ONE “DIVISION” MAY HIDE ANOTHER: is the continental/analytic divide more than a socioeconomic one, or a plea for more concepts and less shop

John Protevi has launched an interesting initiative, a discussion group on: “Beyond the Continental / Analytic Divide.”  This is surely a very worthwhile discussion to have provided that it can get out of the institutional blinkers that are in a large part responsible for maintaining this division.

In vulgar terms, philosophy is a job, and much philosophy on the blogosphere is glorified shop-talk: my job, my colleagues and advisors and referees, how I mark, how to publish, pressure groups and lobbies, my school of thought is better than your school. It’s like Al Gore said about smoking and cancer or climate change:

it’s very hard to get somebody whose livelihood depends on certain ideas accept the validity of ideas that would put their pay-check in question.

This is why OOO had such an appeal at the beginning, as it promised to highly increase the proportion of concept-talk to shop-talk. Unfortunately one result of its success is that its marketing model has turned more to book publishing, and the blogs have degenerated into ads for their books and conferences, and the concept-level and quota (despite what one may think of the actual concepts) have gone down.

So the initiative is good, but unfortunately the discussion is to take place on the APA website. This is an amusing procedure: inclusion by exclusion. The link given leads to a divisive site where I would have to declare my educative level and institutional status, and pay for the honour of talking with inclusive “professionals of the profession”.

Is philosophy to continue to be limited to academic specialisation or is it possible to make it something more democratic?

I have lived through empirically the non-pertinence of such a divide to my own training. I was one of the very few students allowed a double enrolment in philosophy when my department split into two: a continental dept and an analytic one. Also as someone doing research on Feyerabend, who in my opinion straddles the divide, I chose to move from analytic Australia to continental France.

Lyotard was enthusiastic about Feyerabend when I discussed it with him. I also attended a seminar on Nomad Thought by the Scottish poet Kenneth White, who discussed Foucault, Deleuze, Lyotard and many other pluralist thinkers. White told me that my work on Feyerabend was my “passport” for being accepted in the seminar (I was not enrolled). So he saw no divide.

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7 Responses to ONE “DIVISION” MAY HIDE ANOTHER: is the continental/analytic divide more than a socioeconomic one, or a plea for more concepts and less shop

  1. Your observation of academical blogging makes me sigh, Terence – it does not go for all of them, but well, those who do nothing else but talking “my job, my coleagues and advisors and referees, how I mark, how to publish, pressure groups and lobbies, and my school of thought is better than your school.” will do so also on their blog… It makes me also sad that they do it in university, as they bring up an entire generation which has forgotten to think about philosophical questions themselves, instead of on whether you belong to school a or b in the interpretation of this certain concept in the work of, say, Arendt.

    Oh, and I hope your title ‘continental/academic’ instead of continental/analytic was a slip of the pen…?


  2. I want to add: to me the question would not be about being more ‘democratic’ (although that would be an effect of changing ones attitude in academia), but about doing philosophy instead of counting your points on the academic ladder!


  3. terenceblake says:

    Thanks for the comment Angela. I have corrected my title. I used “democratic” in reference to Feyerabend’s defence of a democratic relativism as basis for free exchange between people of different ideas and modes of life, and also to Laruelle’s idea of a democracy of thought where no discipline is foundational. You can see a related post here.


  4. It could have also been a Freudian mistake (the title) :-).

    Thanks for the explanation of ‘democratic’ – that adds more food for thought!


  5. Jason Hills says:


    Given that the APA is dominated by the analytic tradition, hosting it at the APA and requiring the usual “badges of reputation” that are degree and institutional affiliation are problematic. It is as you say: mainstream philosophy in the U.S. is very, very blinkered, and it is so that many whose livelihoods depend upon denying the divide are hard to talk to. Aside, I would also concur with your comments about OOO. I had such hope….

    This is something that I’ve tried to bring up on a few blogs. One of the primary problems of the divide is how it is materially and institutionally grounded. We can “chat” all we want, but one tradition dominates the job market and excludes the other traditions, which forces scholars of that tradition to live on the margins and/or to leave the profession. I’ve brought this up a few times at NewApps and was so denounced for it the first time that I got 1000 hits on my academic credentials and didn’t return to the site for 2 years.

    I am agreeing with you: we need to distinguish between the “shop-talk” and the “conceptual-talk,” but we also need to discuss how they are related. But mainstream philosophy in the U.S. risks losing its institutional supremacy.

    As a for instance, why is Asian philosophy almost never mentioned? That intellectual tradition dominates a large chunk of the globe in ways that, for instance, Zoroastrianism or Bahai’a do not (not to leave out some Persian/central Asian representative.


  6. Jason Hills says:

    p.s. What to I want in this debate?

    I think it impractical and almost silly to demand institutional justice; e.g., “change everything now!” I would just settle for public acknowledgment of the material-institutonal conditions that (partially) foreclose a general, public discussion on the divide. I will not have a prolonged, serious conversation with a person who will not at least put that on the table for discussion. But … that means I discuss it with few.

    Aside, I was on the edge of leaving academia because I could not land a job despite excellent credentials, but I have secured a position at a “junior college,” which also labels one as “not serious” in the U.S. among many. That occurs regardless of intellectual divides and is a separate issue.


  7. terenceblake says:

    I find most of the NewApps posts unreadable, and it seems to be getting worse, premised as they are on being part of, and very interested in, the institutional inscription of philosophy and various other informal indicators associated with that institutional existence. Sometimes something more philosophical catches my eye, but that is pretty rare.

    I think, and your second comment seems to confirm it, that we do not “chat” enough, the dialogues and exchanges are too often tied to rank and status and codified interests. I think not enough people are expressing themselves on philosophical blogs, and that this gives a very misleading impression of the state of philosophical research on various topics, and on the sort of things that people find interesting or could find interesting. People are too intimidated by academic credentials, or fearful of the often condescending (or worse!) treatment they receive if they dare to make a comment.

    Recently I wanted to stop blogging as i felt that over the last 3 years it had taken up far too much of my time and energy, for so little return in terms of useful feedback, dialogue, inspiration and encouragement. Yet I continue to blog because that is part of who I am, not the blogging itself, as it is just one possible instantiation of something else, but of what? I think it is not so much the need to “express myself” as the need to have a trans-subjective context, however onesided, for inscribing my work with various concepts, arguments, and texts. I am so constituted that I am doing this all thetime, and thinking it in my head or writing it down in an intellectual journal is not enough. Nor is ordinary conversation, at least not in the sort of conversations I have access to, a sufficient “outlet” for such work.

    As to your personal status, we have both seen people who succeeded with far less to contribute, because they were lucky (and I include social luck, and economic luck here) and because they worked on that success. We are probably forever in the bind of seeking recognition from people whose status of being able to accord recognition (or not) seems unjust to us.


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