PhilWiki is a new site that provides detailed information on philosophy departments based on specializations, as well as a (growing) list of 170 graduate programs. Currently, there are eight areas of specialization on the site with more on the way. One of the most recent features is a prototype of a word cloud created for departments. It gives readers a quick visual representation of the areas of specialization of a faculty and a sense of the relative emphasis given to specific areas in a department.
I thought it would be interesting to create word clouds for areas of specialization in philosophy as well as for departments, so I experimented. Using the information on the American Philosophy area wiki, I created the word cloud at the top of this post.* I set the generator for 100 words in order not to crowd the visual field with words that occur infrequently.
Why might word clouds be interesting? There are many myths and misunderstandings about areas of specialization in philosophy. People often assume that interests in some areas tend (in practice) to rule out interests in others. Sometimes they are right. But sometimes they aren’t. And people often mistakenly associate certain figures with certain specializations. For example, many folks outside of American Philosophy assume that a continental figure like Heidegger would be important in American Philosophy, but he’s barely present in the word cloud. (He’s near the center and hard to see.) Davidson is clearly a more significant presence. (The location of the words is meaningless. The generator reshuffles them. Size, on the other hand, does matter.)
In addition, people working in specializations sometimes develop assumptions about their areas. Americanists often argue that American Philosophy is genuinely pluralistic, that is, faculty who specialize in American tend to have a wide variety of specializations. Does the word cloud bear this out? Yes, it seems to. There is a large range of specializations represented. Traditional areas are represented and in a relatively balanced way: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, logic, history of philosophy, and political, but other areas also have a presence: feminism, Japanese, Native (-American), race, etc., and there is almost as much interest in aesthetics as there is in science. (Science is represented by “science” and “sciences.”) Is the balance all we would hope for? Obviously there will be different views. For example, there is some non-Western, but not as much as we might wish.
Although we wouldn’t want to overstress their value, word clouds can provide information that begins to challenge assumptions people have about others who work in various specializations. They also provide information to prospective graduate students about the kinds of specializations that occur most frequently in a department, on the way to more detailed research into programs.
So here is the challenge. Create a wiki for your area of specialization. There is a template with instructions on the PhilWiki site. (Thanks to Shawn Miller of the University California at Davis, who has done yeoman’s work in setting up the site.) Generate a word cloud from the specializations of all of the faculty listed in the wiki. You can do that here. And then see if your assumptions about the area are borne out by the word cloud.
*For the sake of consistency, all words, except for proper names and nationalities, are lower case. A couple of other points: the word “classical” is often used with Classical American Philosophy, and “history” is used in an assortment of ways, e.g., history of philosophy, history of analytic philosophy, history of logic, and history of African-American political thought. Note: The generator allows you to reconfigure the placement of the words. However, it’s possible that in several reconfigurings, you may see a word or two drop out, or change to a color in which they can’t be noticed well.
I did the research for the debut of the American wiki. I included all of the specializations of people who listed an area in American Philosophy (in PhD and masters programs), drawing on faculty members’ web pages or CVs. I did NOT include areas of competence.