Sunday, June 17, 2012

Notes Toward A Post-academic Humanism

A corporate entity that provides salary & benefits for humanists to pursue theory & practice that speak to specialists, generalists, and the interested public alike.

This is what humanists need as an alternative to the current incarnation of academia in which humanists have lost social, political, & institutional support.

This is not to say that humanists endorse the withdrawal of support for the humanities in the traditional academy. Indeed, we decry it, & we would encourage & welcome a return of the support we used to enjoy.

But the currently dominant line of argument is that (1) a college education / degree is now required, no longer optional, for professional success, and that (2) the content of that education must be STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) or business. 

This line of argument being prevalent, humanists have two choices. We can mount resistance to the overwhelming STEMification of the academy; or we can create a new institutional space where the humanistic enterprise is the central mission.

The former course may indeed be worth pursuing. The latter course, however, may well be the shape of a post-academic humanism yet to come.

Non-academic foci of humanistic endeavor of course already exist: libraries, museums, theatre organizations, opera companies, ballet companies, symphonies, festivals of music, art, & literature, among others.

These are wonderful organizations that demand & deserve continued support & patronage.

But the central focus of libraries is the preservation of documents, while the central focus of all the other types of organizations listed—arts organizations proper—is the production & distribution of the plastic arts on display & the lively arts in performance.

Again, indeed, these are precious & wonderful resources & activities that demand & deserve continued support & patronage.

But none of these organizations has as its central focus the creation of an non-academic institutional space in which humanists can conduct research, produce writing, & connect with other specialists as well as interested generalists & members of the public through programming, whether in the form of talks, exhibits, performances, workshops, or other forms of accessible, enjoyable, & meaningful human interaction.

Such an organization is, to borrow three luminous words from F. Scott Fitzgerald, "quivering on the horizon," and the time is now to reach that horizon. The time is now for that new day of humanism to dawn.

NOTE: This is by no means yet a full-on manifesto, but perhaps the beginnings of one. I will continue to add ideas in other posts and perhaps pull all of these ideas together on a single page. Stay tuned. Add your comments, thoughts, ideas. 


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  2. Isn't that assessment a tad alarmist? In terms of social, political, & institutional support, it is probably the case that STEM is on the rise and the humanities in relative decline, but the humanities are hardly disappearing from the academy. I'm inclined to think that for a long time now, STEM has been the neglected step-child. Just look at the STEM requirements for humanities majors versus the humanities requirements for STEM majors at most colleges.

  3. Thanks for your comment, George. You are quite right that the humanities are by no means disappearing from the academy. My notes are about a way toward a more hospitable environment for humanistic endeavor than that currently provided by the academy. It's more about trends and trying to envision possible futures based on a creative rather than reactive response to prevailing conditions.