Tony Filipovitch -- Portfolio

Scholarship Philosophy: Magister Ludi

In Herman Hesse's novel, Magister Ludi (sometimes translated as "The Glass Bead Game Master"), the hero, Joseph Knecht, rises in a closed society of scholars to become the master of their craft, the glass bead game. At the peak of his power, he resigns and leaves his cloistered world and involves himself in the business of the world outside, becoming the teacher for the son of one of the leaders of this temporal world. At his death, it becomes clear that his involvement with the outside world has protected and insured the survival of the glass bead game and its masters.

I read this novel when I was in graduate school. It has continued to have a strong influence on me ever since. A scholar must be engaged in the life of the wider world, if the life of scholarship is to survive.

More recently, Ernest Boyer in Scholarship Reconsidered, has proposed that there are four kinds of scholarship: the scholarship of discovery, of integration, of application, and of teaching. Boyer's point is that "scholarship" is more than basic research (the scholarship of discovery). The key is not what one does, but how one does it. The point is to act reflectively, and to submit the result of one's reflection to public scrutiny by one's fellow scholars. In a sense, publishing this portfolio on the Web is an act of scholarship.

Boyer also says that one's choice of scholarship may change over the course of a career, and certainly no one engages in the four scholarships equally, simultaneously, and at a high level of quality. Certainly I have seen that in the course of my career. I have moved from a focus on theoretical development to the application of that theory to a focus on the life of a "public intellectual" and back to a focus on theory.

When I graduated with my PhD, I insisted that I was an "urban theorist," not a planner or policy analyst. For many years, I worked on basic questions about the nature and character of community and cities, and tested the relationship between the environment and behavior. Even then, I pursued theory in a "funny" way: I was more interested in my question than pursuing the "unresolved" questions of an established discipline. Urban studies was (and still is) an interdisciplinary field, drawing on the theories and techniques of many disciplines (and lacking a unifying "theory" of the field). I also was more interested in questions of "why" rather than "how" (my teachers used to tell me that social sciences answer "how"--philosophers are concerned with "why"). Issues of value were never very far beneath the surface of the empirial research I pursued.

When I came to the University of Tulsa, my students listened politely to my theorizing (even did a good job of memorizing it for tests and papers), but kept saying, "That's nice. But I'm going into planning (or economic development, or...)--how do Iuse it?" And as I looked around for support, so I could continue to explore my theories, I found little funding for pure theory. But those planners and economic developers were eager to enlist my support in their projects. Fortunately, I had studied Glaser & Strauss's Grounded Theory . In their model, whether one begins from theory or experience, one moves to the other pole. Theory is tested by its application in real situations. Experience is generalized by a theory-in-practice. A program of research involves moving from theory to application and back, each informing the other. I also discovered Donald Schon's Reflective Practitioner. Schon argues that effective professional practice requires a theory-in-action, which he calls "reflective practice." Over time, the focus of my research and scholarship shifted from basic theory toward applied theory and praxis.

I also began to focus more on technique--I developed teaching modules for a range of quantitative and qualitative analysis techniques; I began to publish computer applications for policy analysis; I began to do evaluation research. Again, the principles of grounded theory came into play. The applied work in evaluation resulted in scholarly articles on the theory of the third (nonprofit) sector and the impact of collaboration on community action. But I was also "sharpening the knife," developing tools which could be used in ways I could not necessarily foresee at the time.

The focus on the application of theory led me eventually to develop an interest in becoming a "public intellectual" (as the phrase would have it). When I first came to Mankato, from time to time Abbas Kessel (from the Political Science faculty) would publish short, thoughtful essays in the local paper. His essays were deeply intelligent, gracefully written, yet accessible to the general community. If application were a moment in the development of scholarship, surely this was a defining moment. By engaging in the popular press, one is challenged to clarify one's thinking--there is no convenient cover of professional jargon there. Nor is there much tolerance for self-indulgence; if one does not connect to the public's experience, they will not sit politely taking notes. Even more, the press (and the other popular media) is a channel to the national dialogue on the issues of our day. Grounded theory tests ideas "off the bench," in the uncontrolled environment of everyday experience, and brings new information back to refine, clarify, and further develop one's theory. Popular writing subjects my ideas to the test of common sense. It also sets a much higher standard for writing than scholarly journals.

Public writing, curiously (or maybe not so curiously, given the idea of grounded theory), has brought me back to theory. That, and the benefits of age. I have been around long enough now to recognize things as they "come around again." And I also know (I knew it when I was younger, but only intelletually then) that I may not see it come around many more times. So with this longer view, I am more interested in asking the "right" questions, and asking them with economy and grace. I began my career in social science asking questions that would not be bound by the limits of any single discipline. Now I find myself returning to those questions, and finding that they will not even be bound by the limits of social science. I am turning more to the "liberal" arts, described by Martha Nussbaum as "cultivating humanity" in her book by the same name.

From all of this, it must be evident that, for me, teaching and student development (described elsewhere in this portfolio), research, scholarly development, and community service are separate things but different moments of the same impulse. I have published and will continue to publish what I am thinking. But the point is not to publish, but to be engaged--with the campus (students, faculty, staff), with the profession (regionally, nationally, and internationally),and with the broader community (local--"Think globally, act locally"--national, and international). "Publishing" is a by-product of a greater urge, and it takes many forms.