Skepticism

Skepchick Quickies 9.3

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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21 Comments

  1. I’ve never really understood the making of specific foci into departments. Any department ending in studies always seemed like a subset of the sociology and history department that was spun off for marketing reasons. Same, Egyptology and its derivatives. Reasonable things to be a professor of within another department, but a department and an undergraduate degree? These just seem like divisions that create unnecesary overhead.

  2. That said, I think there’s a good argument for still having women’s studies courses (and others like them) if the scholarship content of the courses is good.

    The fact is, there’s a lot going on from a purely literary perspective in, say, Shakespeare, that attempting an analysis of the language and poetry — the form of the material — simultaneously with a (feminist, racial, philosophical, etc.) critique of the content of the material would be almost impossible to do in depth. You could introduce all those things in a low-number course, but once you start looking at any one of those in depth, you suddenly have a whole course worth of material to cover.

    And then consider the fact that each form of critique requires a completely different set of background material. At a bare minimum, a literary critique requires knowledge of literary history, a feminist critique requires knowledge of feminist history, and so on. When you start trying to cram all of the required background into the student’s history courses, you run into the same problem you did with the literature courses, and you quickly end up with a wide diversity of specialised history courses as well. And then those history courses might have less to do with one another than they do with their associated topical criticism courses… At which point you group them together under a major and call it a day.

    You wouldn’t cram electrical engineers and chemical engineers into the same classes, beyond a certain point, because the specialised material diverges very quickly. Why do the same for the various sub-disciplines of lit crit or history?

    Soft subjects are easy to shit on, because they very, very frequently spawn a load of worthless navel-gazing bullshit. (Particularly lit crit: we’ve all seen horrible examples of sloppy pomo sewage.) However, that doesn’t mean there’s no a reason that the various departments have developed they way they did. That the departments are sometimes filled with braindead hacks doesn’t mean the distinctions between them are invalid.

  3. @SKrap % @davew:

    I’m going to concur. I don’t know if it makes me a traitor to my gender (but I’ve been accused of that anyway), but I never understood the concept of “Women’s Studies”. I’ve always felt that the more you actively segregate, the less equal you make yourself. Study sociology and history and specialize in women’s issues all you like, but you have to have the broader disciplinary training and creds to have a fuller grasp on the subject.

    It’s kind of like being a paleontologist – you have to be a geologist or an evolutionary biologist before you take the next step. Or being a bio major before you’re a physician.

  4. @Joshua: Courses, certainly. There are topics and viewpoints included in this sort of coursework that can’t really be found anywhere else. Its the creation of departmental structures that I see as inefficient, both from a financial standpoint and for the developemtn of the field(s).

  5. A little digging shows that Meredith College is also considering dropping other majors, including potentially useful things like computer science. The linked blog is just taking the sensationalist angle of “women’s college” and “women’s studies” to make it look like something actually worth discussing. It’s a college that is having financial trouble, so they are looking at unpopular courses and departments that can be removed. (Unpopular meaning that few students are signing up).

    I don’t think it has any deeper meaning.

    I am a Hedge

  6. @Im a Hedge: A little digging shows that Meredith College is also considering dropping other majors, including potentially useful things like computer science.

    But if you dig even deeper you’ll find that their only getting rid of computer science because of a pink laptop shortage.

  7. @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina): She’s nothing!

    I predicted Chicxulub!
    Did I warn anyone? Of COURSE I did. I tried to get the word out, but it was hard since the printing press and paper hadn’t been invented yet (the species that would invent them hadn’t even been invented yet).
    I told everyone “forget Aruba, forget Cancun. They’ll be way too hot this year. Bali is the place, or even Bangkok.”
    But did anyone listen?
    N-o-O-O-O-o-o!
    Oh, a few crustaceans swam into a cave, and some rats crawled under a rock, but that was about it.
    Big deal!

    PS. “tunnel to Atlantis” is a GREAT euphemism.

  8. @Joshua: Sure, you wouldn’t put Chem E’s and EE’s in the same classes… if for no other reason than you can be reasonably sure the Chem E’s will have dressed themselves and tied their own shoes, feats for which EEs need special classes (worth 6 credit hours if you take both!). ;-) However, you would put both of them in the same department… the department of Engineering. Why? Because while the specifics of their educational requirements are different, the broad strokes of them are very similar. It’s similar to putting Medievalists (who usually learn 2-3 languages) with American History majors (who are usually aware of 2-3 languages, and may even have mastered one). ;-)

  9. @Mark Hall: Except that’s not true. At least the way BU did it, there were separate departments for Aerospace & Mechanical, Computer & Electrical, Biomedical, and Manufacturing (which mutated into something else now) Engineering. All grouped under a larger “College of Engineering”. Just like women’s studies, cultural studies, etc. are all separate departments under the College of Arts & Sciences.

  10. I’v struggled to take womens studies seriously. I know it must be taught seriously in many places and is just as valid as any other subject but…. Essentially I can’t stop assosiating it with my experiance at uni when my quantum mechanics class had to wait outside so the women’s studies class could hear then end of a lecture based around the theme that trees=nature, nature=women (?), therefore deforestation is sexist. Really.

  11. I tend to associate it with the class where I was told I was being phallocentric for suggesting that a female character might have been crazy for a while, since most of her friends growing up were furniture. She spent most of the actual story trying to talk to the person stalking her from behind the wallpaper.

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