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19-07-2020 | Social Science and Public Policy | Issue 4/2020

Society 4/2020

A Darwinian Approach to Postmodern Critical Theory: Or, How Did Bad Ideas Colonise the Academy?

Journal:
Society > Issue 4/2020
Author:
Alan Davison
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Abstract

This article proposes a Darwinian approach to examine the persistence and resilience of a peculiar set of misbeliefs that have flourished in intellectual circles over the last several decades. These misbeliefs, such as the prevailing antirational explanatory models within postmodern critical theory (PMCT), might be expected to perish under the weight of critical scrutiny; that is, selection pressures would tend to weed them out in a highly competitive and rigorous “marketplace of ideas” such as the academy. Given the flourishing of PMCT and its attendant communities of practice, political economies, tribalism and social signalling, it is suggested here that it should be approached in a new way: as a significant socio-cultural cluster of misbeliefs worthy of explanation with tools honed via evolutionary science. For example, the prominence of religious-like performativity and self-validating arguments associated with PMCT makes it suitable for study from perspectives such as memetics, evolutionary psychology (EP) and signalling theory, and Moral Foundations Theory (MFT). With these approaches, a hypothesis-driven research agenda could be developed to examine the deeply-rooted cognitive basis and adaptive socio-cultural drivers behind the spread of PMCT. It is proposed that formal and systematic programmes be established to research the phenomenon, and that – just as with the study of religion – we move beyond the now long-established emphasis on intellectual critique and instead establish a broad programme in the Evolutionary Studies of Postmodernism (ESPM).

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