After the Decline and Fall: Post-Institutional Education & the Value of the Humanities--Edited Collection

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Andrew Grossman and Michael Morse
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For decades, indeed generations, we’ve listened to dire warnings that the liberal arts and humanist education are threatened by ever-multiplying social ills: the degradations of the culture industry, American anti-intellectualism, dehumanizing technologies, politically correct dilutions of the canon, and an increasing focus on vocational education. If our culture has much to answer for, so do its academic institutions, which have experienced various and scathing critiques from conservatives (such as Allan Bloom), pragmatists (such as Leon Botstein), stealthy satirists (such as Alan Sokol), and polemicists (such as Toby Miller). Such hubbub over the humanities is hardly news, however, as Durkheim and Dewey were already mulling the problems of the “modern” liberal arts education a century ago. Indeed, every educator can claim his or her own personal odyssey through the intellectual, pedagogical, theoretical, and bureaucratic wilderness we call institutionalized education.

Yet most critiques of higher education blame contingencies of the institution rather than institutionality itself. The institution would, could, or should work magnificently: if only race, class, and gender weren’t constantly at issue; if only curricula could be revamped; if only access to higher education were truly democratized; if only universities didn’t behave like profit-seeking businesses; if only professors were not at the mercy of philistine publishing demands; or if only humanistic values could supplant materialist ones earlier in students’ lives. While such critiques have merit, they stop short of seeing the institution as a sociological problem in itself, and shy away from arguing that institutionality and the liberal arts are inherently opposed forces. Furthermore, limiting the critique to policy recommendations does nothing to truly emancipate students or counter American education’s mandate to socially reproduce capitalist structures and stratifications.

We are proposing an edited collection of essays that explore this philosophical opposition between institutionality and the liberal arts. Are the liberal arts intrinsically opposed to their own institutions? Are there non-institutional alternatives for meaningful higher education? If so, how are they possible? What kinds of social and historical, economic and intellectual forces have wrought the present crisis, and are these forces inexorable? Can we revolutionize or fundamentally transform the educational institution, or is it finally time to consider an era of post-institutional education?

We are seeking ambitious, critical essays of approximately 5,000-8,000 words in length that creatively address these and related questions. Essays should be intellectually charged and may be informed by any range of disciplines and forms of inquiry, from history, philosophy, and social science to autobiography, polemic, and satire. While we welcome submissions from authors across the disciplines, we are not looking for dry academic prose but idiosyncratic works of wit, erudition, inherent literary value, and accumulated wisdom. The anthology intends to offer an eclectic range of committed and considered alternatives, not academic navel-gazing or indulgent complaint.

Please email abstracts (of approximately 300-400 words) and a CV to both Andrew Grossman at and Michael Morse at We will inform contributors of acceptance by late March/early April. We would expect completed chapters to be submitted by November 1, 2013.

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