The Backlash Against Relativism: The New Curricular Fundamentalism

By Ann Elizabeth McGuire and David Buchbinder.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Emerging anxieties about fundamental cultural capital and its importance in the production of a clear and singular Western cultural identity, often referred to as “the good citizen,” have begun to produce a backlash in both teaching and broader communities against innovative curricula in the humanities. The paper draws on the authors’ experience as university representatives on panels developing new State-wide curricula in English and Literature teaching in the secondary system in Western Australia to postulate that community and media invocations of the urgent need to foreground the literary canon in curricula may be understood as in fact articulating anxieties of a different order. After September 11, perceived or actual relativisms are construed as dangerously undermining the cultural fantasy of a unified subject/good citizen in the presence of what appears to be a singular, focused, agential Other. In Australia this backlash has produced a media-tised debate that has taken as its focus the relativism supposedly underpinning a cultural studies emphasis in curricula which have as their brief the exploration of texts and textuality.

Keywords: Relativism, Cultural Identity, September 11, Textuality, Textual Fundamentalism, English, English Literature, Australia, Media, Backlash, Curriculum Change

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp.51-60. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 576.902KB).

Dr. Ann Elizabeth McGuire

Director of Undergraduate Programs (Communication & Cultural Studies), Humanities, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Dr Ann McGuire is a Senior Lecturer in the Communication & Cultural Studies program at Curtin University of Technology. She has written widely on secondary educational reform, as well as on new media narratives in relation to culture. For the past ten years she has been the tertiary sector representative on a range of Western Australian State committees implementing curriculum change in the secondary sector. She recently edited a special edition of the secondary sector journal Interpretations devoted to changes in the teaching of English and English literature.

Prof. David Buchbinder

Professor, Humanities, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Professor David Buchbinder holds a Personal Chair in Masculinities Studies in the Faculty of Media, Society & Culture, Division of Humanities, at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Western Australia, where he teaches in the areas of literary and cultural studies. He has published widely in journals and magazines, examining and exploring, among others, theory and poetry, semiotics, novels and opera. His chief work, however, has been in the area of masculinities studies, where, focusing on the cultural representations, across various genres and media, of men, masculinities and male sexualities, he has published two books, Masculinities and Identities (1994) and Performance Anxieties: Re-presenting Men (1998), as well as numerous articles in this field. He has edited a collection of undergraduate essays on masculinity (Essays in Masculinities Studies 2002; and has begun work on a third book on masculinity, provisionally titled Malestrom: Masculinity at the Abyss. He is currently the tertiary sector representative on the State committee overseeing change in the secondary Literature curriculum.

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