[Air-L] more fetishism (Bob Rehak)

Bob Rehak brehak1 at swarthmore.edu
Wed Jan 6 19:47:49 PST 2010


Hi Colleen, and welcome to the list (as active participant, at least)! I'm particularly pleased to see an archeologist's point of view, as this was also the discipline of my late brother Paul Rehak.

I don't have much to add to your thoughts, except that I was a bit sneaky in omitting from my previous post the fact that I'm also a blogger (at http://graphic-engine.swarthmore.edu), and that I share with you the sense of frustration with traditional filters (and consequent dumbing-down) of academic labor for a wider audience. And I agree that the burden is on us to teach ourselves new channels, and selectively accessible vocabularies, for taking our case(s) more directly to the public. Stepping back, the interesting issue (for me) is the redefinition of professional roles and performative positions this entails: perhaps the first decades of the twenty-first century will be noted -- among many other things -- for the ways in which academics reformatted themselves as their own spokespeople out of impatience with the existing go-betweens. It's an exciting time to be a professional thinker, but also a frustrating time, as has ever been the case with uniquely-evolved species forced into adaptive tactics.

But as someone who's hopelessly enamored of the abstruse and lyrical rhetoric of Jacques Lacan, I stand by my sense that there is a special if punishingly idiosyncratic beauty and utility in the rarified languages and conceptual forms of our chosen fields, and that something is lost when we introduce into our preferred modes of speech the imperative of universal understanding. Short form of saying which is: I like talking big and strange, and hope we aren't entering a world where talking small and obvious is the default option. The wonderful Carl Sagan aside, public intellectualism has never been as viable a position in the US as it is in Europe, and I wonder what might be lost in our internal discussions if everything we produce has a kind of popular expiration date stamped on it. By definition, trends come and go, and there's something to be said for stubbornly clinging to the discursive equivalent of bell-bottom jeans and muttonchop sideburns -- if only because future generations may judge us for our too-quick acquiescence to epistemic supply and demand.

Bob Rehak
Assistant Professor and Chair
Film and Media Studies Program
Swarthmore College

----- "Colleen Morgan" <clmorgan at berkeley.edu> wrote:

> I agree for the most part with the points that Matt has argued, but I
> wanted to address some specific comments from Professor Rehak.
> 
> I would argue that as an archaeologist it is imperative that we are
> able
> to communicate with a very broad audience and exercise considerable
> media
> savvy in the meantime.  Trying to generalize for a fractious and
> curmudgeonly discipline, we are tired of seeing the media get stories
> about the past so outrageously wrong that we are teaching ourselves
> to
> communicate through social media. We can't just leave it to the
> journalists and bloggers, we have to be public intellectuals who can
> explain our finds to anyone who cares to listen.  In our program we
> have a
> required public outreach component where we go into the public
> schools,
> community centers, and even the local prisons to teach archaeology.
> We've
> been extending this outreach onto the internet whenever possible,
> going
> beyond just isolated webpages and into blogs, flickr, tumblr, twitter,
> you
> name it.
> 
> While I'm sure I'm not the next Carl Sagan of the archaeological
> world, I
> do try to engage with a public with stories about the complexity and
> diversity of the past, rather than tell them a "dumbed down"
> metanarrative
> that they often seem hungry to hear.
> 
> Sadly, I'm afraid we do have a cultural theory column in USA
> Today--it
> just happens to be the latest, greatest evolutionary psychology
> "break-through" that gives us yet another just-so story.
> #bitteranthropologist
> 
> So, uh, hello Association of Internet Researchers. I probably should
> have
> introduced myself before I stepped onto the soapbox, but better late
> than
> never.
> 
> Cheers,
> 
> Colleen
> --
> Archaeology PhD Candidate
> Department of Anthropology
> University of California, Berkeley
> http://middlesavagery.wordpress.com
> 
> 
> > Message: 11
> > Date: Wed, 6 Jan 2010 10:19:38 -0500 (EST)
> > From: Bob Rehak <brehak1 at swarthmore.edu>
> > To: air-l at listserv.aoir.org
> > Subject: Re: [Air-L] more fetishism
> > Message-ID:
> > 
> <707943608.690931262791178316.JavaMail.root at zmmbox1.swarthmore.edu>
> > Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8
> >
> > I'll cast my vote for specialized and specific language whose
> priority is
> > first and foremost to advance conversations within the discipline.
> I'd say
> > I was for jargon, except that I find the term "jargon" similar to
> the term
> > "weeds" -- it's in the eye of the beholder, and usually used in a
> rather
> > hostile and passive-aggressive manner to police the discourse of
> those
> > with whom we disagree.
> >
> > Debates about the degree and acceptability of specialized language
> suggest
> > to me a larger question of how a given discipline and its
> practitioners
> > wish to position themselves relative to a broader cultural context
> -- and
> > hence a secondary issue in the production of knowledge. Perhaps it's
> a
> > worry symptomatic of fields like cultural, media, and digital
> studies that
> > intersect so centrally with popular culture. I wouldn't want my
> medical
> > doctor, astrophysicist, or archeologist to streamline (or dumb down)
> their
> > mode of thought and expression so that people without training can
> > understand it; that kind of translation from minority to majority is
> one
> > of the functions that bloggers and journalists provide.
> >
> > The problem, in other words, is not so much that academic speech is
> > inscrutable outside its microscopically-targeted audience; it's
> that
> > organs don't exist to translate that speech to a wider audience. I'm
> still
> > holding out for a cultural theory column in USA Today!
> >
> > Bob Rehak
> > Assistant Professor and Chair
> > Film and Media Studies Program
> > Swarthmore College
> >
> > ----- "Matthew Bernius" <mbernius at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> >> For what it's worth, I think there's room for both types of
> >> scholarship
> >> (public and internal/academic). In my opinion, anthropology hasn't
> >> done
> >> enough public scholarship in recent years.Likewise, I think that
> there
> >> is a
> >> need (and a responsibility) for open publishing (making all text
> >> available
> >> to the general public) of all academic material, regardless of
> it's
> >> intended
> >> audience.
> >>
> >> That said, I also don't see a problem with using technical jargon
> if
> >> it's
> >> used properly. Especially if it's the language of the audience we
> >> choose to
> >> write for. The first task of a writer is to write for their
> audience
> >> and in
> >> doing so we acknowledge the mediating role of lanuage and writing
> >> (regardless if it's textual or some other form).
> >>
> >> I'm not going to knock physical scientists for using jargon in
> their
> >> writing
> >> that I don't understand.Nor am I going to expect that I'll be able
> to
> >> understand some of the more in depth research that they produce --
> >> not
> >> without significant study. Likewise, I'm not going to take Joyce
> to
> >> task for
> >> making *Ulysses *a slog to read.
> >>
> >> The problem with this question of terminology is that it becomes a
> >> slippery
> >> slope. At what point do we turn from terminology to critique
> phrasing?
> >> How
> >> many academic writers come to mind who might not use complex
> words,
> >> but
> >> instead use densely packed sentences with multiple ideas, often
> >> leaving the
> >> reader equally befuddled? Take the writing of Bruno Latour for
> >> example. *Reassembling
> >> the Social* (which I'm currently rereading) uses relatively
> >> straightforward
> >> words, but I think that the average reader could still argue that
> the
> >> construction of the book is exceptionally "academicie" and
> difficult
> >> to
> >> read.
> >>
> >> Should we strive for clarity in our texts? Sure. But what exactly
> does
> >> that
> >> mean? And that isn't necessarily the same thing as reach, though
> the
> >> two are
> >> interrelated. As I see it, our goal should be to be as clear as
> >> possible to
> >> the audience that we intend to be speaking to in order to
> effectively
> >> convey
> >> the description that we are seeking to convey. And that influences
> >> the
> >> language that should be used.
> >>
> >> When I write for broader consumption, I may sprinkle some terms in
> >> (always
> >> with explanations), but I assume that my audience doesn't have the
> >> same
> >> exposure to that field and adjust my writing accordingly.
> >>
> >> All that said, to restate, I (me, myself, I) am committed to
> talking
> >> to
> >> audiences outside of anthropology and academia. And in doing so, I
> >> work to
> >> bring the level of jargon and clarity into harmony with my
> audiences
> >> expectations and experiences.
> >>
> >> - Matt
> >>
> >> -----------------------------
> >> Matthew Bernius
> >> PhD Student, Cultural Anthropology, Cornell University (
> >> http://www.arts.cornell.edu/anthro/)
> >> Co-Director, Open Publishing Lab @ the Rochester Institute of
> >> Technology (
> >> http://opl.cias.rit.edu)
> >> mBernius at gMail.com
> >> http://www.waking-dream.com
> >>
> >>
> >> On Wed, Jan 6, 2010 at 9:37 AM, Jordan Lynn <jordanl at uga.edu>
> wrote:
> >>
> >> > Barry,
> >> > Why not write all papers with general consumption in mind? I've
> >> worked
> >> > through an entire graduate career loathing the fact that my work
> >> will
> >> > be lost to the relative obscurity of academia (if less than 2%
> of
> >> the
> >> > population has access to or can functionally understand a work,
> I
> >> > consider it lost to obscurity). Why write in Latin when the
> masses
> >> > speak English? Are we being elitist, by developing our own
> >> language,
> >> > or are we truly using the most efficient form of communication
> >> > possible? Food for thought.
> >> > -Jordan Lynn
> >> > University of Georgia
> >> > MoWerks Learning
> >> >
> >> > On Wed, Jan 6, 2010 at 9:11 AM, Matthew Bernius
> >> <mbernius at gmail.com>
> >> > wrote:
> >> > > Barry Wellman wrote:
> >> > >
> >> > > I hope no one uses ?self-glossing? except on their lips.
> >> > > One problem is that anthropology needs to move beyond is the
> >> unnecessary
> >> > > use of insy-poo language.
> >> > >
> >> > > Mea Culpa. Though to be fair, there are a number of (European)
> >> > Sociologists
> >> > > who enjoy a good neologism, oops... I mean insy-poo language
> every
> >> now
> >> > and
> >> > > then. I've been spending a bit too much time with them as of
> >> late.
> >> > >
> >> > > BTW, in general I totally agree that we should work to avoid
> over
> >> > > "academicizing" our writing (and I did have a feeling I was
> going
> >> to get
> >> > > some flack for "glossing"). In defense of glossing for a sec,
> at
> >> least on
> >> > > the linguistic anthro side, a lot of these terms have pretty
> >> specific
> >> > > meanings, and by glossing a gloss to gloss the gloss (sorry, I
> >> was
> >> > feeling a
> >> > > bit Bourdieuian :-] ) in a paper, we're able to convey a
> complex
> >> concept
> >> > in
> >> > > a single word (for those in the know). That said, if it's a
> paper
> >> for
> >> > > general consumption, then a different register/writing and
> >> language style
> >> > is
> >> > > completely in order.
> >> > >
> >> > > - Matt
> >> > >
> >> > > -----------------------------
> >> > > Matthew Bernius
> >> > > PhD Student, Cultural Anthropology, Cornell University (
> >> > > http://www.arts.cornell.edu/anthro/)
> >> > > Co-Director, Open Publishing Lab @ the Rochester Institute of
> >> Technology
> >> > (
> >> > > http://opl.cias.rit.edu)
> >> > > mBernius at gMail.com
> >> > > http://www.waking-dream.com
> >> > > _______________________________________________
> >> > > The Air-L at listserv.aoir.org mailing list
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> >> > >
> >> > > Join the Association of Internet Researchers:
> >> > > http://www.aoir.org/
> >> > >
> >> >
> >> _______________________________________________
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> >
> > ------------------------------
> 
> 
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