Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Decline of Grand Theories

Gene Expression has a fascinating post on the decline in academic references of recent grand theory ideas, such as Marxism, Social Construction, and Deconstruction. He graphs their ebbing influence in the academy and provides some interesting discussion. In particular, he points out that these grand ideas all started to decline in a very narrow time frame - marxism a bit earlier, postcolonialism a bit later, but everything else between 1993-1998. He has some cynical explanations for the decline that touch on side topics of some of my A&H discussions.

Also, as you sense all of the big theories are dying, you must realize that you have no future: you'll be increasingly unable to publish articles -- or have others cite you -- and even if you became a professor, you wouldn't be able to recruit grad students into your pyramid scheme, or enroll students in your classes, since their interest would be even lower than among current students. Someone who knows more about intellectual history should compare arts and humanities grad students today to the priestly caste that was becoming obsolete as Europe became more rational and secular. I'm sure they rationalized their angst as a spiritual or intellectual crisis, just like today's grad students might say that they had an epiphany -- but in reality, they're just recognizing how bleak their economic prospects are and are opting for greener pastures.

HT: Bird Dog at Maggie's Farm.

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