Pop Quiz: How is Postmodernism like the Web?

By , 13 May, 2009, 2 Comments

They’re both subjects I blog about.


No, but seriously. My previous complaints about postmodernism have centered on the impact that the ideology has over the social and civic use-value of the humanities. Basically, postmodernist scholars say they should teach young people to question the whole notion of usefulness. The idea probably has some internal coherence that is above my pay grade, but to an average eighteen year old in English 101 at an average school, it’s an education in apathy.


When making this critique, I have been accused of being eerily nostalgic for the distant past when humanities teaching was about using the great books to impart immutable moral mantras to a leadership class of white young men. But what seems to rile my critics most is the idea that education should be socially or civic-ly useful at all. In other words, what’s with my institutionalism?


In my posts about media, I frequently express skepticism about the contemporary shift away from professionalism,  factual rigor, and respect for intellectual property. I do so because I believe professional reporting (which must be financed on the basis of intellectual property) is better for the functioning of the political and social system than the citizen-driven alternatives.


The counter-argument from new media evangelists is deeply postmodernist: just like the postmodernists discourage attempts to decipher meaning because the words on the page CAN mean any number of things to any number of people, the web evangelists discourage a focus on objectivity because links CAN be made to show any connections we’d like. Just like the postmodernists discourage attempts to link authors to their work, the web evangelists discourage respect for intellectual property. When a critic of their views expresses a desire to make academia and journalism socially and civically useful, the web evangelists join the postmodernists in asking “what’s with that institutionalism?”


It gets worse. As Susan Blum shows in her new book, young web evangelists are now using postmodern arguments–authorship is socially constructed and should be ignored, the words belong to whomever is interpreting them at that moment–to justify plagiarizing from the web as “pastiche.” If I had any lingering doubts about the educational use-value of postmodernism, they are gone now.

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2 Responses {+}
  • Colin Clout

    I don’t know how I feel about being your “postmodernist scholar”…
    Haha. I would like to throw out that on the issues of plagiarism the university has taken a harder line on this than anyone else. Yes text are fluid, the plays of Shakespeare were probably collaborative, but Academia is all about giving people credit for there ideas. Where you might see poststructuralist ideas most at play would be in the numerous amount of collaborative projects in the humanities. Single author papers are becoming a dinosaur. I am naturally unhappy about this because I never play well with others.

  • Preppy McPrepperson

    It’s good that professors oppose plagiarism, but that doesn’t change the fact that web evangelists are using postmodernist rhetoric and logic to justify it. So my misgivings about the ideas stands.

    In other news, I don’t play well with others either 😉

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