Culture Studies

I have made passing reference from time to time of the postmodern trend in the academy away from traditional coursework in the standard academic disciplines and toward something that has come to be called “Culture Studies.” These studies are an attempt to replace those traditional disciplines that are regarded by a growing number of academics as irrelevant or even “a part of the problem” in an attempt to radically change the climate not only within the universities but also in society at large. As literature professor James Seaton tells us in Literary Criticism From Plato to Postmodernism:

“In the twenty-first century, the academic study of popular culture has become a part of culture studies, a transdisciplinary approach whose attraction derives in  large part from its implicit promise that adepts gain the ability to make authoritative pronouncements about all aspects of human life without going to the trouble of learning the rudiments of any particular discipline.”

I have discussed in previous posts the birth from this movement of New History that insists that historians simply express their own particular view of events — without footnotes or corroboration of facts — because, they say, the traditional view of how to write history is based on the absurd notion that there are such things as facts and even a thing called “truth.” In the end, the movement of postmodernism in general agrees in rejecting such “absurd” notions and in the process  moves on toward a more radical manner of viewing one’s world and the things that go on in that world. I have noted the tendency of this movement within the academy to morph into movements outside the academy in society at large — in the form, most recently, of “alternative facts.” In a word, the repercussions of what growing numbers of academics do within the hallowed halls of academe have an effect on the way people think both within and without the academy. Most interesting in Seaton’s remarks above is the notion that culture studies — which is his special concern in his book — are an attempt to replace traditional academic disciplines, especially in literature, history, and philosophy, and transform them into something that loosely resembles sociology, badly done.

To what end, one might ask? The answer is to the end of radically transforming the world. Revolutionaizing the world, if you will. The three editors of an anthology titled Culture Studies and published in 1992 put is quite explicitly:

“. . .a continuing preoccupation within culture studies is the notion of radical social and cultural transformation . . . in virtually all traditions of culture studies, its practitioners see culture studies not simply as a chronicle of cultural change but as an intervention in it, and see themselves not simply as scholars providing an account but as politically engaged participants.”

Thus we should not be surprised that on many college campuses across the land militant faculties and students are turning away prospective speakers with whom they disagree and are steamrolling their political agendas through committee meetings, commandeering professional journals, and turning the curriculum into a homogeneous series of studies in like-minded writers that will indoctrinate students into their way of thinking. This unanimity of opinion is regarded by this group as essential to the ends they have in view, namely “a commitment to education as a tool for progressivist politics.” This has disturbed even a few of those who regard themselves as liberal members of the faculty. As one recently noted (and please note that this person is not a reactionary conservative):

“. . .by putting politics outside of discussion, and insisting that intellectual work proceed within an a priori view of proper leftist belief — conveyed between the lines, parenthetically, or with knowing glances and smiles — all sorts of intellectual alliances have been foreclosed at the outset.”

When he says that “politics[ is] outside of discussion” what he means, of course is that political issues have already been decided: America is a corrupt imperialistic country, our democracy is irremediably damaged, racism and sexism are rampant, and corruption is the order of the day. These things may or may not be true, but they are not to be discussed. The matter has been settled, “foreclosed at the outset.” Their success, which has been surprising, has been due to simple tactics: intimidation and guilt. Much of what they say is true, or at least half-true, but it is all beyond discussion.

Folks like this writer, and a diminishing number of other relics, following in the footsteps of the brilliant Black historian W.E.B. DuBois, attempt to defend what was once called “High Culture” and is now regarded as “elitist,” or “undemocratic.” Such folks are regarded as past their must-sell-by-date, not worth a moment’s reflection or worry on the way toward the transformation of the university  from a place where ideas are freely exchanged and discussion is open-ended and hopefully leads to something we can agree is true or factual (or at least plausible) to an institution where future leaders of shared radical views of society are bred and raised in a comforting and comfortable atmosphere of inflated grades where they will find only support and agreement.

The agenda in “higher” education has changed radically: it is no longer about putting young people in possession of their own minds. It is now about making sure they see that the only way to transform society and eliminate injustice is to read and discuss those who agree with the program that has been carefully laid out for them by growing numbers of faculty who see themselves as having arrived at a place where disagreement can no longer be tolerated if it is likely to lead students away from what they regard as the truth — despite the fact, of course, that they insist that there is no such thing as “truth.”

This may help us to understand why at the moment 45% of America’s college graduates think the sitting president is doing a good job. A figure that surprises many but which makes perfect sense to those who see this man as the embodiment of radical change — and who have not been taught how to think, only what to think.


11 thoughts on “Culture Studies

  1. Aside: Another precept of postmodernism that has made its way into the “real” world is its distrust of natural science. Watch out for those damned academics!

  2. As you and I have discussed before, I agree that the current academic environment is producing fewer and fewer people capable of intellectual thought, capable of thinking for themselves at all, for that matter. But I am still puzzled by people our age, people who received a strong, liberal-arts education, yet who still blindly believe and follow a ‘man’ who is so obviously a demagogue, a bigot, a narcissist, and has only his own welfare at heart. Some who I know would have been horrified, say ten years ago, at the prospect of most of what is going on in our nation today, but now they seem to simply shrug their shoulders. I still think there is a toxin in the air! Good, thoughtful post, Hugh, as always!

    • There are always those who “slip between the cracks” even when college was truly demanding and students were challenged. It has always had much to do with the majors that so many people chose out of a misguided notion that college was job-preparation. That has been a problem for some time — before postmodernism. It has simply become amplified of late because the bandwagon is gaining speed and attracting a great many students in the humanities who either jump on or avoid the courses altogether than might force them to think.

      • True. I double-majored in Accounting and Poli Sci, because I knew I needed a marketable skill, but also knew my mind craved more than balance sheets, capital gains, and cash flows. Is there, I wonder, a point where that speeding bandwagon stops before it hits bottom?

      • Let’s hope so. But I honestly think education from kindergarten through college is in a spiral downwards. I say this because so few of those in education admit there is a problem! There is group inWashington that keeps an eye on things and cries “foul” form time to time, but they are having little effect, sad to say.

  3. Hugh, the grading of this President’s first 100 days is mixed with mostly negative marks. What is lost in the grading is how he has conducted himself as a leader. I would hope that college graduates would see how he has made the US a less reliable partner with our allies, through tweet-shaming, through extreme inconsistencies, and through not respecting mutual history. He has condoned and even supported the ostracizing of groups of people, allowing an ugly part of our culture feel empowered to bully, threaten and kill people. He has shown every one that it is OK to lie and make things up, without repercussions. And, he is not accountable for his actions.

    This man should be seen as far away from what a leader should look like and act. It disappoints me greatly that educated people do not see the schtick this man is playing on all of us. Keith

  4. James Seaton was my father and–as perhaps you are aware–he passed into the next life and into the loving hands of his Savior on the 31st of March, not long before you wrote these wonderful articles crediting his work. I hope very much that you were able to correspond with him and share your appreciation with him. My father was a deeply humble man, in fact, an exemplar of the “perennial and prosaic” morality whose value he defended in some of his talks and writings. As such, compliments, even small ones, moved him greatly. I will add that he also very much thought it mistaken to presume the worst of your political opposites, both morally and intellectually. Very much a conservative in the latter portion of his life, he nonetheless sustained 50 years of marriage with my mother, an ardent Democrat who disagreed with him on any number of issues. He believed very strongly in applying charity to those with whom he disagreed, even when the disagreement was a sharp one and even when that same charity was not applied towards him.

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