A William James moment: Mariana Valverde on the foundations of disciplines, and what this can illuminate about how to respond to the co-opting of ‘interdisciplinarity’ as hollow administrative jargon. She uses the term ‘infradiscipline’ to describe the knowledge production regime from which contemporary disciplines arose, and argues for recovering this sense of scholarship to counter the prevailing trend toward financializing the value of universities.

In a way, I think she implies that university administrators reach for easy measures and accepted standards for decision making (ex. playing the game of ‘what would Harvard do?’) because there are few opportunities or incentives to do otherwise. But that the increasing reliance on performance measures to decide what is and isn’t valuable and is not going away:

So how might we start a root-and-branch conversation leading to solid intellectual foundations for our categorizations, one that would produce academic (rather than financial) criteria for what to keep and what to kill? ‘We’ve always done it this way’ and ‘Harvard does it this way’ are appeals to hierarchy and tradition that ring increasingly hollow.

And so, she argues, a good response to the increasing use of performance metrics for administrative decision making is to shift the conversation toward one about how we ended up here and why, to dig into our intellectual history for places where things could have gone otherwise – like that old saw about the key to the future being found in the past.