Archive for December 21st, 2004

Changing minds

Tuesday, December 21st, 2004

I was thinking about the little ‘catchphrase’ thing I’ve got at the top of my blog – ‘I reserve the right to change my mind at any time’. That wasn’t just pretention; partly it was so that nobody in years to come could quote me as believing something I no longer happen to believe but also because I happen to think that it’s incumbent on all academics to try to change their own minds before they can hope to change anyone else’s.

I know I sometimes say things in a very strident tone but often I’m arguing with myself, playing devil’s advocate. I’ve noticed over the past few years that academia is a far less imaginative place than it should be, and I don’t think you could find more closed minds if you tried. If you try to start a hypothetical discussion, or ask someone to consider a radical (or even non-radical) alternative to their own point of view, it often results in a shouting match and ostracising.

I think that’s what worries me about the book on Visual Communication I’m writing (chapter 1 finished and off today). I’m outlining some theories that are controversial (apparently one rather well known designer has already taken umbridge) but need to be aired, even if the end result is they’re soundly beaten. So long as there’s a reasonable debate I don’t mind; I change my mind all the time.

One of my first years changed my mind the other week – not deliberately though. During a discussion they said something in opposition to a point I made and it festered with me. It wasn’t so much that I found I was wrong and they were right, but it opened up an intriguing middle view. I like it when that happens, it’s like things clicking into place – you can almost feel it.

But with publication you’re preserving your words for quite some time. To give an example, I referred one of my third years yesterday to a classic text, Subculture by Dick Hebdige. It’s about three decades old now but is still in print and is seen as the classic text on the subject.

Problem is, the author later wrote saying he’d changed his mind on a lot of the things he’d said in the original volume. But no one seems to remember that, and his original ideas are still taught even though he himself has doubts about them.

Why they don’t bring out a revised edition I’ll never know…