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Paradigm Dramas in American Studies: A Cultural and Institutional History of the Movement. Gene Wise American Quarterly, Volume 31:3 (1979): 293-337. Paradigm: Definition (Thomas Kuhn). Beliefs held by a person, group or culture; The acts that function to characterize those beliefs.

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paradigm dramas in american studies a cultural and institutional history of the movement

Paradigm Dramas in American Studies: A Cultural and Institutional History of the Movement

Gene Wise

American Quarterly, Volume 31:3 (1979): 293-337

paradigm definition thomas kuhn
Paradigm: Definition (Thomas Kuhn)
  • Beliefs held by a person, group or culture;
  • The acts that function to characterize those beliefs.
american studies stages of development an overview
American Studies: Stages of Development (An Overview)
  • Prelude to the American Studies Movement (Before 1900);
  • Initial Stage: Revolt against Academic Formalism, 1900-1927;
  • Consensus School of American Studies, 1927-65;
  • Crisis in American Studies, 1965-1975;
  • Emergence of Cultural Studies and Cultural Materialism, 1975- 1990s;
  • The Current State of American Studies (Kessler-Harris).
i prelude to the american studies movement before 1900
I. Prelude to the American Studies Movement (Before 1900)
  • The insignificance or inferiority of American culture, especially in relation to British and European cultures;
  • Emphasis on individuals, great men and heroic events.
ii initial stage revolt against formalism 1900 1927
II. Initial Stage: Revolt against Formalism, 1900-1927
  • Vernon Parrington, intellectual founder of American Studies;
  • Main Currents in American Thought (1927);
  • Era when academic disciplines are being created and institutionalized (methods and hierarchies); formalism.
  • Where does the study of America “fit”?
  • Integration of Academic disciplines: history, literature, sociology, philosophy, etc.
iii consensus school of american studies 1927 65
III. Consensus School of American Studies, 1927-65
  • Intellectual agreement--or CONSENSUS-- on what the American experience is like and how to study it.
  • Goal of consensus scholarship:
  • To make American culture "intellectually usable.“ Not just objective history but a history (story) that supports the development of America and American culture;
  • To discern the fundamental (or universal) meaning of American experience and American culture.
iii five characteristics of consensus scholarship
III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship
  • 1. There is an American “Mind.”
  • This mind is more or less homogeneous, essentially the same in everyone.
  • While it may be complex and multi-layered, it is a single entity.
iii five characteristics of consensus scholarship8
III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship
  • 2. What distinguishes the American Mind—in fact, what creates it—is its location in the New World.
  • As result, Americans are typically . . .
  • Hopeful (oriented toward the future rather than the past);
  • Idealistic or Innocent (Naïve);
  • Individualistic (Democratic);
  • Pragmatic or materialistic;
  • Believe in boundless opportunity.
iii five characteristics of consensus scholarship9
III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship
  • 3. The American Mind can be found (theoretically at least) in any American to varying degrees. Some individuals will possess it more fully than others based on their intellect and experiences;
  • Great intellectual works (artistic / political) reveal or express the major themes or ideas at work in the culture at large. They transcend their own particularity. They are universal.
iii five characteristics of consensus scholarship10
III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship
  • 3. Continued
  • The American Mind finds its fullest expression in the country’s most influential leaders and thinkers:
  • Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson;
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau;
  • These become the basis for our educational and political systems, as a way to “train” others—especially new Americans—in what it means to be American.
iii five characteristics of consensus scholarship11
III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship
  • 4. The American Mind is also evident not just in individuals but in the portrayal of our intellectual and cultural history;
  • Creates distinctive themes and identities:
  • The Pilgrims / Puritanism;
  • American Revolution;
  • The Frontier and Westward Migration;
  • Individualism / Non-Hierarchical Society;
  • WWII and “The Greatest Generation”;
  • The Cold War (Democracy threatened by communism)
iii five characteristics of consensus scholarship12
III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship
  • 5. The American Mind (and America itself) is revealed most profoundly in its “high” culture, its greatest intellectual thinkers and it greatest creative works (art, music, literature). These hold a privileged position;
  • Representatives of popular culture may be interesting but are NOT as significant to the understanding of America:
  • Popular heroes (Daniel Boone / John Wayne)
  • “Artistic” works (The Western / Star Trek);
  • Cultural Events (Dueling / Professional Wrestling)
  • Material Culture (farm implements / shopping malls)
iii key figures in the consensus school
III. Key Figures in the Consensus School
  • Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950);
  • Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (1953)
  • F.O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (1941);
  • Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden (1964);
  • Alan Trachtenberg, Brooklyn Bridge: Fact and Symbol (1965).
iii other important contributions during this era
III. Other Important Contributions During this Era
  • American Quarterly, 1949;
  • American Studies Association, 1951.
iv crisis in american studies 1965 1975
IV. Crisis in American Studies, 1965-1975
  • Emerges along with the cultural / political rebellions of the sixties;
  • Critiques A/S as a field of study;
  • Argues that it is not a pioneering movement but a very conservative one that reinforces old historical and cultural assumptions about America and Americans.
iv crisis in american studies 1965 197516
IV. Crisis in American Studies, 1965-1975
  • America is not one monolithic culture (the American mind), but a variety of interrelated cultures that are at times working together and at times in conflict with different values and goals;
  • Complete cultural synthesis is no longer possible.
v new american studies emergence of cultural studies and cultural materialism 1975 1990s
V. New American Studies:Emergence of Cultural Studies and Cultural Materialism, 1975- 1990s
  • Shift from humanistic to scientific / analytical approaches to American Culture;
  • Not interested in what the "meaning" of America is (or if one meaning is more legitimate or valid than another);
  • Rather, it is interested in how and why people create meaning, how individuals and groups go about creating a coherent social universe.
v new american studies seven major characteristics
V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics
  • 1. Focus on the social and material structures that underlie intellectual and artistic expression
v new american studies seven major characteristics19
V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics
  • 2. CULTURE is redefined via social sciences.
  • The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought;
  • A set of control mechanisms--plans, recipes, rules and instructions for the governing of human behavior;
  • Social structures always mediate between a particular cultural artifact and the larger society in which it is situated.
  • Includes “high culture” (art forms) as well as popular culture;
v new american studies seven major characteristics20
V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics
  • 3. Highly self-conscious;
  • Critically reflective;
  • Intellectually “neutral” or objective; not interested in supporting or endorsing any prevailing cultural ideologies.
  • Treats the study of America as a science.
v new american studies seven major characteristics21
V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics
  • 4. Pluralistic approach (the MANY);
  • Does not focus on just one unifying national culture but looks at the many different cultures contained within America and how these are related to each other;
  • Looks at commonalities but also looks at where conflicts and tensions exist.
v new american studies seven major characteristics22
V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics
  • 5. Emphasis on the PARTICULAR and the ORDINARY;
  • Instead of examining heroic figures or great art, the focus is on
  • Common Americans (farmers or laborers);
  • Popular art forms (collectibles or music);
  • Ordinary material culture (farm implements or daily life).
v new american studies seven major characteristics23
V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics
  • 6. Rejection of universal “essences,” universal truths or absolutes;
  • While these may exist, they are not fully knowable and not the domain of intellectual inquiry;
  • Whatever “America” may be, we cannot assume that it is universal for all people.
v new american studies seven major characteristics24
V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics
  • 7. Comparative Approach
  • No longer is the focus just on America or even America and Europe;
  • Understanding American through a dialogue with other countries and cultures;
  • Third or Developing World Nations;
  • Africa and the Caribbean;
  • The Muslim World.
v new american studies characterized by the shift from myth
V. New American StudiesCharacterized by the shift from myth . . .
  • MYTH: a fixed story used to normalize and regulate our social life;
  • Everything is read through the myth and it makes all things familiar;
  • Often a form of non-critical, self-interpretation.
v new american studies to rhetoric
V. New American Studiesto Rhetoric . . .
  • RHETORIC: attempts to question and analyze culture rather than affirm or deny it.;
  • its purpose is to reveal the interests that reinforce myths and culture;
  • the power of words, things, images, and ideas to create and subvert culture.
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