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

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Pride, Allan (1997) Disillusionment and re-enchantment : ethics, criticism and critical literacy teaching after post-structuralism. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

S implified 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.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: English language, Literacy, Literacy
Copyright Holders: The Author
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Copyright the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
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Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--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

Date Deposited: 03 Feb 2015 03:13
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:55
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