Posts in Barry Barnes
Excerpt: Chapter 6: Villains and Laughing Stocks, The Gender Jackpot, Transgressing the Boundaries

Obviously, I had by now known and accepted the premise that English Studies was a battlefield of “textual politics,” and that the players made no bones about their agendas. Previously, critics in the field, like the old New Critics with their plodding close reading of texts, had pretended to be neutral, but their neutrality was merely a thin scrim for cultural domination. Dead white men had ruled the English canon long enough. But this was only the most flagrant of offenses. Other suspects were singled out for prosecution – including an exclusive focus on the text itself (New Criticism), assuming the centrality or superiority of European culture (Eurocentrism), implicitly endorsing heterosexuality as a norm (heteronormativity), believing that humanity is exceptional and that individual humans have unitary selves (humanism), believing in an essence of human nature and/or in the essence of essential types of humans such as racial groups and women and men (essentialism), the belief that neutral knowledge is discoverable by scientific means (positivism), the belief that words might faithfully represent an external reality (logocentrism), and the privileging of the masculine in the construction of meaning (phallogocentrism) – among others. Every one of these notions or beliefs has been treated as a villain, a laughing stock, or both. 

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Historicism and Science Studies

One way to understand the diverse discourse known as science studies is to consider the ways in which different camps and theorists think (or do not think) the question of history, and to consider how historical theories and methods connect with epistemologies and the possibilities for critical discourse regarding science. Can the question of historical method or theory serve as a useful guide to the discourse, perhaps even a better index for considering the issue of critical engagement, than epistemological conviction (or lack thereof)?  I will explore the issue by considering the historical methods and theories of history of several interlocutors located within the discourse of science studies, in order to illustrate the possibilities for this approach. As the discussion should make clear, the historical approach is productive of comparative reading of interlocutors in terms of the possibilities for a critical discursive relationship to their objects of knowledge, as well as for demonstrating the relationship between historical method and theory, and epistemology.

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