Rogue Scholar Manifesto 1.0
Ted M. Coopman, MS
A Rogue by any other name would smell as sweet...
"'Rogue Scholars III' is the third in a series of panels and other forums designed to bring scholarship out of the insular academic community and into the larger community in which academic research is embedded. In other words, our goal with this panel (and other endeavors) is to make scholarship accessible to those whom we study. This particular panel will focus on defining rogue scholarship, identifying the purpose of such scholarship, and discussing issues associated with rogue scholarship. Specifically, the panel will focus on how the concepts of rogue scholarship can be theoretically framed in order to form unifying concepts for scholars and non-scholars to follow and access (Rogue, 1998)."
Through the first two Rogue Scholar panels and into the third one described above, the panel members, as well as friends and colleagues, have struggled to grasp the slippery concept of "rogue scholarship" which I initially put forward several years ago. I started with the basic premise italicized above. To be sure, this was not a new concept. Several panelists have pointed out that the effort of "taking scholarship to the streets" has been brought up many times in the past. This ranges from conference themes to self-effacing diatribes on elitism leveled at what amounts to our reflections in the collective mirror. Moreover, this debate on scholarship has expanded of late to the most basic tenants of what scholarship is and what it is not.
In the latest issue of the American Communication Journal (ACJ, Vol.1, Issue 2), the much belabored controversy over "Sextext" (Corey & Nakayama, 1997) in Text and Performance Quarterly (TPQ) has brought to the forefront again the debate over what exactly constitutes scholarship. In Malcolm Parks' (1998) ACJ editorial, "Where Does Scholarship Begin?", he injects some valid points into the scholarship or not scholarship argument. "Scholarship does more than evoke feeling, goes beyond self-justification, transcends group advocacy, makes appeals beyond personal experience, utilizes theory in non-cosmetic ways, and admits to reasoned criticism." He concludes: " I do not profess to know exactly what scholarship is, but I believe strongly that we must engage the question. It is not merely that we wish to avoid the need to explain embarrassing excesses to the public. It is because the value of our collective identity as scholars demands it." I highly recommend reading this latest issue of ACJ.
I find myself in agreement with Parks. I take his points as valid, yet I do not profess to know what scholarship is either. Not being as brave as Parks, I am unwilling, unable, and probably unqualified to try and define scholarship or the "rogue" in scholarship as it exists. Therefore, I will limit myself to defining rogue scholarship as a concept unto itself. I will frame this Rogue Scholarship Manifesto in a much broader context, delineating what my vision, and this vision under my association with others, of rogue scholarship has become.
The Rogue Scholar Project
It is important to take a look at what has been presented in the first two panels to understand how I have arrived at a rogue scholar manifesto for our third and final panel. I describe these previous rogue endeavors below.
In the first Rogue panel at the Western States Communication Association Convention (WSCA) in 1996, panel members sought to present their work in a "rogue" fashion I vaguely described (Rogue, 1996). They made valiant attempts to strip away the jargon and present their work in short, understandable papers. Glen Williams (1997) sought to explain the merits of his version of the rogue ethic, while Stacy Holman Jones (1997) defended her concept of the rogue scholar as an off-shoot of her post-modern, feminist research. Other panel members concentrated on showing existing research in a rogue light.
The second panel took place at the National Communication Association Convention (NCA) in 1997 (Rogue, 1997). This time we looked at "how communication theory and research contribute to addressing everyday problems and issues which individuals, groups, and organizations face." In this panel, we focused on the practical application of theory and research. Papers dealt with making organizational research work for all members of organizations, narrative in the work place, and using the rogue ethic in the class room. One brave panel member elaborated on the definition of rogue scholarship with a call for simplicity, directness and "Occam's Razor." Tim Thompson (1997) alerted us to be on guard against being trapped in our own belief systems. In my paper I took the position of breaking away from traditional means of spreading scholarly knowledge and urged scholars to exploit emerging communication channels to reach more people (Coopman, 1997).
This brings us to the current, and final panel in the rogue scholar series. We are now concentrating on how to theoretically frame and define what we mean by rogue scholarship and the application of what we do and talk about. The panel members still struggle with the "why" and "how to" of this slippery concept. As with past panels, this was for me another example of the many things rogue scholarship can be, and is, for each individual. This diversity has been both difficult and liberating in my quest for the definitive Rogue Scholar Manifesto (Rogue, 1998).
Upon describing the rogue scholarship project to scores of people at several conferences, several themes came through. Those who considered themselves outside what they defined as the norm in academe usually saw rogue scholarship as a description of what they were trying to do. More seasoned academics smiled, pegged me as an idealist, and sent me off with a kind word and a shaking head. No doubt they felt the relentlessly grinding maw of a doctoral program would consume me and my idealism as it had so many others. Some colleagues were very defensive and others outright hostile. They saw rogue scholarship as participating in a popularity contest with the public. To them, this concept was denigrating what scholarship was. They saw themselves as creating knowledge for knowledge's sake. Who could understand what they did or wrote was immaterial. They did not see it as part of their job.
Although I consider it poor form to describe something by what it is not, in this atmosphere, I believe it to be the best course. Therefore, I will begin with what rogue scholarship is not:
Rogue scholarship is not an refutation of traditional scholarship or a condemnation of perceived elitism in academe. Rogue scholarship is not an attempt to reform or re-define academe. It does not take the stance that "contemporary" academe or scholarship is in need of reform. It does not discount the idea of knowledge for knowledge's sake.
Rogue scholarship is not an embracing of post-anything, or championing a call for a stampede to auto-ethnography, evocative narrative, or any other theories du jour. Rogue scholarship does not advocate the abandonment of any theoretical framework or endorse any new frameworks as superior. Rogue scholarship can be both theoretical, atheoretical, qualitative, or quantitative. It is not anchored to any approach.
Now that I have stated what rogue scholarship is not, I will explore the possibilities of what it is. In re-examining the process of defining, for myself, what rogue scholarship is, I sought to peal away the verbiage and take a look at the most essential elements of the words themselves. I started with The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Ed. unabridged, 1987.
Scholar: "a learned or etrude person, esp. particularly one who has profound knowledge of a particular subject. 2. a student; pupil" (p. 1715).
Rogue: "A playful mischievous person; scamp. . . . 11. No longer obedient, belonging, or accepted and hence not controllable or answerable; deviating, renegade" (p. 1666).
These definitions seemed to deal with what I was trying to say. They led me to devise this definition:
Rogue Scholar: A learned or etrude person no longer obedient to the status quo; playful, mischievous.
Still, I was trapped in a context that was not exactly uncomfortable, but seemed to lack what we in California call the "energy" that moved the initial idea; an energy that motivated a lowly M.S. to propose these panels in the first place. Then it stuck me. I put down Random House and retrieved another book off my shelves, The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook, 2nd ed. I had remembered that this role playing game guide was the basis for my concept of rogue in the first place. The rogue is a type of character one may play in this game. I re-read the book's description of a rogue and smiled.
"The rogue can be found throughout the world, wherever people gather and money changes hands. While many rogues are motivated only by a desire to amass fortune in the easiest way possible, some rogues have noble aims; they use their skills to correct injustice [and] spread good will....There are two types of rogues: thieves and bards.
"To accomplish [her/his] goals, for good or ill, the thief is a skillful pilferer. Cunning nimbleness, and stealth are [her/his] hallmarks. Whether she/he turns [his/her] talents against the innocent passers-by and wealthy merchants or oppressors and monsters is a choice for the thief to make.
The bard is also a rogue, but [she/he] is very different from the thief...With...[his/her] wits [she/he] makes [his/her] way through the world. A bard is a...walking storehouse of gossip, tall tales, and lore. [She/he] learns a little bit about everything that crosses [his/her] path; [she/he] is jack of all trades and a master of none. While many bards are scoundrels, their stories and songs are welcome almost everywhere" (p.25).
Thieves and Bards
I'm sure the many metaphors embedded above will not be lost on the reader familiar with academe. At least in the context of this "game" everyone knows what the rules are and the basis of the "characters" they deal with. But this really is not about academe or scholarship (traditional or contemporary), this is about rogue scholarship, what it is and what it means. In this context, this simple description from a role playing game has more to do with what being a rogue scholar means than any dictionary or diatribe from theoretical zealots.
As a rogue, one must deal with the world as it comes and develops. These is no protection beyond oneself and one's friends. The ivory tower may offer some protection, but often at a steep price. There is no security beyond that which the rogue forges her/himself. A rogue acts the way he/she does because that is her/his nature. The rogue does not look down on others or judge them because they do not abide by the rogue's ways. Whatever ideological or theoretical path, whether the service is knowledge, revolution, or support for the status quo, or any combination of these, the rogue scholar follows her/his nature and abides by some very simple premises.
I have tried to be as open-minded in my declarations as I can. It is difficult not to invoke my own ideology and politics in the basic premise of rogue scholarship. I have employed Occam's Razor to cut many elements from this list, and Coopman's Glue to put some back. However, since this idea, or latest incarnation of an old idea, comes from me, I cannot fully divorce myself from it. There are certain ideals I hold of which I am unable (or unwilling) to let go. Below I have established some very basic premises that define rogue scholarship.
Free Flow of Information
There is an axiom often used on the Internet that information wants to be free. The rogue scholar is dedicated to the free flow of information. This means making the rogue's work available to the widest number of people, both in the sense of understandability and accessibility. Eliminate or define jargon, and write clearly (and as a wise person once said) "to inform not impress." Scholarship should be placed where those who may benefit will find it. The production and discovery of knowledge is a service.
The rogue scholar has an eye on the application of his/her work. This does not limit the rogue to the "how to" world. Presenting opportunities for people to expand their intellectual, spiritual, or emotional horizons though a different perspective is very practical. Rogue scholarship, by definition, is always applied. Being stranded in the real world, the rogue must present her/his work in this environment.
The rogue views objectivity the same as enlightenment. It is a noble goal to aspire to, but impossible to achieve. We operate on models of reality. The map is not the territory, the menu is not the meal. The rogue declares her/his model and background so those who read his/her work can account for the root of the author's perspective.
The rogue stands by his/her work and supports her/his evidence and conclusions. A rogue can talk-the-talk because he/she can walk-the-walk. As the rogue wanders the earth, whether as thief or bard, she/he has no choice but to take responsibility for her/his actions and words. Above all, the rogue is accountable for his/her work. Rogues bear the consequences, because there is no one else to do it for them. The rogue would not have it any other way.
Scholarship: Real Grounds for Discussion.
The rogue views scholarship as a fundamental tool in communication. Scholarship, for the rogue, provides solid grounds for meaningful discussion. This form of scholarship not only produces knowledge and a way for people to access it, but understands that through this we can build better understandings of each other and the world.
I have attempted to clarify, as much for myself as others, what it means to be a rogue scholar. In doing so, I have attempted to take a broad stance as on the attributes of a rogue scholar. As implied by the "1.0" in the title, what constitutes rogue scholarship will evolve over time.
Some will disagree with what I have said here. There is no harm in disagreement. People will be who they are and if they decide that rogue scholarship as defined here is not for them, then so be it. They may decide that rogue scholarship is wrong or flawed. That is fine as well. If that is the case, they can subscribe to other modes of thought or make up their own (as I have done). The world is a large place and there are many different ways to look at and describe it. Rogue scholarship is but one. However, at the very least I would hope those who have read this and the other panel papers in this series will take something away with them; an idea or a concept that can make their work better. Maybe it will make us think about who we are, what we do, and why. As scholars we traffic in ideas, "liberate" knowledge, tell our tales, and go on our way. "While many bards are scoundrels, their stories and songs are welcome almost everywhere" (AD&D, p.25). At least one would hope.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) Players Handbook, 2nd ed (1994). TSR Inc.
American Communication Journal (February, 1998). Volume One, Issue Two, "Re-examining what Constitutes Communication Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium." http://www.americancomm.org/~aca/acj/acj.html
Coopman, Ted M. (1997). New Scholarship for a New Media: Reaching the People Through the Peoples Networks. Rogue Scholar II: Return of the Rogue Scholar. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association, Chicago. available at: http://www.roguecom.com/roguescholar
Frederick C. Corey and Thomas K. Nakayama (1997). Sextext. Text and Performance
Jones, Stacy Holman (1997). In Defense of Rogue Scholarship: Performing the Scholar in Qualitative Work. Rogue Scholar Round Table I: Out of the Tower and Into the Streets. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western States Communication Association, Monterey, CA. available at: http://www.roguecom.com/roguescholar.
Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed. unabridged, 1987.
Rogue Scholar Homepage (1996). Rogue Scholar II: Return of the Rogue Scholar. http://www.roguecom.com/roguescholar
Rogue Scholar Homepage (1997). http://www.roguecom.com/roguescholar.
Rogue Scholar Home Page (1998). http://www.roguecom.com/roguescholar.
Rogue Scholar Round Table I: Out of the Tower and Into the Streets, Rogue Scholar Homepage, http://www.roguecom.com/roguescholar.
Rogue Scholar Homepage (1998). Rogue Scholar III: The Rogue Scholar Strikes Back. http://www.roguecom.com/roguescholar
Thompson, Tim N. (1997). Being a In-Simplist-Termist. Rogue Scholar II: Return of the Rogue Scholar. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association, Chicago. available at: http://www.roguecom.com/roguescholar
Williams, Glen (1997). Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks: Taking Scholarship
to the Streets.