Transformations of Disciplines through Their Texts: An Edited Transcription of a Talk to the Seminar on the Diversity of Language and the Structure of Power and an Ensuing Discussion at the University of Pennsylvania

Essay Excerpt

The participating faculty in the Diversity of Language seminar were drawn from the departments of American civilization, anthropology, comparative literature and literary theory, education, English, folklore and folklife, history, landscape architecture, and Romance languages.

I was asked to make the first presentation entitled, "Transformations of Disciplines Through Their Texts," to focus the discussion for the year. In the talk, the social sciences were contrasted with the humanities by addressing the construction of texts in ethnographic practice, and the current challenges to received practice posed by the way inquiry is conducted in the humanities.

Materials were circulated in advance of the seminar and read by participants. I wrote a fable to stimulate discussion.

The following report is based on a highly edited transcription of the oral and visual seminar presentation, and the ensuing discussion. The tape recording and editing was initially done by Kathy Neustadt, a graduate student of folklore who serves as administrative assistant to the seminar. (Rose, 317-318)

About the Author

Dan Rose is professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania where he taught In Landscape Architecture in the School of Design and also in the Department of Anthropology. Dan holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and has taught in the areas of ethnography, cultural landscape, corporations and nature and culture.

In addition to publishing books and articles and serving on editorial boards he makes artist books and gallery installations that address major humanist themes such as nature and culture, the in-corporation of human life in market culture, and questions of human evolution and the future of humanity. Dan has exhibited his books at Harvard and Penn Libraries as well as at galleries in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.

Trained as a cultural anthropologist for living in foreign communities, conducting ethnography, and then writing up the experience, he recently spent four years studying his shampoo. He wrote on the subject and published a paper entitled "Active Ingredients."

The intellectual problems that he addresses in the artist books and scholarly articles are ways in which humans transform the physical world and thereby themselves, and how language mediated by the body moves matter and constructs the world of mass market commodities such as shampoo, automobiles, the computer and the world-wide web.

Dan lives in Vermont and has created a studio, artist space and consultancy in Adams, Massachusetts, called Pure Theory (formerly Bob's Used Furniture). His art continues to evolve in fascinating and unexpected ways.

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