I first came across this article after reading The Age of the Warrior by Robert Fisk, my favourite journalist stationed in Beirut, Lebanon. This book is full of highly opinionated readings concerning both domestic and international politics in the Middle East. Anyone interested in the modern political or historical situation of this region should definitely pick up this book.
I’m posting this blog in lieu of the discussion we had this past week, about coded academic language relative to public discourse. In his article titled ‘Poisonous Academics and Their Claptrap of Exclusion’ he speaks about academic jargon as a means to marginalize the public from social scientific writing. Singling out anthropology specifically, while attending a lecture, he writes:
“… all very fascinating. But once questions were invited from the floor, Gilsenan was asked about ‘matrilineal’ issues in colonial Singapore. I closed my eyes. ‘Matrilineal’ doesn’t exist in my dictionary. Nor is it likely to. It is part of a secret language of academe – especially of anthropology – and it is a turn-off. We poor dunces should keep our noses out of this high-falutin’ stuff. That, I think, is the message. I recall a student raging to me about her anthropology professor who constantly used words like ‘emic’ and ‘etic’ – to this day, I have no idea what they mean; readers are invited to reply – in an attempt to mystify her discipline.”
He concludes this article by asserting that public intellectuals refrain from using coded, conceptual language. In the last paragraph of this article, he states:
“No, I’m not saying that all teachers speak like this. There is no secret language in the work of Edward Said or Avi Shlaim or Martin Gilbert or Noam Chomsky (* the latter of which I disagree with to some extent *). But it’s growing and it’s getting worse, and I suspect only students can now rebel against it. The merest hint of ‘emics’ and ‘constructs’ or ‘hermeneutic possibilities’ and they should walk out of class, shouting Winston Churchill’s famous retort: This is English up with which I will not put.”
Although I have my reservations about his analysis, I do think he has some important points about how we conceptualize and code our writing, if only to be understood by a select few. I’m not saying that words like ‘emic’ or ‘etic’ should be removed from the theoretical cannons of cultural anthropology, I’m only concerned with how the public engages with our writing. If this is indeed the how the public views our language and style, then perhaps when communicating our findings to a greater audience we should be keep these things in mind. Your thoughts?