Scholars Examine Impact of Profit Culture on Humanities Research

August 12, 2011 - News Release

If external funding motivates much of the research in Canadian universities today, what is the effect on the quality of humanities scholarship? A new book of essays co-edited by a University of Guelph professor discusses the purpose of post-secondary education and the influence of corporate culture on the arts and sciences.

Retooling the Humanities: The Culture of Research in Canadian Universities was co-edited by Smaro Kamboureli, a professor in Guelph’s School of English and Theatre Studies (SETS), and Daniel Coleman of McMaster University. Contributors include U of G’s Susan Brown, SETS, and Donna Palmateer Pennee, who was associate dean of arts and science during the book’s production.

“The book has a particular focus on the recent developments in the culture of research and their implications,” Kamboureli said. “The ability to secure grants has become an important measuring stick for humanities researchers, and this has had an impact on both the production and dissemination of knowledge coming out of Canadian universities.”

Kamboureli, a Canada Research Chair in Critical Studies in Canadian Literature who researches diaspora studies in Canada, said knowledge is increasingly viewed as a commodity. “It would seem that only results you can put a dollar figure on count. And yet, what we do in the humanities doesn’t necessarily translate directly into dollars. For most of us, the purpose of research is to think and produce ideas. How can a monetary value be assigned to that?

“If we devalue knowledge for its own sake, then we produce citizens who think primarily in terms of the bottom line — profit. However, for a society to function, we also need to develop a discriminating sense of values and ideas.”

That said, according to Brown’s essay in the volume, there is a potentially positive outcome — the emphasis on digitization. The shift toward digital education in the humanities offers a much larger pool of resources and new tools for scholarly engagement, Kamboureli said.

Literary scholars and historians will discuss this subject at a conference at U of G next spring called “Cultural Histories: Emergent Theories, Methods and the Digital Turn,” being organized by Kamboureli and Brown. More information is available here.

“It will be an exciting conference where we can embrace the changes in our field and consider new directions,” said Kamboureli.

Retooling the Humanities: The Culture of Research in Canadian Universities is published by the University of Alberta Press.

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