I was recently in a conversation on Twitter about, well, I’m not sure exactly, because it was so loaded with what was described at one point as academic language, that I had to read some of the posts twice before I think I understood what was being discussed. I actually replied that I wished people would start using English. There was actually some agreement with that response. I mean, in one tweet, someone referred to steelmanning, word I had never seen used before. It was used in a way to indicate an accusation made against the person tweeting. After looking it up, I discovered it was a way of taking an opponents strongest argument, and using that to refute their thesis. Now I’ve bored myself.
It comes down to this: what many call academic language, I refer to as jargon. People, in articles, essays, scientifically related or not, will use it to make themselves seem more authoritative to what they are writing about. Sometimes, it belongs as the best description of what is being explained, but other times, mostly when the audience is not literate in the subject, it tends to confound the reader. Think about it this way: reading an essay where every paragraph, you have to stop and look up some terminology, then think about how it’s been used in the essay, and do this every paragraph, or worse, every few sentences. Frustration is a word that comes to mind. And no, i’m not referring to academic journals where the articles/essays are written for those that have expertise in the subject, but popular publications, meant for the general public, with the idea that some will be familiar with the subject, others not so much.
It’s not o much that we regularly see jargon in various publications, but that it’s regularly used online, in social medias venues. What I normally witness is those used to describe some social condition, like intersectionality. It’s used to describe a person or a group thsat the writer believes is a victim of oppression. Until recently (the past year or so), I had never considered that word in the context it’s now framed. I needed to become aware of what others online were actually discussing to realize what they were referring to, didn’t include me. I think it’s a fabricated term, at least in how it’s used and is much overused by the online community to discuss oppressed groups of people. It’s also labeling people that may not consider themselves part of any particular group. That’s the worst part of some of this social jargon, categorizing people, to delegitimize some, and promote others. Another is see quite a bit is postmodern, or some iteration. I think that most people that use this term, don’t fully understand exactly what it means. Here’s how Wikipedia defines postmodernism:
Postmodernism is characterized by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward the meta-narratives and ideologies of modernism, often calling into question various assumptions of Enlightenment rationality. Postmodernism developed in the mid- to late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism and represented a departure or rejection of modernism..
Someone just kill me. What does any of that nonsense actually mean? Meta-narrative? I don’t consider myself poorly educated but when I read something like that, I want to shut down my mind. We live in a world of nonsense. I’ve actually seen the two used together online, as in postmodern intersectionality and intersectional postmodernism. Seriously? What is it the person is actually saying is unknown to me and I usually won’t peruse a twenty or thirty thread post to try and discover what’s actually meant.
I use my life-learned vocabulary skills when I write, along with a thesaurus when looking for a synonym to a word I may have begun to overuse. I don’t look for the most painfully obscure word as a replacement. I try to use the most common language that everyone reading may readily understand. Sometimes, I think there are those that use extraordinary terminology to obfuscate (is that one?) their intent. In pother situations, I find that many using words and terms have no idea as to what they are referring and that their audience appreciates the fact that these people are really smart, when, well, maybe the opposite is true.
6 thoughts on “The Epistemological Intersectionality of Postmodernism”
Time is short tonight, but thanks.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein
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What I get from this post is that you dont want to make an effort to understand these words. There are certainly instances in academics where an author doesnt realize how a layperson may perceive their choice of language. The cases you cited however, are not really worthy of that criticism. Any word that is preceded by meta refers to the relationships between the object of explanation and the dynamics of all objects belonging to that category. IE: meta-ethics is about the concepts that underlie or explicate ethical theories. This is not controversial at all. Likewise, intersectionality is far from nonsense. It simply refers to a perception of identity that is informed, whether consciously or not, by multiple facets of a person’s life. IE. I identify as human who is associated with different aspects of human culture. I am interested in analytical philosophy, but I also enjoy martial arts. Both of those things, along with many others contribute to how I and others perceive my identity. Nothing too complicated there. Using a single word instead of writing an entire definition is simply more efficient. No one is trying to confuse you. Either you care enough to make an effort or you dont.
My point, noted by a few academics by the way, is that these are meaningless terms to most people. If they wish to reach the majority, they need to use terminology, or at least define it, so that the everyday reader will understand what they’re referring to. As I told one, I could’ve placed those same words in any order, and to the average reader, they would’ve made as much sense. He actually agreed. We all. no matter out field, if we’re looking to reach the average person, is less jargon, more common language. Yes, we can use terminology but it needs to be defined so that the averge person understands what’s being said. /It;s not hard, especially if your goal is to reach those same consumers.
While I understand your sentiment, there is dichotomy that comes into effect. In one scenario, where the language used is academic, some people will not be bothered to go and try to understand the concepts at all. In your scenario, while there may be fewer terms to learn, the result is that the body of text is far larger, which will discourage a certain readership from even attempting to parse the information. The real problem is that people arent really willing to engage seriously with a topic if they are required to do any learning for themselves, whether that be going to check vocabulary, or reading a large body of text.
You made my point. Most people aren’t willing to engage in a subject where the language used is indecipherable to them. If there’s even a small attempt to make (non-academic) papers more available to the public, then there may be at least some, willing to engage in those ideas presented. Many academics I know wish the public understood what they were researching. My response has always been, make it more available to them, and realize that your essays, or whatever are not exclusive to a minority, but to a wider audience. Want to convince the world? You have to convince the world and not just a small peer group.
Actually, I made my own point. The problem with academic content is that it usually IS complicated. So there will either be specific language used that some arent familiar with, or there will be a wall of text. The point is, the public has difficulty understanding the content because they are unwilling to investigate for themselves. Unless an academic is specifically reaching out to the lay-public, they are communicating to others with a similar background. In many such conversations, the content goes far beyond what is easy to quickly explain. Twitter only compounds the efficacy of academic language because of the character limit. Again, if a person wants to contribute a meaningful opinion, they had better make an effort to understand the content in question. Can it be made easier for them in certain contexts? Yes. Does that context extend to all academic communication outside of journals? No. It simply cant. Integrating a tutorial for lay people in every communication made in public is an extreme amount of work.