Wed Apr 7, 2004

Shelf Life

Some comments to this post by Ted raised the question of the public face of academic disciplines, as seen at Barnes and Noble or Borders. The shelf-test isn’t perfect, of course, because not every field needs to have a public face, even chain bookstores vary quite widely, and Borders and Barnes and Noble are not really meant for academics. But they are meant for everyone, and academics must form part of that category. (This reminds me, by the by, of an example from the late, great Dick Jeffrey. “Everybody loves my baby, but my baby don’t love nobody but me” goes the song. Who is my baby?) So, what can we learn about the social sciences and humanities from a visit to the local book barn?

Philosophy: The immortal giants continue to dominate the field: Kant, Nietzsche, and Rand. Especially the latter. In Metaphysics and Epistemology, Descartes may sometimes be found and possibly also Quine (whose work was both anticipated and eclipsed by Ayn Rand, in the manner of Kierkegaard and Hegel). But the most exciting work in contemporary Metaphysics is being done by David Icke, whose tightly-argued lizard ontology has revolutionized the field in recent years.

Sociology: Dominated in the 1990s by research on the O.J. Simpson trial, sociologists have recently turned their attention to Frank McCourt’s early adulthood and life in the year 2000.

Economics: The founding fathers, Adam Smith and Thomas Sowell, are the mainstays of this now defunct field which barely hangs on, surrounded by better-grounded research programs like Stock Marketeering and Retirement Planning.

Law: Core subjects like True Crime and Do-It-Yourself-Divorce Kits continue to be well-represented. But recently, constitutional theory has been on the rise through titles like David Bernstein’s You Can’t Say That I Didn’t Publicize This Book Enough.

Cultural Studies: Cultural Studies can now be found resisting capitalism every other month in a special pull-out-and-keep section of Cosmo Girl.

History: Content has stablized since the 1996 law requiring that 90 percent of all history books be about the Civil War or World War II. The remainder can be about how the ethnic group of your choice saved everyone else’s sorry asses, but it’s not like people are grateful or anything.

Psychology: See under Weight Loss, Substance Abuse Recovery, and Conversations with People and Pets who have “Crossed Over.”

Political Science: As noted in the comments to Ted’s post, the long-running scholarly disagreement between the patriot-realists and the quisling-islamofascists continues with no end in sight, unless the recent move to outlaw opposition to Hanniti’ite Clerics proves successful.