The Backlash Against Relativism

H07 5

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  • Title: The Backlash Against Relativism: The New Curricular Fundamentalism
  • Author(s): Ann Elizabeth McGuire, David Buchbinder
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: New Directions in the Humanities
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review
  • Keywords: Relativism, Cultural Identity, September 11, Textuality, Textual Fundamentalism, English, English Literature, Australia, Media, Backlash, Curriculum Change
  • Volume: 5
  • Issue: 5
  • Year: 2007
  • ISSN: 1447-9508 (Print)
  • ISSN: 1447-9559 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: McGuire, Ann Elizabeth, and David Buchbinder. 2007. "The Backlash Against Relativism: The New Curricular Fundamentalism." The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review 5 (5): 51-60. doi:10.18848/1447-9508/CGP/v05i05/42109.
  • Extent: 10 pages


Emerging anxieties about fundamental cultural capital and its importance in the production of a clear and singular Western cultural identity, often referred to as “the good citizen,” have begun to produce a backlash in both teaching and broader communities against innovative curricula in the humanities. The paper draws on the authors’ experience as university representatives on panels developing new State-wide curricula in English and Literature teaching in the secondary system in Western Australia to postulate that community and media invocations of the urgent need to foreground the literary canon in curricula may be understood as in fact articulating anxieties of a different order. After September 11, perceived or actual relativisms are construed as dangerously undermining the cultural fantasy of a unified subject/good citizen in the presence of what appears to be a singular, focused, agential Other. In Australia this backlash has produced a media-tised debate that has taken as its focus the relativism supposedly underpinning a cultural studies emphasis in curricula which have as their brief the exploration of texts and textuality.