In the matter of Zygmunt Bauman “rebuts plagiarism accusations” (“Do not confuse pedantry with scholarship”, 3 April), I stand with the accused. In an age when academics are electronically connected to all sorts of sources, it is a bit rich for a younger person to be accusing an older one of not providing enough clues to where his ideas are coming from. Of course, people should be interested in the source of ideas that appear novel or dubious, but technology has now made finding out so easy that the burden of discovery has been effectively shifted to the interested party.
However, what we should begin to worry about is that an excessive preoccupation with sources might veer into what logicians call the “genetic fallacy”, which would have a claim’s validity judged by what one thinks of its source. As someone who has critically engaged with Bauman’s corpus, while I have admired the eclecticism of his sources, I have been much more focused on how all those parts add up to a whole argument. In this context, too much fuss about the integrity of his individual sources is a distraction that is better suited to the world of exam marking. There are plenty of reasons to criticise Bauman’s positions without resorting to charges of plagiarism.
Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology
University of Warwick
Bauman is himself confused about the fundamental principles of intellectual property and academic scholarship. Of course ideas and knowledge are not owned by anyone, and it’s mischievous of Bauman to frame it that way.
“What’s owned”, as he very well knows from the sales and profits of all his books, and what is at issue here, as we keep telling our students, is the precise expression of ideas. That is not a mere technicality, it goes to the heart of the claim to be the author of a piece of writing. Bauman’s words undermine all teachers’ efforts to get their students to develop their own writing capacities, and it’s important that his position be declared utterly wrong and basically self-interested. It brings shame on the discipline of sociology, and instead of an arrogant assertion of your supposed intellectual superiority, you owe us all an apology, Professor Bauman.
Robert van Krieken