Dancing to a one-note tune

March 19, 2009

The fashion in universities is to at best ignore and at worst undermine the methodological and intellectual integrity of disciplines by creating spurious new school identities. These pop into existence overnight driven by the perceived needs of the management and administration in stark contrast to the gradual emergence of genuine disciplinary identities through years of scholarship.

Similarly, the Arts and Humanities Research Council has invented a new taxonomy for the arts and humanities ("High-impact performances", 12 March): "history, thought and systems of belief"; "creative and performing arts"; "languages and literatures"; and "cultures and heritage". I am at a loss as to what is left for the final category that is not covered by the other three, but such details are irrelevant compared to the lunacy of the guiding idea of this initiative, which is to organise scholarship around the impact agenda.

The AHRC has never costed the impact of scholarship in terms of overseas studentships, publishing, academic visits to and from other countries and so on. Instead, it is dancing to the tune of philistines in the Government who are interested in academic research only if it leads to museum exhibitions or TV costume dramas.

UK academics are in competition with scholars elsewhere whose only goal is to advance knowledge in their fields. Unless we are encouraged to make that our priority, we risk squandering what's left of our intellectual and academic wealth in favour of dancing dons of the kind that so aptly illustrated your story.

James Ladyman, University of Bristol.

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