Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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Mimesis and alterity

Posted by Arjendu on April 6, 2011

Lunch-time 10 min blogging: It takes effort at a place like Carleton to have your social circle restricted to your department, or even to the general area: From the first day I arrived here, my friends have been from all across campus, and all across the Dewey decimal system. This is true whether you are a faculty member or a student, I believe. And is, as far as I can tell, exactly the opposite of the situation at large schools, where it takes effort to spend significant amounts of time with people who are not in a field related to yours pretty closely.

Given how much we are influenced by whom we spend time, and how much ‘casual conversation’ is a critical part of your intellectual world this affects in large measure who we are professionally in all sorts of subtle ways. That is, who we are as a result of our environment isn’t just about the day-to-day of small departments or large teaching loads, but also affected by “how we come to adopt or assimilate another’s nature or culture (mimesis), and also how we come to identify/distance ourselves with/from it (alterity).”[directly quoted from the Wikipedia article describing Michael Taussig’s work on such things.]

For instance, I think my research suffers from the lack of intellectual resonance resulting from not being bathed in ideas relating to it; I can tell the difference when this has happened on my longer term visits to places like the Max Planck Institute or the Kavli Institute. At the same time, one of the pleasures of Carleton, and something I celebrate is the breadth of ideas to which I am exposed regularly — whether it be about Dewey’s educational philosophy, the search for Timbuctoo as a post-colonial romantic notion.

There you are, hypothetical reader (a younger me, perhaps), perusing this blog because you are wondering about what life at a liberal arts college is like compared to one at the Research University (which is all you’ve known so far) — add this to your list.


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