Communicating humanistic knowledge amidst innovation cultures
Updated: Feb 24
The odds are stacked against the humanists fighting for relevance. But it is mainly because of the rapid pace of technological change and the wide ranges of social transformations that humanistic knowledge is needed more than ever.
It has often been said that the Humanities are in a crisis. As we have been hearing for years, if not decades, the crisis is due to several reasons: the fiscal “reality” of the university system; the dire job prospect that scared the students away from majoring in the humanities; the “publish or perish” pressure that systematically deprived the humanists of the space and time necessary to immerse themselves to create original ideas.
“Communicating about the Humanities knowledge, therefore, is necessary to challenge the perceived notion of “innovation” upheld by the university administrators and higher-education legislators, in order for them to recognize the distinctiveness of contribution that the humanistic knowledge can provide to our society. .”
Such narrative of crisis is often evoked by the proponents of a solution, which involves “innovative” practices of running a university like a “knowledge enterprise” that incubates immediately applicable and commercially impactful knowledge.
Can Humanities Be Saved Through Communication?
The humanists fighting a battle for relevance share a compelling sense that the odds are stacked against them. But it is mainly because of the rapid pace of technological change and the wide ranges of social transformations that humanistic knowledge is needed more than ever. Communicating about the Humanities knowledge is as important as producing the knowledge, which adds depth and breadth to public debate and discussions about the complex challenges we face today. With all its rhetoric of novelty and disruption, innovation-driven social change is leaving us less and less sure about ourselves, as we are all questioning where the changes are supposedly leading us to and how we are ought to anchor our modes of being in the present. It is through communicating the “depth and breadth” of the Humanities knowledge that we can hope to recover the revitalize the necessary social space – a space of deliberation and critical reflection – that has been gradually diminished by the preoccupation with the “3Vs” (volume, velocity, and veracity) of the innovation-driven transformation.
The truth is that Humanities scholars have always been striving to provide knowledge that we need – the ones that trace the historical condition of the present, the nature of human beings, the mattering of the ethics and aesthetics, and the value of deliberation and critical reflection. We have also witnessed the proliferation of interdisciplinary and collaborative projects that cross boundaries between history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, area studies, science and technology studies, cultural studies, gender studies, and performance studies – even when the universities have been slow to reward these signs of progress and consider them as worthy as the preliminary findings or minor scientific discoveries.
Communicating about the Humanities knowledge, therefore, is necessary to challenge the perceived notion of “innovation” upheld by the university administrators and higher-education legislators, in order for them to recognize the distinctiveness of contribution that the humanistic knowledge can provide to our society.
More importantly, communicating about the Humanities knowledge benefits our students. Students on our campus have been voicing their concerns about their struggles with mental health problems, consequences of the climate change, and divisive political atmosphere in this country. Communicating with our students about the values and beauty of humanistic knowledge will help them gather necessary wisdom to establish cogent arguments to stand up for their cause and to find a sense of direction in the world that is increasingly defined by complexity, uncertainty, and “crisis.”