The Oxford Protocol : Modules

The Dedisciplinary Environment

[These architectures are likely to be heteromorphic – the Oxford protocol]

As far as I can tell, the verb dediscipline first appeared slightly less than four decades ago in a meeting of historians to debate and challenge what was then a recent and potent archaeology of prison discipline [No proper names – ed.]. The author of that archaeology, also affiliated with a radical group of penal campaigners, responded that the intelligibility of relations between power and knowledge would not and should not foster an interdisciplinary encounter. Instead, it ought to encourage the shared work of people seeking to de-discipline themselves. So, scholars puzzled by a new account of discipline then insisted on disciplinary rights and were answered with a rejection of interdisciplinarity in the name of dedisciplinarity. Not only that: the entire enterprise explicitly wove together a reflexion on enlightened power and enlightenment knowledge [and no citations nor footnotes – ed.].

That attention to enlightenment power/knowledge has immediate relevance, especially if enlightenment be understood as an event in the history of mediation [ACLS proposal on the future of enlightenment]. It’s often thought that if, somehow, one could manufacture an exhaustive inventory of all the relations and all the images of the world, the cosmos would not only survive, but at last become perfect. Such a complete map would let one establish a more complex and more regular pattern for lives. It is as though the crisis to be faced is a census problem, that of imperfect and incomplete information, a lack of global vision. [Maybe getting unstuck requires making knowledge more completeThreshold module] What is needed, we’re told, is a better picture of the world without us so the world can work better with us. Hence arises the contemporary cult of the encyclopedic image bank, most now owned by private corporations devoted to maintaining vast bunkers for digital storage and tax avoidance. In very different ways, these corporations’ projects embody the enlightenment notion that a picture-perfect utopia would be secured by vast cartographic assemblages of every trace and every image in the world [we just follow the prompts from our informationally enhanced environmentsApotheosis module].

Alongside this programme flourishes the cult of audit culture and putatively transparent accountability, in whose name the work of artisans, specialists, practitioners and so-called welfare scroungers must be entirely subject, in exquisite detail, to the scrutiny and commercial management of corps of formulaic administrators, fiscal buccaneers and wealth creators. In the sciences, too, the conceit is nourished by the apotheosis of big data, which holds that innovative and unexpected knowledge can be secured from the rigorous, automated and large-scale handling of the unprecedentedly vast documentary sets available online: fact fracking. Ignore, for the moment, the fact that big data’s nothing new in the long history of the sciences. The terminology of engineering and exploitation is significant here [still no footnotes or citations – ed.] New hypotheses in sociology, in epidemiology or in climatology would allegedly be developed by trawling and mining pristine quarries and jungles of web-based data.

At exactly the same time, resistance to surveillance, individualist and military desires for privacy, and forceful campaigns by traditional and indigenous owners against universalist expropriation by bio-prospectors or eco-pirates, have all relied on the notion that images of all the world are, precisely, the cause of the catastrophe they pretend to prevent. This is especially the case because it’s often argued that universal surveys in fact make what they claim simply to picture. [Where does all of this leave us in an age when open access of research and data (rather than copyright) is becoming a major policy issue, while patents are seen as a proxy indicator of economic impact?Sciences/Humanities module] Apparently exhaustive maps were very often tools of exploitation and oppression. The world-maps left out of their allegedly universal and enlightened pictures exactly those agents whose rights the mapmakers’ masters wished to deny or confiscate. They arbitrarily fixed in place the webs of relation and patterns of movement whose dynamism and fluidity might provide resources against the cartographers’ rule and authority. They encouraged those agents whom they put in their encyclopedias and charts to change their ways of life so as better to conform to the alien categories the classifiers had invented. Economists’ actions help make the markets they then treat as the basis of global order. And, correspondingly, it’s often been claimed that important roots of the politico-economic and ecological crisis lie in the very enterprise of these dreams of perfect knowledge, gathered at the centre, contemptuous of or at least full of condescension to those who, confined to the map’s margins, may have local knowledge but cannot be trusted to see the big picture. Consider, for example, market capitalism’s intriguing relation with the parochial and the partial. [Faith in markets was the problemThreshold module] The theory of the invisible hand holds that if all agents follow only their most immediately local interests then general welfare is maximized, while the theory of marginalities holds that agents’ local knowledge and investments should be discounted from calculation so that the world market may flourish as model and reality.

The puzzle is whether a complete world-image enables or hobbles welfare. Decisively, the puzzle requires us to engage with different modes of acting in and representing the world, to recognize the existence of many different past and present forms of universal mapping, by no means limited to nor mastered by the grids of familiar cartographies [Our cultures tend to be good at playing with and describing spaceTopology module]. Interactions between and conflicts over the shaping of the world have become some of the most pressing concerns in political and ecological concerns. [We need a more thorough mapping of the protocols for producing and maintaining de-disciplinarityPlatform module] Not coincidentally, the schemes of which current fantasies of digital universalism are the descendants proposed the rather literal construction of various kinds of platform. Above the altars of cloistered halls in which the joint work of inquisition and redemption was performed, pious artisans constructed magnificent platforms that showed the sacred order of disciplines, each figured as female, with their corresponding mythic founder, each figured as male. In the great public squares of burgeoning industrial cities, expository entrepreneurs built huge globes and theatres designed to show fee-paying punters the universal order of the bourgeois world. Modernist visionaries organized expositions, stocked with charts, photos, pageants and graphs all aiming at liberation through multimedia play. Most significantly, these visionaries also drew uchronic maps, the very first of which is at the end of this module. [This looks like a citation – ed.] Uchronia entertained the existence of decisive past bifurcations whose tell-tale consequences could somehow be reversed, allowing cunning explorations directed along the paths not taken. [There are examples abounding of topological insights related to complex temporality as a necessary step forwardTopology module]

Above all, in the western tradition the platform that allowed survival from the universal deluge, the Ark, was always also taken to be the first universal museum. The protagonists of the sciences’ instauration gleefully resuscitated a visionary scriptural sentiment that linked travel with the increase of knowledge. [The migration of protocols can promote de-disciplinarityProtocol module]. This was not simply a reflexion on the virtues of preservation of fragile specimens of life from hostile threat. It also long underwrote the claim that the exhaustive collection was also a path to salvation [a numinous noosphereApotheosis module]. Yet just those scholars who made these arks also bewailed the flood of data, in print and image, which threatened to overwhelm the world of learning and culture. Information brokerage and enlightened encyclopedism thus accompanied each other in each successive knowledge crisis. It is striking that many of those who most promoted such maps, and schemes, and platforms, did so in the name of a fundamental critique of existing discipline. They all sought the way out. De-disciplinarity has been the generative principle for most past orders of knowledge. [The weakness of interdisciplinarity is that it does not disturb disciplinarity – ACLS proposal on the future of enlightenment]. Mapping is indeed never innocent. But that certainly does not mean that it is always tyrannic. Is there a way of doing justice to the tasks of assemblage and of sustenance embodied in images of all of a world?


Oxford Group, January 2014: Academy Turned Inside Out | Apotheosis | Core Technology | The Dedisciplinary Environment | Explanatory/Descriptive? | Fiction | Good Explanation | Mediation | Platform | Polemic | Portal | Problems | Protocol | Protocol (II) | Search*/Know* | Sciences/Humanities | Stuckness | Threshold Effects | Topology | Touchstones