What is the value of the humanities? Why should we study it? The New York Times recently published an article on the state of the humanities given the current economic recession.
According to the NYT, “[I]n this new era of lengthening unemployment lines and shrinking university endowments, questions about the importance of the humanities in a complex and technologically demanding world have taken on new urgency.”
While the humanities may not seem as salient as engineering, chemistry, or any of the other “hard” sciences, it plays an indispensable role in the world.
There is a great misunderstanding of what the humanities is and what it can do. People often assume that the humanities is just about “reading the great literary and philosophical works and coming ‘to grips with the question of what living is for.’” (NYT).
I would argue that humanities — at least from a Cultural Studies perspective — is much more than reading the canon and reflecting on the meaning of life.
In Cultural Studies, we approach theory as practice. Thinking and acting outside of the ivory tower, Cultural Studies attempts to produce research that engages with the public. As cultural researcher, I am constantly asking myself the “So what?” question. Why does this topic matter? Why should people care?
This continuous self-questioning helps bridge the gap between theory and practice. While I am an advocate of learning for the sake of learning, I believe scholars have the responsibility to think about the ways in which their research relates to the larger picture.
What is the point of research if it doesn’t affect the way people think about and act in the world?
One thing I think Cultural Studies does effectively is re-thinking the way we have traditionally thought about things. In Cultural Studies, few things — if anything — is taken for granted. Our research is largely driven by the question of what it means to be human.Through critical and creative engagement, we attempt to probe this question in a way that inspires everyday people to imagine what might be instead of what is.
This critical and creative engagement is especially important given the dire state of the economy and the need for innovative ways of being in the world.