"From Critique to Vision: The Unfinished Work of American Studies?
Can we envision “America” as a crossroads where historical legacies intersect with future possibilities?
For more than thirty years, conservative institutions and think-tanks have been bringing together cultural historians, political scientists, and active politicians to craft the language and the framework that would give conservative policies cultural legitimacy and political traction. No such synergistic effort has taken place on the other side of the political spectrum, where Washington-based institutes have focused on policy studies while a dispersed community of cultural scholars and intellectuals has focused primarily on critique – of social injustice, nationalism, and the suppression of difference, for example.
The question on the table now is whether this project of critique can and should turn a corner and become a visionary project as well. Can the scholarly community be of help to the policy community in offering a vision of “America” that stands in sharp contrast to the vision put forward by the conservative intellectual movement? Is it possible to sustain a critical enterprise that has accomplished so much and also to supplement it with a constructive enterprise that identifies and redefines important values in an American political and cultural history? For example, can histories and traditions of dissent contribute to the imagining of an America that is formed and sustained by them?
In sum, how might American Studies scholarship “take back” an America by helping to create it – or is such an effort hopelessly at odds with current critical practice? If the latter, what might be the costs of permanently ceding the envisioning of America to the conservative intellectual movement?
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