Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Distribution of Effort

It has long seemed to me that the social sciences are much too concerned with the innovation of theories and methods, as if our ignorance stems from deficiencies at that level. I’m not sure that’s really where the problem lies. I think our methods and theories are, by and large, fine. What is needed much greater care in their application to the problem of knowing. Indeed, I think instead of developing new methods and theories I we need to strengthen our ability to use the old ones. I think we have forgotten the importance of training in fostering competence.


For quite some time, universities have been increasingly charged with preparing young people for the labor market. Students (and society in general) have demanded that they be given “competences” that are “relevant” to the problems posed by “global competition” or some other ominous force. More recently, however, concerns have begun to be voiced, by both educators and employers, that this drive for competence has neglected a set of underlying competences that were, perhaps, too readily dismissed as “academic”. We can call these “scholarly” competences.

They are important in what has been called “the knowledge society”. Indeed, scholarly competence constitutes what it means to be knowledgeable. Knowledge-able, i.e., “able to know”. It is, of course, grounded in the theories and methods that students learn at university. But it also has an important “craft” dimension, which is the focus of this blog. Most concretely, the ability to know things is supported by the student’s facility with texts, with reading and writing. And that is why the CBS Library has a resident writing consultant. We want to integrate writing skills and library skills into a unified ability to understand the changing world in which we live.

We are confident that this will also be useful to students on the job market, and society in the long run.