Thoughts on deconstruction and reconstruction in academia

I find it interesting how much of deconstruction and reconstruction varies based on what field you work in along with subfield in academia. This will be mainly written from a Western perspective, which perpetuates some assumptions that do not apply everywhere. My personal definition of deconstruction is more of a critical analysis and taking apart things to expose contradiction, flaws and other aspects. My personal definition of reconstruction is re-building, extending, and generalizing if it makes sense to do so.

I have formal training in mathematics and psychology, though I have self studied along with collaborating with other academics on disability studies, gender studies, and sociology.

Mathematics makes heavy use of reconstruction. Extending previous mathematical proofs, finding ways around limitations of previous proofs if it makes sense, seeing if it can be more generalized, and more are common reconstructive ways mathematics is done. Mathematics is heavily reconstructive, which also leads it very vulnerable to certain kinds of deconstruction. If you attack the core of a field in mathematics and it’s a strong argument, you can cause some serious damage. One such example is the foundational crisis that happened in the early 1900s. I won’t go into details, but it majorly shook up mathematics. Another downside to this heavy reconstruction is the historical and current exclusion of certain folks in mathematics along with the elitist vibe in many places. This means that the voices at the highest class in their society got amplified the hardest and that since we are building on top of that, they continue to be amplified even to this day. One upshot to the heavily reconstruction is that the view is “How can we extend this?”, which can sometimes buffer to a degree on vicious deconstruction.

Psychology is more mixed in this regard. Psychology does a combination of deconstruction and reconstruction. Areas like critical psychology are much more deconstructive than positive psychology, which tends to leans towards reconstruction. You tend to see more infighting with the level of reconstruction and deconstruction. I notice that those in the most secure positions err to reconstruction while those in more short term contracts err to deconstruction. Part of the issue is that quite a few psychology studies are done on a non-representative sample of the population and are overgeneralized, making extending those studies a bad idea since much of the theory is based on this specific subpopulation that will not generalize. So, when you attempt reconstruction with those studies, you wind up ending up oppressing more folks and impacting future studies. This also ties directly into disability studies.

Disability studies is heavily deconstructive because disabled folks have been excluded academia for a long time. That means that there were abled academics writing about disabled folks without taking in their input or working with disabled folks in a collaborative and equal way. You still see this even now where basic assumptions are made about a particular disability that are false can get into a paper and not be corrected. I particularly see this for autism research since that is where I have the most training, but I have also seen this with psychosis, schizophrenia, ADHD, low vision, and much much more! You can run into significant issues with reconstruction as well. Take for example making higher education more accessible. If you are not careful, you could perpetuate credentialism (overemphasis on specific formal education) and wind up perpetuating ableism on those who do not wish to pursue formal education, those who cannot pursue formal education, and you can also devalue systems of learning that isn’t a formal academic system, all of which would contribute to systemic oppression of those disabled around the globe. One upshot to this heavy deconstruction aspect is that folks are always looking a way to find limitations to reduce the harm done to others.

Gender studies (and similar fields) also tends to be deconstructive, though slightly less than disability studies. Part of that is that some specific type of folks have been included for longer, and I think another aspect is that there is more awareness of the field. One reason why it’s heavily deconstructive is the level of demonization it gets from the media. It gets ridiculed, banned in some places, some places are planning to ban it, and the field tends to be very critical of fascists and those allied with fascists. This has to do with fascists repeatedly targeting the field and still are, fascists suppressing research, and other ways fascists have attempted to sabotage the field (along with disability studies). Compare this to some fascists glorifying mathematics and select things in psychology.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that fields that are more reconstructive tend to be more supported by those with the most power. Why do you think the field was building off the most privileged folks after all? What do you think happened to those who didn’t have privilege? They were erased, ignored, abused, mistreated, kept out of the field, and worse. I do not know if I can make a stronger claim than this. I would need to look into this deeper.

I tend to lean heavily deconstructive. It’s no secret that academia has excluded Black folks around the world, doubly so for mathematics. I also tend to lean heavily deconstructive because a lot of psychology papers make racist assumptions that nobody checks until either the paper is accepted and then get retracted or the paper issues a correction. That is way too late to be checking for things like that and that’s if anyone even flags it. I do think reconstruction has its uses; this is just my personal stance. Use whatever is best for the situation.

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