chapter  2
20 Pages

History-writing as critique

WithJOAN W. SCOTT

It is fashionable these days to talk about poststructuralist theory in the past tense, as a disruptive moment that once threatened to undermine the discipline of history, substituting fancy French distractions for serious empirical investigations. Orthodox disciplinarians, along with journalists, politicians and public intellectuals, have declared this theory to be dead. And not only dead, but thankfully so, since it is held responsible for all manner of ethical lapses, ranging from the decline of academic standards (plagiarism, lack of attention to factual accuracy, radical scepticism about truth and the possibility of objectivity) to the vagaries of multiculturalism (disunity, loss of coherence and shared focus), the erosion of society’s moral centre, the defeat of working-class political movements, tolerance for violations of universal human rights in the name of cultural relativism, and even to the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.2