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The Beat of a Different Drum

The basic premise of Dirty Looks is that other people matter, that our relations with other people have serious consequences for our health, wealth, happiness, education, attitudes and politics. The theoretical premise is that the relational world has its own rationale, it own rules of engagement, compared to other forms of regulation (legal, temporal, cultural, etc). Underpinnning the writing on this site is the notion that the ‘relational’ (sometimes called intersubjectivity in philosophy) is irreducible to either individual psychologies or more structural variables such as gender or class. Basically, the relational dances to the beat of a different drum, a drum that is both difficult to define and impossible to ignore.

This relational world of Dirty Looks has never truly fitted within any of the core paradigms of social thought. Structure/Agency, notwithstanding Bourdieu’s attempts to avoid such dualistic notions, has by definition remained at a suitable distance from intersubjective dimensions, to some extent leaving the relational as an intellectual wasteland, left to be explored at best by the sub-field of social psychology. Similarly, it finds itself out on a limb in the face-off between psychology and sociology, as if it was all that was left once each discipline had appropriated its share. Truly, it is a ‘field’ without an accompanying discipline; even communication and media studies see it as the result of other processes rather than a process in its own right.

Cover of "The Idea of a University (Rethi...
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The lack of a sense of disciplinary belonging, combined with its attraction to numerous fields of intellectual and practical work, makes it the ideal candidate for an interdisciplinary endeavour; and also a website such as this. By definition, it provides a potentially strong basis for relating different fields to each other in a common framework. And so far the writings on this website have covered the work of, alongside psychology and sociology, disciplines such as psychiatry, geography, anthropology, political science, history, philosophy, cultural and communication studies, and no doubt will incorporate research and ideas from fields such as marketing and advertising (and maybe even the natural sciences, who knows?)

As always however, question marks remain over attempts to codify and regulate fields of intellectual endeavour – even John Henry Newman (above) in The Idea of a University expressed concerns over the negative effects of disciplinarity on the generation of innovative and original forms of knowledge. It may be the case that the power of the relational world lies in its lack of a discipline, its undisciplined nature a source of both concealment and intellectual possibilities.

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By Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.