Tuesday, May 04, 2010

philosophy of technology postmortem

Last week was the last week of teaching for Spring semester. I asked the students in my Philosophy of Technology course P.D.'s end of term questions:

What authors from the course would you strongly recommending keeping? Which are particularly insightful and valuable to read now?

Which authors would you recommend leaving out next time? Which seem like historical relics with nothing insightful to offer?

(Here's my syllabus for comparison.)

Here are the highlights:
             yay   boo
Heidegger 12 2
Kurzweil 12 6
Dewey 11 1
Mitcham 11 1
Marcuse 9 1
D. Haraway 7 2
Latour 6 3
A. Borgmann 6 0
W. Berry 6 7
H. Dreyfus 1 5

L. Winner 5 2
Habermas 4 1
Ellul 2 3
Feenberg 2 5
Ortega 1 4

D. Browning 4 3
McDermott 3 4
Hickman 1 5
A few interesting things show up, here. I'm rather impressed by the allegiance to Heidegger, given how much we all struggled with it. And the Dreyfus essay we read on Heidegger, which I thought did a lot to help make Heidegger clear, was pretty much panned! (In the same vein, Dewey did well, but Hickman didn't.)

The popularity of Kurzweil is no surprise, as it was a very accessible and exciting book; nor is the fact that a number of students disliked it. I'm really surprised by the number of people who like Carl Mitcham's book. I thought it was a terrible mess myself, full of too-brief summaries of too many figures in a loose organization. Perhaps it is just a reflection of how important it is to have a general secondary source book in a course like this. My inclination is to try to find a better one.

Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway both did remarkably well, considering, especially since I spent very little time on Haraway.

Of the readings that got 12+ responses, Wendell Berry's short piece, "Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer" was clearly the most controversial. This may be a result of the fact that few students agreed with Berry, but we had a pretty good discussion.

I put that second group aside to show how the "major" philosophers of technology tended to get a fairly lukewarm response. Heidegger, Dewey, Mitcham, Marcuse, and Borgmann are all canonical figures (such as they are) that did fairly well. Winner did okay, and Habermas, Ellul, Feenberg, and Ortega y Gasset didn't do so hot. Likewise, the third group, which are the Americanists (besides Dewey), didn't do so hot.

I haven't talked much to P.D. about how he's used the results of these little questionnaires, but I'm sort of more inclined to keep the controversial or even negatively-ranked authors if they got a very high response rate – it means they had an impact – while junking those that got very low responses, suggesting that students weren't made to care one way or the other.

Also, one student wrote in that next time I should add McLuhan and Derrida to the list.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Opportunity Lost

I received the following unfortunate announcement in my inbox today:
Following nearly fifty years of self-publication, The Southern Journal of Philosophy now appears under the imprint of its new publisher, Wiley-Blackwell. Through increased exposure and assorted logistical and cosmetic updates, the partnership with Wiley-Blackwell promises to broaden the appeal and deepen the impact of the work published in the SJP.
This seems like a move in precisely the wrong direction! I don't have anything personal or professional invested in SJP (I've read a couple of good articles originally printed there, I think), but going from self-publication to a major publishing house is terrible news (whatever one things of Wiley-Blackwell compared to other such publishers). This is a time when the field really needs high-quality, open access journals. It is a time when whole electronic systems for manuscript submission and review can be got cheaply, if not free via open source software. It is a time when online publication is free and easy, and print-on-demand publishing can be had at a reasonable price if a paper copy of the journal is a must. And, as ever, all of the substantive intellectual labor of review and editing is done more or less pro bono by the editorial staff and volunteer referees, and perhaps a couple of meagerly-rewarded graduate students.

So it's really unfortunate in this situation that SJP is going in the direction of more traditional publishing. What a lost opportunity.