Submitted by Jim Aune on April 5, 2012 - 5:53pm
I entered graduate school in COMM in the fall of 1975. I had a vague sense that there was a split between the social science and humanities wings of the field formerly known as speech. The instant I entered grad school I discovered a battle was going on for my soul. I had (he said immodestly) astronomically high GRE's and a nearly 4.0 (3.93 to be precise) GPA from a then-good liberal arts college (don't get me started on what it's like now). At that time one had to take both rhetorical methods and social science methods as an MA student, and I did rather well at both. At that time, as compared to now, there was no "qualitative" or "ethnographic" work in the social sciences and "media studies" was, as Dan Drezner puts it, "piss-poor monocausal social science." Cultural studies didn't arrive in the US till roughly 1983. I found my first year of graduate school profoundly disappointing. History of rhetorical theory was moribund. Public address was worse. Interpersonal communication was the name of the game, and it was done at my institution as. . well. piss-poor monocausal social science. I thought of not finishing my thesis and going on to work in business, but I had funding for another year. Then Tom Farrell came along, and reading both Habermas's Legitimation Crisis and Horkheimer/Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment in fall 1976 made me think I might actually learn something new. But at the time it was clear that there were hopes on both sides of the rhetoric/comm divide that I would decide to jump one way or the other. The accusations were quite open in class: the comm people had open contempt for the refusal of the rhetoricians to, like, test hypotheses. The rhetoricians condemned the comm people for their firm grasp of the trivial, usually citing Richard Weaver in the process.
As I matured, and as comm matured, I developed a greater understanding of what I still think of as "real" social sciences like economics and sociology. And, as I look back, I think I might have been a pretty good ethnographer. But I digress. The little tiff (interesting for a tiff) between our own jb and syntaxfactory about literature made me think of this, as well as a colloquium in my department today that. . well. . . seemed to display the same firm grasp of the trivial that is the usual accusation social scientists face. What is different now, I think, is that we just mutter amongst ourselves in our subdisciplinary silos about what wankers the "other" folks in the department are. Open conflict is more rare, as compared to the 1970's.
Is this a good or a bad thing?