Loving Jargon

Many wonder why university professors alienate themselves from all but their inner circle of fellow outsiders.  To maintain inner-outer barriers that sustain the sense of special knowledge (on the part of insiders) — and special ignorance, boorishness and irrelevance (as the mark of outsiders) — opaque jargon, like spy-craft code, is advantageous.  If the code can’t be broken, you’re safe. 
But ought university professors to mimic spies  with special operations to conduct that only insiders are cleared to know of — all the while letting spy-craft code proliferate to keep outsiders out, and insiders in?
Here are some new coinages in a poster apparently meant for publicity.  It advertises the fact that some clans know more than I, as an outsider, do.  If you have trouble with any of these terms you are obviously an outsider:
 ‘Precarity,’ ‘ intersectionality,’ ‘ Decoloniality.”    I thought talk titles should be inviting and informative, but what can I  expect from: Neoliberal Domestication of Insurgent Knowledges: The Case of Intersectionality,” or “Transnationalism, Intersectionality, and Settler Colonialism,” or “Thinking Gender Decolonially”

Maybe I’ll go for the free coffee and donuts



6 comments on “Loving Jargon

  1. dmf says:

    isn’t the whole process (and socialization) of becoming a graduate student and than prof really such that it’s in the business of creating an in-group?

  2. Dean says:

    On the one hand I absolutely agree with you here, Ed. Academics regularly forget the world going on to the left and right of the blinders of specialized research. At the same time, however, there seems to be something useful about technical naming and specialized research. Many questions couldn’t even be posed without the use of technical vocabularies, which are unavailable to the outsider. But the posing of the question, technical as it may be, should be done in the interest of the outsider. In this way, philosophy is not unlike being an artisan carpenter, who plays a particular technical language-game, or even a midwife, whose technical knowledge of the body far exceeds that of the birthing mother–but the mother is glad someone else took to the time to work at internalizing all of that “insider” information.

    To be sure, there’s a difference between appropriate technicality and jargon for the sake of jargon–but the “in-group” of philosophy does help us get our heads around a lot of important and difficult issues (like the problems of neoliberalism, for example, or colonial damages). Likewise, some of those thinkers most near and dear to us, like Kierkegaard or Kristeva, Heidegger or Hegel, are bound up in jargon and neologisms.

    I wonder if one root problem here is the problem of translation. Most academics don’t find it worth their time to translate the discoveries made by the proper employment of technical terms and discussions back into the flow of everyday life.

    • efmooney says:

      A fine musician who communicates wonderfully on stage can also analyze the music-played in a terminology no one not trained in the specialty could understand. No problem there. My gripe is with a writer’s inability to sing when singing is the way to communicate (say in teaching or giving public lectures) and inability to keep theory in esoteric languages in its proper place among experts when the aim isn’t to sing or speak among a wider public. It’s tricky. But I think a lot of the “precarity” and “decoloniality” is pure bluff — showroom glitter, disguising well worn hand-me-downs. I agree, when someone is clearly brilliant we try to master the lingo, trusting there’s a difficulty in conveying the esoteric to the less advanced. But maybe there’s another possibility. Wittgenstein warned us to return to the rough ground of ordinary life and discourse, abjuring the abstract and seductive sheen of theory. Interestingly, LW thought Kierkegaard was the greatest philosopher of the 19th century. I think a lot of what LOOKS like technical jargon in SK is a parody . . . gee, we could go on and on.

      • dmf says:

        my amazing randi like trick is to ask folks who throw around terms like “problematic” and the others you raise to give me a working definition in the context of their talk/paper/etc if it’s a kind of technical shorthand than they can spell it out if not…

      • efmooney says:

        A good friend whispered this in my ear, worth passing on: “It dawned on me that some of those who love to use jargon the most are precisely those who claim to be doing their research on behalf of “real life” marginalized communities, etc. Using jargon then seems to be like a defense mechanism — a way of being able to say we are practicing something like “scholarship in action”, that we are not ‘head-in-the-clouds” unengaged intellectuals. But in fact such jargon is keeping life at a distance, or even killing it dead. The result is that the disenfranchised — those on behalf of whom some people imagine they do their scholarship [the victims of colonialism, of patriarchy, or racism, insurgents, etc. etc. — are only further disenfranchised.” Thanks to my very insightful friend !!

  3. efmooney says:

    The religion department at a university I knew wanted to revise its catalog copy to attract students with the ringing announcement they were out to ‘problematize’ religion. To find something problematic is ok, I suppose, but to publishe a poster meant to attract students by claiming to problematize something is just one step away from allowing a student to write a term paper on ‘problematicity’, or to deliver a sentence that bemoans “infanticity” for its lack of facing up to ‘precarity’ or to bemoan student passivity by describing their “affectivity” as resisting ‘precarity’ and refusing ‘decoloniality.’ Why not let the instructor say that students are afraid of freedom and its risks?

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