No Offence But… Sometimes Academic Literature is Terrible
No Offence But… is a column by Harleen Osahan where she rants about things that bother her about academia, politics, and life.
I love academia. I really do. Even more than academia itself, there is nothing more I love than curling up on my couch with a neat little five hundred page book about a very specific artefact from 300 years ago. Despite my love, I believe that there is something systematically wrong with a lot of the academic literature that exists right now.
For about a year, I thought that there was something wrong with the way I was reading certain journal articles or books. Mostly because I couldn’t understand so many articles that I was reading to research for my essays. But then I realised that I was not the only one who thought this. So much of academic literature is overcrowded with jargon and specificity that it is almost impossible to understand the point of an article without conducting extensive research of your own. And more often than not, it seems as if the piece of literature is arguing for twenty different things at the same time, without any linear direction.
Elucidating on this– take for example the “Sokal affair”, a sting conducted by Alan Sokal, an NYU professor, where he tried to question whether “a leading North American journal of cultural studies – whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross – [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions”. Sokal’s nonsensical article was published and hence proved his point– academics/ editors are either lazy or suffer from a horrible case of confirmation bias.
Apart from this issue of bias, the language of these articles also makes me question their accessibility. Sure, you could argue that these articles are written for the purpose of informing the people who study them in the first place, therefore they do not need to cater to the wider demographic that may want to consume said literature. But, what is the purpose of writing an article that only a small elite group of individuals with the exact same qualifications as you will understand. This is not to say that all journal editors are lazy or that complex jargon-stuffed papers are incoherent, but maybe this goes to show that a complex paper isn’t necessarily a good paper.
Harleen is a sophomore at Georgetown University Qatar. She is also an overall cute and sassy person and your co-editor in chief.