Meaning of "Instrumentalize"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by maryibsb, May 13, 2009.

  1. maryibsb New Member

    What does "instrumentalize" mean? It appears in a sentence like this:
    xxx formulates an instrumentalization of western culture in the realm of xxx.

  2. Cagey post mod

    English - US
    We need more context. What is this about? You might also include the two sentences before this, and the one that follows, for a total of no more than four sentences.

    (Also, please name the source of any quoted material.)
  3. maryibsb New Member

    Hi Cagey,
    This is the text:
    "Organizationally, the humanities had found a new "in," but with this twist:classical learning was no longer a patrimony required of leaders for the wisdom it brought them, as it had been under Harvard's colonial mandate prior to reorientation towards serving industrial progress under Eliot. Now, after Eliot, the traditional imperative became bounty for a new class, which would absorb it as a consumer. It wasn't the wisdom of the "heritage" that was important, but its commonality, its very baseness in the literal sense of the word. Terry Eagleton has pointed to Matthew Arnold as formulating an instrumentalization of Western culture in the realm that had previously been occupied by religion.

    --text extracted from "Making Students Safe for Democracy" by Ben Robinson

    Thank you.
  4. Marina Urquidi

    Marina Urquidi Senior Member

    Tonnerre, France
    English-USA / Español de México / Fran
    Hi, this is rather late, but I've been doing some research on the word in English. It seems mainly to be a "spontaneous integration" into English of the French word "instrumentaliser/sation". The only really official definition in English I have found is on Wiktionary and I'll let you see for yourself.

    Otherwise, reading these threads on the French-English forum of WordReference can be very helpful:


    Hope this helps, even after the fact!
  5. Aethelstan New Member

    Kent, England, UK
    English - England
    Terry Eagleton is (characteristically) using postmodernist jargon here. "Instrumentalise" (as an Englishman I prefer the spelling with an "s") is just a pompous substitute for "use" or "employ". He is pointing out (rather long-windedly and cryptically) that Matthew Arnold proposed high culture as a replacement for religious belief (which was coming under heavy intellectual assault in the mid-Victorian period, especially from Charles Darwin and his followers).

    The musical sense given by wiktionary may or may not be the most familiar (since the verb itself is rare - possibly even rarer than the adaptation of strictly vocal music for instrumental forces), but I would suggest that it is perhaps more frequently found as a semi-technical term in ethics (e.g. in Kant).
  6. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    To instrumentalize in ethics has normally a negative connotation: to (ab-)use something or someone for one's own agenda.
  7. Aethelstan New Member

    Kent, England, UK
    English - England
    Yes, that is correct, and an important point to make.

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