University of Tasmania
whole_PrideAllan1997_thesis.pdf (13.25 MB)

Disillusionment and re-enchantment : ethics, criticism and critical literacy teaching after post-structuralism

Download (13.25 MB)
posted on 2023-05-27, 16:54 authored by Pride, AM
Simplified forms of post-structuralism have recently been applied to the teaching of English in secondary schools in order to sanction multiple interpretations of a wider variety of texts, free students from slavishly adopting the evaluations of authorities, and encourage them to enjoy the interplay of contradictory and complementary readings. When linked to the purposes of political forms of criticism, this model of English is known as critical social literacy. However, in my view difficulties in the epistemological and ethical underpinnings of this post-structuralist literacy are often overlooked, rendering its political agenda less effective. To the extent that post-structuralism questions the referentiality of language and the agency of discursively determined subjects, it undermines the construction of morally autonomous persons. Furthermore, the vulgar relativism entailed by a naive promotion of cultural pluralism hinders the resolution of destructive conflicts of interest. A deeper problem arises if post-structuralism is seen as a nihilistic philosophy, denying the possibility of moral principles and valorising only the will-to-power. When this notion is combined with the world-view of popular scientific materialism - that of a hostile universe formed by random processes - students may suffer a crisis of hope. In response to this I outline a pedagogy which supports an ethical approach to ethical and political education through reading and discussing literature. Although post-structuralist ideas are vulnerable to particular criticisms, they offer insights into the limitations of discourse, textuality and agency which must be considered when devising an ethics to support the egalitarian aims of critical social literacy. However, more positive approaches to ethics, based on evolution, pragmatism and quantum mechanics, might also be incorporated in a new synthesis. Darwin's theory that organisms evolve through random variation and natural selection has been expanded and made more plausible by developments in mathematics and science, such as quantum mechanics, complexity theory, neuro-science and sociobiology. Popper's evolutionary epistemology supports the modest truth claims of the scientific method employed in these discourses, supplanting the more radical scepticism of poststructuralist epistemologies. Borrowing Zygmunt Bauman's terms, I call this synthesis 'the ethics of disillusionment and re-enchantment', since it combines procedural scepticism with renewed confidence in agency, referentiality and the flourishing of life. I explore how these ideas make sense of the world as it is modelled in three novels suitable for senior secondary study - Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Chambers' Breaktime, and Byatt's 'Morpho Eugenia'. I do not claim to articulate fully a new theory - rather, in sketching its salient features, I offer tentative foundations for ethics as a viable concern in literary studies and critical literacy teaching.


Publication status

  • Unpublished

Rights statement

Copyright 1997 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 1997. Includes bibliographical references. Contents: Ch.1 Problems: critical literacy / ethics / post-structuralism - an uneasy alliance. - Ch.2 Possibilities: the attraction of evolutionary ethics. - Ch.3 Literature and criticism as ethical reflection. - Ch.4 Critical literacy teaching as principled practice

Repository Status

  • Open

Usage metrics

    Thesis collection


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager