I blogged yesterday about the irritating preponderance of ‘turn’ rhetoric in the humanities and social sciences. I compiled the list of 44 by starting with ‘turns’ that were familiar to me. I then used a google wild card search (“the X turn” + humanities social sciences) to extend the list. I googled for a specific string if I wasn’t sure about its status as a turn but most were clearly examples of the rhetoric from the context supplied in the search result. I was also surprised by how many of them I remembered actually having encountered at some point – though the frequency with which I had subsequently forgotten them probably says something about their intellectual value in many cases.
It’s far from a rigorous methodology for analysing this trend. However it has left me thinking about this as a serious research question. How many ‘turns’ are there? What rhetorical features do they share? What disciplines do they occur in? Bemoore just left a really interesting comment on yesterday’s post:
I’d say the use of ‘turns’ varies enormously: some uses are largely historical/retrospective names for important shifts, on the other end is when the term is used for a relatively minor branch of new work that the author wants to give the air of large-scale, discipline/sub-discipline encompassing change.
But what about the hybrids, turns that really are relatively large-scale, but are still on-going and the people participating in that turn are still competing for funding, articles in prestigious journals, etc.?
Also, a question, you list a bunch of turns from the social sciences and humanities, but which disciplines did they come from, exactly? ‘Turn rhetoric’ is everywhere in human geography in the UK, for instance, but not in economics. So who says it and who doesn’t?
If they are as absent from economics as Bemoore suggests then this is really interesting. I suspect the literature I spend most time reading (social theory, qualitative sociology, continental philosophy, cultural theory etc) is also the most prone to turn rhetoric because they are bodies of work from which shared standards and cumulative progress is most absent. Turning is something you do when you don’t know what direction you want to go in or you know where you want to go but can’t work out how to get there. But if you turn too much then you’ll get dizzy and be in an even worse position than you were to begin with….. I’m not invoking ‘cumulative progress’ as an unambiguously good thing here but it is something that presupposes shared standards. That’s why I find the normative dimension to declaring a turn so interesting – it’s unavoidably an assertion that something should occupy the attention of a discipline/sub-discipline. Sometimes this is explicit and other times it’s implicit. Analysing the precise character of these putative turns, their specific framing and rhetorical devices, would offer a fascinating perspective on the wider condition of the intellectual field within which the claim is made.