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Just Say No to Academic Language

gethen | 24.01.2010 19:33 | Analysis

For the vast majority of the English-speaking world, 'post-politics' is not a word. 'Problematise' is not a word. 'Subject' is not a word unless you mean 'topic'. And believe it or not, most people have not even heard of Adorno, much less read him.

The people that use academic language often claim that they need it in order to get their point across. This is an unsatisfactory excuse to say the least, given that 99.95% of the population manage to communicate just fine without ever making reference to 'the critical theory of the subject'. Seriously, people, if you are smart enough to use these words, you should be smart enough not to.

This kind of language isn't just harmless gibberish. It is a tool for creating hierarchy. Imagine that you are a young person who has just recently started to get interested in radical politics. You look at a something that claiims to be a radical pamplet or blog, or walk into a discussion on radical politics, and you see / hear:

'“Wrong life cannot be lived rightly”. One of our contributors quotes Adorno as a cynic whose philosophy has immobilised some parts of the radical left. However, when we consider the complete domination of the current political and economic system, manifest in the hugely consensual yet hopeless response to climate change at the recent COP summit, it often appears that this philosophical principle is not cynical, but rather an empowering form of rejection and antagonism against the entirety of the system that dominates every aspect of our lives. Maybe this is the only way to achieve political action that cannot be recuperated...' *

You might think to yourself, "I can't understand any of this, I'm out of here". But instead you might think, "I don't understand any of this, I guess I'm just not smart enough to understand anti-capitalism / anarchism / communism / whatever. I'll just keep my mouth shut from now on so no-one finds out how dumb I am, and when I'm in meetings I'll just let the people who know about 'alter-globalisation' and 'recuperation' and 'the end of history' make all the decisions".

Academic language actively creates hierarchy where there was none before. It creates an elite - the people who understand the academic language - while excluding the majority who don't.

Everyone has to survive under capitalism somehow, and it is understandable that people with academic jobs have to use this kind of language when writing journal articles or otherwise communicating with other academics as part of their work. However there is no reason to use this kind of language in a forum that is aimed at activists, or campaigners, or members of the public in general. It's wrong, it's bad, don't do it. Using language that only a small percentage of people can understand in order to advance principles such as social justice and equality is just as bonkers as bombing for peace, or fucking for chastity.

* The quote is from Shift Magazine, Perhaps it was unfair of me to pick on them since a lot of their articles are interesting and also perfectly readable, although the most recent editorial, in my opinion, isn't.



Display the following 22 comments

  1. damn right — gy
  2. What is the "english" word for "problematise"? — huh?
  3. sigh — george orwell
  4. Its easy to talk shit — in shorthand
  5. the problem with using short hand — gethen
  6. Problematizing Problematise — Luther Blisset
  7. check out "turbulence" — if you think shift is bad...
  8. Get a life — anon
  9. Subject? — anon
  10. If you've got a problem... — Good ideas come to those who wait
  11. Grammar 101. — Good ideas come to those who wait
  12. new concepts? — Huh?
  13. A famine of concepts? — Good ideas come to those who wait
  14. Nah — Anon
  15. @If you think shift is bad… — dfk.,gmxc
  16. Chilling out is not the solution — Luther Blisset
  17. Betrayal and struggle — L
  18. 101 — gethen
  19. Toi my knowledge — ....
  20. To be Fair — ABC
  21. Aufheben — Somebody Somewhere
  22. To be honest, I rather understand Shift ... — soupcommandante