[iDC] The Future of the Humanities

Bernard Roddy roddybp at yahoo.com
Mon Jul 11 17:34:07 UTC 2011

I concur with Cubitt's assessment of scholarship in the humanities (isn't that 
the natural product of higher education today?) but find his attack plan equally 
banal.  What do the arts and the humanities have to offer?  Surely not another 
battle cry.  

Bernard Roddy
Assistant Professor of Media
School of Art and Art History
University of Oklahoma
Norman, OK 73019

From: Sean Cubitt <sean.cubitt at unimelb.edu.au>
To: "idc at mailman.thing.net" <idc at mailman.thing.net>
Sent: Mon, July 11, 2011 10:16:40 AM
Subject: Re: [iDC] The Future of the Humanities

As I cut the previous posts to reply, I realised what a good discussion this has 

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 

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 

 Otherwise nothing changes, and we lurch form  crisis to crisis at the hands of 
'scientific' economists and technocrats
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