Pierre Bourdieu somewhere in Distinctions (I believe), had a sentence (translated from the French) that read “structures structuring structure.” Somewhere else (again, my memory from 20 years ago could be at fault), Bourdieu, in responding to a critique of the obfuscation in his writing, came back with a retort that I remember as “life is complex, so my sentences are complex.”
I definitely agree with the sentiment and assertions made by Anderson in his discussion of access vs. accessibility. I know Anderson realizes that his list of possible explanations for why advanced scholarship is incomprehensible to the general public was not exhaustive, but there are two additional explanations that need to be put out there. First, our training (e.g., PhD) has disciplined us into valorizing a style of writing that is not generally accessible to a non-specialist (though we are trained to write grant proposals using more direct lanaguage). We further mirror such writing in our early career journal articles and monographs that we send out to publication gatekeepers, hoping that our repetition of the ritualistic language we were taught opens the doors of acceptance, leading to the holy grail of tenure. Second, we want to maintain a monopoly on disciplinary authority, using jargon and inventing new words, to pummel people with our erudition. Early in my teaching career, I put together a web handout on my teaching philosophy (last expanded in 2001 here) where I explain to students that my job as a teacher (and their job as students) is to explain complex social theory in plain English. I’m not sure I’ve gotten there yet (the goal was for them to become fluent in anthropology), but I’m trying.
Cottom’s piece puzzled me a bit, especially the conclusion that public scholarship in the social sciences generates media storms. Maybe I do boring social sciences, but even when I tweet or post something about China, I think it’s only marginally improved from the number of people who have read my book or articles. Cottom’s article made me think about analyzing my own tweets. I downloaded all my tweets (thanks to Twitter’s nice little tool), and took a quick look:
. My first tweet was in March 2009, and it was “Going to Cannon to ref some lax.” Nobody re-tweeted it or liked it. What’s the sound of an unread tweet? This is also why I’m puzzled why public scholarship necessarily means pissing people off, as Cottom writes. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, maybe I’m too middle of the road (or more precisely what a colleague calls ‘the militant middle ground’), or maybe nobody cares.
But that’s OK. My 15 year old son thinks it’s sad, but I like watching the puddles gather rain.