US blogger plots graphs to show death of 'stupid academic fads'

Study provides evidence that the influence of 'isms' has fallen in past decade, reports John Gill

October 2, 2008

A US blogger claims to have shown that "stupid academic fads" based on "isms" such as Marxism and feminism are dying out.

By analysing the frequency with which these words appear in academic books and journals, the graduate student known as "agnostic" said that these and other "isms" had been declining in influence in the arts, humanities and social sciences for over a decade.

Published on popular science blog "Gene Expression", the forthright description of these theories as "bullshit" has raised eyebrows.

But it has won support from at least one UK academic - Bruce Charlton, reader in evolutionary psychiatry at the University of Newcastle, said that too often theories had been recycled in the humanities and social sciences after being discredited in other fields.

The blogger's study is based on the frequency with which theories are referred to in JSTOR, an online archive of academic journals and reviews, over several decades. "Once no one believes it anymore, then the adherents, opponents and neutral spectators will have less occasion to use the term," the blog said.

Claiming that the popularity of most of the theories studied, including deconstruction, feminism, hegemony, postmodernism, psychoanalysis and social construction, peaked between 1993 and 1998, the author said it was "astonishing that such a narrow time frame saw the fall of fashions that varied so much in when they were founded.

"Marxism, psychoanalysis and feminism are very old compared to deconstructionism or postmodernism, yet it was as though during the 1990s an academia-wide clean-up swept away all the bullshit, no matter how long it had been festering," the blog added.

The author plotted graphs to show a steady increase in the use of the various terms until most peaked a decade or so ago.

This, the blogger said, was "despite the vicissitudes of politics, economics and other social changes ... I guess they don't call it the ivory tower for nothing".

Dr Charlton - who was quick to point out that he has an MA in English literature - said that he agreed with the description of those theories as "stupid academic fads".

He said: "At some point, the humanities became overwhelmed by these theories and extremely politicised. This study supplies some quantitative evidence that that period may be drawing to a close.

"The 'isms' tend to be theories that have been discredited in their primary field, which have then moved into the humanities and got a new lease of life.

"For example, I am a psychologist and Freudian theory was discredited in psychology by the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was the very point that it began to take off in the humanities and social sciences.

"Marxism likewise had very little basis as an economic theory as the Soviet Union began to decline, yet had an amazing rebirth as a master theory by which everything was interpreted in the humanities and social sciences."

john.gill@tsleducation.com

See http://www.gnxp.com.

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