[iDC] The Future of the Humanities
sean.cubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Mon Jul 11 15:16:40 UTC 2011
As I cut the previous posts to reply, I realised what a good discussion this has been
But before we blame the STEM hegemony, we need to take a decent look at what exactly we offer in Humanities.
Compared top scientists, we are very poor pubic communicators of our work: if Hawking, Dawkins, Dennet et al can communicate their arcana, is there a reason we can't or don't?
Far too many humanities scholars take it as read that they defend the best and highest that has been thought said and made; their patrician delectation they seem to say is reason enough to provide them with a living so they can waft through halls of Rubens and Mallarmé
Worst of all, the actual production of far too many humanities academics is on matters no-one cares about: the nuances of assyrian basket-weaving has no doubt something to tell us; and the practice of the sciences is every but as specialised; but the truth is that skimming the contents pages of almost every humanities journal, you're bewildered by the intense dullness of the tiny patches of specialism. I'll say the same for the social sciences too: the vast majority of scholarship is not just normal science – it is crushingly banal.
And it's not as if there's nothing to do.
Political life in Europe, throughout the English speaking world, and increasingly in the East, South East and South Asia and in Russia, has abandoned any value but wealth creation.
The task of the arts, humanities and social sciences is neither to bemoan lost aristocratic values, nor to reinforce the database economy: it is to create what politics no longer gives us: a terrain on which we can argue values
The professional schools pursue their own values: wealth, justice, health, shelter. We are in the unique position where we can provide the floor where people debate the value of those values. Instead, we spend whole careers moving dust from one corner of the archive to another.
A profound lack of ambition shapes our every move: Lyotard was monstrously wrong to argue in the 1980s, in the middle of the birth of the environmental movement, that the big stories no longer motivated rebellion. Perhaps excusable he seems to have thought, like many of his generation, that because the Communist and Labour parties had betrayed the working class, there was no hope for historical change. That poisonous lack of desire for change makes the 'sciences humanities' sitting ducks, quaking forlornly as we wait to be plucked and stuffed.
The projects outlined in these discussions are of the sort that can do what we need in the first instance: to turn our skills towards building arenas for the fierce antagonisms repressed by the politics of consensus can get out and get argued.
Otherwise nothing changes, and we lurch form crisis to crisis at the hands of 'scientific' economists and technocrats
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