration through the internet. At the same time, most of us feel there is less and less space for what we do and what we want to promote, in terms of humanistic research. Publishing articles in respected journals (such as this one) often becomes merely a professional goal: it is seen more as proof of academic “value” than as an opportunity for debating and sharing ideas. One could make the same kind of remarks for the hallmark of the monograph, and add that university presses are somehow cautious with innovative but not readily marketable work. The current structures of both academia and scholarly presses undoubtedly foster a standardization of writing that is then reproduced in newer forms of communication (such as blogs). The global stage also fuels some clear conformism in terms of topics, methods, or studied objects and texts.

The kind of diminution I am referring to is also an effect of a possibly unprecedented attack against the very notion of research in the humanities. Such an attack is political through and through: it is oftentimes coupled with populism and neoliberalism, and it takes a strong hold on the organizations we commonly work (or aim to work) for. The rhetoric sustaining this war is multifold, so let me focus on two points here. First, there is an attempt to restrict the humanities to something that is taught, and to further downsize teaching to “service” (e.g., basic civic education through the history of Western civilization or moralizing literature, “Spanish for Dairy Farmers” instead of Cervantes and Borges, etc.). The growth of temporary positions in higher education—routinely coming with a heavy teaching load and less authority in course design—the lack of course relief made possible by a system of grants comparable to what is (still) offered in the sciences, the widespread “defense” of the humanities as an awareness of the things (of the information?) of the past, the overall bureaucratization of our schools: all serve, along with many other factors, to minimize the share of independent research among those humanists who still adhere—with sometimes a divided mind—to the model of the university as an apt locus for their scholarship. At the same time, the attention of the powers that be is largely drawn to scientific research (at the expense of anything else), and even more so to the most applied part of the latter—which is detrimental to theory in general, either literary, mathematical, physical, or interdisciplinary. In both respects, the research conducted by humanists risks being seen as null and void (as long as it is not science and not engineering), and being short-circuited by a misguided emphasis placed on (service) teaching.

The articles in this issue address some of these current challenges. “Teaching,” in itself, is not a given, nor a simple skill. An activity that is both practical and theoretical, it is at the core of many essays that, throughout millennia, have redefined (and reinvented) [End Page 3] the function and role of scholarship. Here, Michael Kicey touches on pedagogical transfers and transformations by reading Augustine with Kierkegaard, Maya Nitis considers the possibility of teaching without masters, while Stephanie Clare “unearths” Frantz Fanon’s lessons about “geopower.” Being a teacher in the humanities today requires going far beyond tradition and transmission: it is not training, conditioning, nor mere information providing. To bypass the limits of the past and those of pedagogic Taylorism, the free time of research is key to any sound and creative teaching in our fields. Conversely, only our constantly reflexive praxis as professors will save us from the repetition of robotic lectures, be they in aula magna or on the computer screen of a MOOC.

As regards science, we should not take its name as synonymous with research. One could certainly try to import scientific methods into the humanities: this could be done with formalization (from logical...