[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[xmca] Doctoral Program Sought

Judah Maddry, a student in our masters degree program, is interested in
doctoral studies to explore the demise of the ideal of the "Renaissance
Man" (or Woman) - the Jack-of-all-trades - the generalist. The following
statement describes some of the ways he is conceiving of this problem.
Presumably such an interest could be pursued in sociology, history,
cultural studies, education, and other fields. If anyone can suggest a
program that would particularly welcome and support his interest, he'd
be very glad to hear of it. You can reply off-line to him at


David Kirshner




             I'm interested in how industrialization, division of labor,
and specialization led to the decline of "Renaissance men," or "jacks of
all trades," for lack of better terminology, in the Western world.
During the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, figures emerged who did a
little bit of everything.  For example, Benjamin Franklin was known as
an inventor, statesmen, politician, writer, and diplomat, among other
roles.  One could argue that such figures were overhyped individuals who
were able to accomplish what they did because of the privileged social
and economic status into which they were born.   However, their
widespread popularity seems to attest to something within the zeitgeist
of that era.  I wrote a paper on how Benjamin Franklin's autobiography
was popular because he was an icon of an American ideology that
essentially urged one to "do anything, be anything."  This idea was
further supported by de Crevecoeur's work on Americanism, while
Jacksonian democracy was a political expression of this concept.  Within
this ideology, class was to be no obstacle to the aspirations of
ordinary Americans, who were accordingly expected to emulate figures
such as Franklin, achieving excellence in whatever they desired.
Elitism was opposed even in the military.  The standing military was
regarded with distrust, as Americans preferred "citizen soldiers," who
were men from all walks of life within American society who could
allegedly fight with equal valor and competence.      

            Many years later, once the transformative effects of the
Industrial Revolution had been felt globally, German psychologist Carl
Jung wrote his Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, in which he
described a phenomenon he identified as the "persona."  He explained it
as a "mask," worn by each member of society to hide his true identity.
The reason for this is that in an industrial society, division of labor
requires specialization for the sake of efficiency.  In keeping with
Durkheim's explanation of societies, each member becomes an organ,
performing his strictly defined role with the full concentration of his
energies.  Jung uses this example:  if customers in need of shoes had a
choice between a cobbler who concentrated on being nothing more than a
cobbler, and another cobbler who also was a published poet, they would
be more inclined to buy from the one who was solely a cobbler, believing
him to be more capable of producing quality shoes.  

            As American society experienced its own industrialization,
it also seemed to gradually transition from praising generalists, to
considering them to be somewhat anomic.  The contradiction becomes
striking when it is taken into consideration that American
schoolchildren are the receivers of mixed messages. Figures such as
Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Adams, and Madison continue to be
praised as icons of Americanism, yet versatility seems to be frowned
upon by the powerful within our bureaucratic society.  The very same
schools that inculcate the ideals of the larger-than-life Founding
Fathers also encourage students to pick a career path as early as
possible and pursue it unfalteringly.  They wish to turn children into
useful societal organs.  

            I hope to discover how and to what extent American society
has become similar to what Jung describes.  Furthermore, I'm eager to
understand what insight such a study could yield toward understanding
the current transformation into a post-industrial information society.
Will the constraining boundaries of specialization remain, or will
individuals once again be encouraged to "do anything, be anything"?  As
traditional avenues toward social advancement become less rewarding, and
economic futures become more uncertain, will the ability to innovate be
encouraged more than complicity within a bureaucratic station?  



xmca mailing list