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Derrida and the question of discipline

Briggs, Robert (2000) Derrida and the question of discipline. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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By way of a series of singular investigations, this thesis explores the problematics of discipline and disciplinarity as these appear across a range of knowledges and practices that constitute humanities research today. Operating within and contributing to the specific debates of such 'knowledges' as philosophy, cultural studies, literary criticism, legal studies, environmental ethics and education, these investigations analyse the configuration of those debates in relation to their specific 'techniques' of presentation and engagement. Recurring issues which arise include the institutional and material conditions of humanities research and writing; the possible strategies for engaging and following the work of others; the differential forms and effects of interdisciplinarity; the transformative potential of the work of discipline; and the potential justifications of humanities scholarship.

As a concept receiving increasing focus within the humanities, 'discipline' is routinely employed to identify and distinguish between any number of objects, including knowledges, techniques, powers, conducts, sites and practices. In this thesis, however, the questioning of discipline approaches discipline(s) as always already divided such that the work or effects of discipline are irreducible to forms of knowledge, power and so forth. Such a disciplinary division is thus explored insofar as it manifests in undecidable divisions between materiality and ideality, transformative potential and judicial privilege, institutional positivity and incalculable excess, but also as a structural interdisciplinarity which demonstrates the significance of disciplinary specialisation and (or as) interdisciplinary dissemination. While such undecidability is often thought to challenge the formulations of disciplinary programs, this thesis affirms both the undecidability of disciplinary division(s) and the already posited disciplinary programs as the condition of possibility of new research.

While the questioning of discipline is associated primarily with Foucault, this thesis turns to Derrida in order to contribute further to that questioning without denying the value of Foucault's original investigations. The possibility of conducting new research in the humanities is thus affirmed not so much on the basis of a critical imperative as by way of a necessary and general yet differential affirmation of affirmation in the form of ethico­ speculative commentary. Consequently, while Derrida marks the locus of the various speculations and transformations, the discussion as a whole remains infused with and by a certain spirit not just of Foucault but also of many Enlightenment thinkers (such as Kant, Hegel and Marx), a spirit that remains a condition of the humanities as an institution today. But if an affirmation of affirmation can be understood to forestall the certainty of the critical imperative, this is not to deny the work of transformation that may be found at the heart of humanities critique. Instead, the question of discipline may be what opens both the future and the possibility of a transformation that exceeds such ideals yet which may momentarily manifest itself within (among other things) the 'discipline(s)' of 'deconstruction' .

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Lucy, Niall
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