English (Literature, Language, and Creative Writing) is a self-renewing and ever-changing subject. One axis of change derives from interaction with adjacent subjects – drama, philosophy, history, media studies, and so on. Another comes from the shifting relations between teacher scholars and their students. In few subjects do the cultures of teaching and of scholarship have such a potentially transformative reciprocal influence. The object of this Conference is to understand, through the lens of teaching, how English is being, and might be, refigured in higher education.
We’re working with the idea that change in a discipline comes from multiple sources. The emergence of new areas of knowledge; developments arising from the activity of scholars and the availability of new resources and media; creative hybridisation with adjacent disciplines; and shifts in the relationship between scholarly knowledge (and its practitioners) and the community of students – some of whom will of course go on to become the scholars, critics, and writers of the future.
The English Subject Centre is particularly attuned to the idea that the shape of ‘English’ (across its spectrum of meanings) has never been simply formed by the activities of researchers, let alone by those domiciled in universities. Even as a university subject, it is, and always has been, subject to dialogue. Thus the systematic study of language takes place in dialogue with the speakers of that language, and that of literature in dialogue with an extended community of readers and producers. Teaching in our subject group is never simply (and despite cultural pressures towards the supply of information) the transmission of knowledge from the knowers to the ignorant. Teachers and taught collaborate in the production of knowledge and understanding.
In this Conference we seek to build on the vibrancy of the subject as it is daily lived out in the encounters between those who are conventionally labelled as teachers and taught. While the Conference is for ‘teachers’ (we need our time together), its subject matter and procedures will be influenced by the social experience of practising our subject. Above all, the Conference represents a collective enquiry into how (in response to pressures extrinsic and intrinsic) the Subject is changing; and a response to a felt need that those of us in the disciplines need to take hold of and influence the direction of change.