Thursday, October 9, 2008

Graphs on the death of Marxism, postmodernism, and other academic fads

We are living in very exciting times -- at long last, we've broken the stranglehold that a variety of silly Blank Slate theories have held on the arts, humanities, and social sciences. To some, this may sound strange, but things have decisively changed within the past 10 years, and these so-called theories are now moribund. To let those out-of-the-loop in on the news, and to quantify what insiders have already suspected, I've drawn graphs of the rise and fall of these fashions.

I searched the archives of JSTOR, which houses a cornucopia of academic journals, for certain keywords that appear in the full text of an article or review (since sometimes the big ideas appear in books rather than journals). This provides an estimate of how popular the idea is -- not only the true believers, but their opponents too, will use the term. Once no one believes it anymore, then the adherents, opponents, and neutral spectators will have less occasion to use the term. I excluded data from 2003 onward because most JSTOR journals don't deposit their articles in JSTOR until 3 to 5 years after the original publication. Still, most of the declines are visible even as of 2002.

Admittedly, a better estimate would be to measure the number of articles with the term in a given year, divided by the total number of articles that JSTOR has for that year, to yield a frequency. But I don't have the data on total articles. However, on time-scales when we don't expect a huge change in the total number of articles published -- say, over a few decades -- then we can take the total to be approximately constant and use only the raw counts of articles with the keyword. Crucially, although this may warp our view of an increasing trend -- which could be due to more articles being written in total, while the frequency of those of interest stays the same -- a sustained decline must be real.

Here are the graphs (an asterisk means the word endings could vary):

Source and posted by agnostic