Who decides what is academic?

Finally, power is back on in (parts) of Lower Manhattan, so here is my extremely late blog post. Please forgive my ramblings, as living in the dark for 5 days has gone to my head!

Robert B Ray’s “Film and Literature” looks the relatively recent academic work done on film and literature together. If it was (and in some cases, still is) so difficult for some academics see film and literature (as one entity) as a subject worthy of academia, who and what determines what can be studied?

Anything in academia usually needs to be validated in order to be “worthy” of study. Ray notes that in the 60s and 70s, “the market for Ph.D’s in literature fell apart” (129). This kind of economic downfall was indicative of the outlooks and views on literature—that people were not interested in it and did not believe it to be valuable. This kind of notion of literature being unworthy of study is slightly alien to academics today. So based on what Ray has said, what is considered worthy of academia is to be decided by the academics themselves, and the economic climate (what is in demand). Yet, if this is the case, film and literature is considered to be part of academia, but how did it get this way? Ray offers no direct chronology. But if I were to use the example of the Harry Potter film series, I believe that many will consider it to be non-academic (and to some extent, some don’t believe the book series to be academic as well, even though there are academic courses on children’s literature). So while there is no one person that can define what is academic or not, it is people such a Ray that push for film and literature studies. So just by having one person who believes something can be studies and research, it gives some credibility. So if we are to revisit Harry Potter, just by having someone who believes there is validity to study it (maybe about how the working class within the wizarding world is consciously ignored by both the books and the films), then it is already validated.

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One Response to Who decides what is academic?

  1. I fully agree with your last statement. If there is even one person who sees the validity in something, and can write a successful, engaging analysis of what they perceive its significance to me, it can become part of the academic world. Besides, academia is not a monolith. There are a lot of academic essays written on Harry Potter (one of my former QC professors, Veronica Schanoes, with whom I took a course on children’s fantasy, wrote one of the best essays on Harry Potter I’ve ever read), and I’m sure there are still people in academia (Howard Bloom, I’m looking at you) who would refuse to recognize them. So I think the answer of who decides what is academic would be those who have proven themselves to be scholars or experts in that specific realm. So if it gets published in a journal, than that’s already indicative of some percentage of acceptance in that field.

    In Ray’s “Film and Literature,” on page 123, he says that those who followed Barthe’s lead in investigating narrative intertextuality “distinguished themselves by appearing more interested in ideology and theory than in either literature and film per se. But it was their training in the latter two that enabled them to detect the elaborate intertextual, ideological scaffolding that sustained popular fictions.” He goes on to say that it was Indian’s comp lit students that founded a Marxist journal that explores various narrative media. Then on the following page, 124, he says, “Film and Literature’s basic interest in how stories travel from medium to medium might have allowed the field to anticipate contemporary theory’s linked concerns with narrative, intertextuality, and ideology.”

    The reason I point that out, and why I think it relates to the question of who decides what is academic, is because I think it’s telling of how these distinct forms of media inform each other. I said before that experts in specific fields decide what is worthy, and that’s just looking at it on a micro level. On the flipside, the macro level would be looking at all of it blanketed by the overarching fields of theory, ideology, narrative, and intertextuality. So whenever something is able to be discussed an analyzed through those lens, it can be academic. Analyzing how stories travel from medium to medium doesn’t just tell us about how stories travel from medium to medium, it tells us about how we tell stories in general, and branches off into a multitude of implications that many fields.

    The comp lit students who studied literature saw various forms of media to be significant in how they functioned as narratives, and how ideologies changed “indiscriminately” among them. They recognized them as having things to say that transcend their individual form.

    So those are two possible ways in which something can be considered academic. It can either by validated by those amongst that specific field, and it can also be validated by the signifance and effect it has on a larger scale, and how it contributes to the more abstract, all-encompassing concepts like ideology and theory.

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