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PHIL 450: Philosophy of Disability

The Scholarly Conversation

Most research questions do not exist in a vacuum nor are academic books and journal articles isolated, self-contained packages of information. Rather, every academic text represents one intersection in a network of ideas and debates that scholars have been tracing through their writing, sometimes over long periods of time. Think of each academic text (including the one you are writing!) as one contribution to a scholarly conversation.

In his 2004 article "Breaking into the Conversation: How Students Can Acquire Authority in Their Writing," writing and literature scholar Mark Gaipa identified and described a set of strategies writers can use to critically engage with secondary sources. We'll review these strategies and apply them to one of your course readings.


Picking a fight - Knocking down a scholar's argument and advocating for your own argument

Asskissing - Riding a scholar's coattails by agreeing with a scholar to gain evidence and authority

Piggybacking - Agreeing with a scholar while also extending the scholar's work by borrowing a concept or idea from them, and developing it through application to a new subject or new part of the conversation

Leapfrogging - Biting the hand that feeds you by agreeing with the scholar and then solving a problem in their work such as an oversight or inconsistency

Playing Peacemaker - Identifying a conflict or dispute between scholars, and resolving it by using a new perspective

Taking on the Establishment - Pick a fight with everyone in a critical conversation

Dropping Out - Focusing on an issue in the margins of a critical conversation, illuminating that issue, and ultimately redefining the conversation

Crossbreeding with Something New - Inject really new materials into the critical conversation to produce a new argument




Visualizing the Scholarly Conversation

In this activity, we will examine a scholarly article to determine how a philosopher critically engages with their sources.

Campbell, Stephen M. and Stramondo, Joseph A.. “Disability and Well-Being: Appreciating the ComplicationsAPA Newsletter Philosophy and Medicine, vol. 16, no. 1, 2016, pp. 35–37.

As you read, consider the following questions:

  • What is the author's motive for this research? (Keep in mind, there may be two levels of motive here - the philosophical problem and/or a problem from the literature)
  • What is the author's thesis or claim in relation to the conversation? Can you find a sentence that best encapsulates their argument?
  • Which of Mark Gaipa's strategies best represents how the author engages their secondary sources?
  • Draw a visual representation of the "scholarly conversation" taking place in this article using the 8 Strategies for Critically Engaging Secondary Sources guide

Tracking Resources

Use this spreadsheet to help track what you are reading, take notes, and formulate your thoughts on what resources you find!