All we are saying, is give the Dead White Men a chance...
June 24, 2010 12:48 AM Subscribe
I'm taking a class in social theory, and while I'm interested in the readings, I've fallen into a way of responding to them which I think is intellectually lazy. How can I stop dismissing old-school social theorists for being Dead White Men?
posted by embrangled to education (17 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
The course is an overview of the work of prominent Western social theorists. I'm interested, and I'm doing my best to engage intellectually with the material assigned. But I've noticed that regardless of whether I'm reading Marx or Durkheim, I seem to raise the same internal objections: What about women? Where do their labour and their aspirations fit into your model of class? What about colonialism and racism? If you're so against injustice, why are you silent on it? Isn't it a bit coincidental that you, as a professional intellectual, place the intellectual professions at the top of every hierarchy you construct to explain the social order? It's as though there are women-shaped, minority-shaped, rest-of-the-world-shaped holes in the work of every social theorist I read.
I know that these concerns do have some validity, and that post-colonial and feminist theorists have been exploring them for several decades. But those theorists aren't a big part of what I'm studying right now, and I'm concerned that this pattern of thinking is leading me to dismiss vast bodies of work before I've fully understood the arguments at hand. I do believe many classical social theorists had blind spots in their understanding of the social world, but I'm not so arrogant as to believe I can't learn anything from them. I'm concerned that "Meh, Dead White Men Again" is becoming a habitual response that undermines just about everything I read, preventing me from reaching a more intellectually rigorous understanding (and perhaps a more convincing rebuttal) of the social theory itself.
Have you faced anything like this in your academic or intellectual life? How did you learn to put your objections aside and engage anyway?
Answers of the "University wasn't meant to be tea and cupcakes, suck it up and do it anyway" variety aren't helpful here. I'm a motivated, non-traditional-age, part-time student with a career. If I can't engage genuinely with the subject matter, of course I will suck it up and go through the motions. I'm asking because I am interested, and I would like to be able to say something more coherent about classical social theorists than, "They, uh, totally miss the point."