Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Jaffe, Aaron


Rafinesque; C. S. (Constantine Samuel); 1783-1840; Independent study; Knowledge; Theory of


The autodidact has a curious structural relationship to knowledge, education, and that assumed distillation of institutional learning, the academy. Because of its subjectivity-producing function, knowledge represents a site of tremendous cultural investment, and one that is challenged, if not even undermined, by the renegade ethos and idiosyncratic approach of the autodidact. Nineteenth century self-taught scholar and Renaissance man, Constantine Rafinesque, serves as a vivid exemplar, or even theoretical matrix, for demonstrating certain problems that the autodidact raises for post-Enlightenment knowledge as it assumes the various institutional states, metaphysical postures, and ideological closures necessary for its culturally privileged function. As the work of Michel Foucault has demonstrated, in its capacity as a crucial component in the makeup of the modern individual, knowledge is a cultural good of unequaled value; but its horizon is often one of force, regulatory and normative. This dissertation posits the autodidact Rafinesque as a path for illustrating and exploring these various implicit, but nonetheless binding, regulations, limits and boundaries. Although a prolific contributor to fields such as taxonomy, botany, economics, linguistics, philosophy, and ethnography, Rafinesque continues to stir debate and generate perplexity among scholars. This is due, in no small part, to his unusual status as both social and intellectual outsider, one who in more ways than one challenges the coherence of disciplinary knowledge. Eccentric, unorthodox, self-taught, and with few friends, Rafinesque came to symbolize knowledge in its most unregulated state, and to a large degree this status persists. Each chapter of this dissertation departs from an episode in Rafinesque’s intellectual career. Using Rafinesque’s writings and correspondence with intellectuals of the time, it joins these to a contemporary post-structural theoretical discussion involving the relationship between subjectivity and knowledge, knowledge and cultural value, and the role of the academy in the modern world. By uniting these theoretical and research trajectories this work posits the autodidact as a type of poststructural subjectivity, one whose very existence offers unique possibilities for the critique of contemporary knowledge as both the engine of apparent self-creation, and of the subject’s cultural/intellectual domestication.