in Issue 32 (July 2002) I wrote
briefly in this column about jargon, and I foreshadowed that I would
ruminate in a later piece on a specific and most fertile field of
gibberish — that of sociology.
with, I should confess that I used to wonder whether there had to be
something intrinsic about academic sociology that begged expression in
I’m the only person who’s ever been bewildered or exasperated by such
writing. Here is a quote in the OED from the 1970s (Nature,
25 June 1971 538/1):
do social scientists, particularly American social scientists, murder
the English language?
Internet is full of comment on the matter, too — even to the extent of
providing several “vocabulary translators”. (Type “sociology jargon”
into your favourite search engine and you’ll see what I mean.)
the language of sociology may seem at first, but over time I have come
to realise something extremely significant: at its best/worst, it can be
the source of great fun. It's a bit like Woody Allen’s answer to the
question “Is sex dirty?” — “Only if it's done right.”
Bikwilians, if it’s fun you’re looking for in sociology’s language, be
sure it’s a day you’re not actually trying to derive useful meaning from
people do seek meaning in it, you know. Or at least I presume that such
people exist. They must, surely? I could be utterly wrong, of course;
the whole thing could be one enormous university hoax, and somewhere
there are groups of sociology lecturers sniggering into their pina
working on the more naive assumption that there’s gold in them thar
sociological hills, let’s return to the unconscious humour hidden in the
earnest shrubbery. Before we do, though, let me just show you a few
lines from an article by Adele Horin entitled Shoot the Messenger:
Ideas Buried in Jargon Jungle (published in The Sydney Morning
Herald on 5 May 2001).
entirely blame Australian sociologists for their failure to reach a
popular audience, or for their failure to try. To a large extent, they
are prisoners of the academy, trained in an impenetrable prose style. No
brownie points accrue to the academic who writes for the people. The
more obscure the journal and the fewer the readers for an academic's
work, the better the chances for promotion . . .
write for each other, and for their students. But the sociologists can't
escape blame. When postmodern theory gripped sociology departments in
the '90s, the last drops of life were squeezed from their prose. It all
got too hard for interested lay folk.
there’s the culprit.
is known to its adherents and detractors alike as POMO — though to me
that word always sounds like a brand of hair-dressing or moustache wax.
It is a mysterious and grotesque countryside for the unwary to go
exploring, full of all sorts of hidden guerrilla words just waiting to
spring an ambush.
have to do, as I’ve indicated, is arm yourself with the Sword of Scorn
and you’ll soon be dashing about performing feats of derring-do you’d
never have thought possible, with nary the hint of a distressing thought
to bother you.
people have found the postmodern language of sociology so hilarious that
they have written plausible essays as part of hoaxes. Some have even
devised computer programs to generate nonsense passages that look like
the real thing.
case of a hoax was the one perpetrated by NYU Professor Alan Sokal who
in 1996 cooked up an utterly meaningless article that was accepted by a
cultural criticism publication (Social Text) as sincere and
authentic. You can enjoy the full story
that in mind, let’s see if you can detect the real from the pretend
among the following seven extracts. Five are passages of genuine
sociological jargon, the other two are concocted, either by human or by
can’t pick the difference, don’t let it worry you. Just remember to keep
that Sword handy. You can use it to cut a way out through the dense
undergrowth, and you’ll be free.
fixing of an array of gendered and generationed characters provides the
ground-rules for conventional readings of the text, strongly inviting
concurrence with the initial arrays and deflecting all but the most
persistent of counter-readings.
my aim is to carry these deep analyses one step farther, by taking
account of recent developments in quantum gravity: the emerging branch
of physics in which Heisenberg's quantum mechanics and Einstein's
general relativity are at once synthesized and superseded. In quantum
gravity, as we shall see, the space-time manifold ceases to exist as an
objective physical reality; geometry becomes relational and contextual;
and the foundational conceptual categories of prior science — among
them, existence itself — become problematized and relativized. This
conceptual revolution, I will argue, has profound implications for the
content of a future postmodern and liberatory science.
preliminary attempt has been made elsewhere to gather these disparate
discourses together, in a process of DIS-articulation and
RE-articulation, so as to forge a distinctively new discourse on
literacy pedagogy which deliberately seeks to bring together issues of
subject-specific classroom learning and critical-democratic schooling.
Postmodern analyses challenge the ontological status of modernist claims
to knowledgeability concerning the world. Consequently, when such
approaches are applied to social theory, the privilege which has been
claimed by modernist social scientific discourses is dissolved.
than leave difference as difference, the cultural margins have the
positive potential to reconstitute the core, be that through reworking
the idea of nation away from the traditional homogenising,
assimilationist, ideological nationalisms, or by allowing the Canon to
be open to disruption, debate and revision.
6. If one
examines capitalist discourse, one is faced with a choice: either reject
the dialectic paradigm of consensus or conclude that the State is a
legal fiction. Thus, the premise of the predialectic paradigm of
narrative holds that discourse is a product of the collective
unconscious, given that truth is interchangeable with
consciousness.Lyotard uses the term “the subtextual paradigm of
discourse” to denote the economy of cultural truth.
Educational practice, and the discourses which currently sustain it, is
increasingly characterized by the techno-logic of efficiency and
productivity, by hyper-rationalization and what Lyotard calls “the