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American Idyll

Academic Antielitism as Cultural Critique

Catherine Liu

Publication Year: 2011

trenchant critique of failure and opportunism across the political spectrum, American Idyll argues that social mobility, once a revered hallmark of American society, has ebbed, as higher education has become a mechanistic process for efficient sorting that has more to do with class formation than anything else. Academic freedom and aesthetic education are reserved for high-scoring, privileged students and vocational education is the only option for economically marginal ones.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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pp. ix

I would like to thank Joseph Parsons at the University of Iowa Press and everyone there involved in the production and editing of this book. Their support and commitment have been critical to my belief that writing and publishing a book like this could be possible. I would like to thank the University of Minnesota Grant-in-Aid Program, which supported the beginning of my research. Thanks ...

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Introduction: Populist Idylls, Cultural Politics

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pp. 1-18

During the past two or three decades, antielitism has played a vital role within the most progressive segments of American academia. Here, antielitist cultural critique saw itself as a powerful, eminently political form of self-critique for intellectuals: in addressing political and social exclusion and injustice, it aspired to debunk the oppressive myths of normativity and nation as well as curriculum...

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1. The Problem With the Meritocracy

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pp. 19-49

Richard Hofstadter and Theodor Adorno were both deeply concerned about the relationship between anti-intellectualism and the cultural politics of the twentieth century. They were both interested in the emergence of an antiliberal bent of mind in the modern era. They were, at the same time, both opposed to the instrumentalization of thinking and the administration of human...

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2. Ordinary Americans, Average Students

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pp. 50-80

Hofstadter’s analysis of American ambivalence about education is essentially an interpretation of a modern American fantasy about the relationship between the classroom and the workplace. Since education was supposed to prepare students for both work and life, administrators and reformers imagined that it could be a tool to mitigate social inequality and social tension. When schools fail to train docile workers and to move people up the economic ladder...

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3. The Curious Cult of Religious Practicality

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pp. 81-129

American intellectuals and American people have traditionally viewed each other with distrust. From the millennial, cultural studies, cultural populist perspective, however, the 1950s were imagined to be an exceptional time: ordinary Americans were imagined to be extraordinarily deferential to intellectuals, and intellectuals were, in turn, condescending but generally well disposed toward...

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4. Against All Experts

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pp. 130-168

In April 1969 a group of young women, leaders of the Women’s Council of the Sozialistischer deutscher Studentenbund (SDS), or German Socialist Students Party, entered Theodor Adorno’s lecture hall in Frankfurt, where he was giving a lecture called “Introduction to Dialectical Thinking.”1 They surrounded Professor Adorno and threw flowers at him while performing a “pantomime” that...

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5. The New Age of Cultural Studies

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pp. 169-208

A vast spiritual restlessness animated the counterculture in the wake of the civil and social unrest of the 1960s. The dark ferment of youth in rebellion and its feral potentiality haunted those who came of age at the end of the turbulent decade. Joan Didion had reported with some trepidation from Haight-Ashbury in 1967: “The center was not holding.” Less than twenty years after Arthur M. ...

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Conclusion: The Farm, the Fortress, and the Mirror

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pp. 209-226

Richard Hofstadter thought of populism as a fundamentally unstable and American political isotope: in his view, whatever liberal or progressive impulses populism might contain, its politics would eventually break down into nativist aggression. He thought that there was something conceptually and critically limited in its idealization of the “plain people,” its idealization of agrarian life...


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pp. 227-250


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pp. 251-259

E-ISBN-13: 9781609380519
E-ISBN-10: 1609380517
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609380502
Print-ISBN-10: 1609380509

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: N/A
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: first