No more “accessibility”!

A lady who has a PhD and successfully publishes think pieces on pop culture is leaving academia. Why? Well, Buzzfeed is hiring her. But also, she points out, because academia is broken. I applaud people pointing out the structural inequality of the university and I love when people write critically about pop culture so why do I kind of despise this lady?

Here is why: “Oh man, this is a sensitive subject, and I might burn some bridges with it, but here goes: much of academic writing prides itself on being as inaccessible as possible, and I mean that both literally and figuratively—you can’t understand it unless you’ve had at least five years of graduate school, and you can’t actually get your hands on it without affiliation with a major institution.”

First, her point about the pay wall on academic articles and books is well taken, but . . . on the “figurative” front . . . hmmm.

I strongly believe in a more democratic diffusion of culture criticism, but this is not the same thing as thinking academic writing should be more “accessible” as she argues.

There should be room for many different kinds of writers: people who model critical but accessible criticism in newspapers and magazines, people who write history books that tell a compelling narrative that both college freshmen and the history-curious can enjoy, and listicles that help me remember the best parts of the 90’s. But none of these genres replace the “hard” academic writing that people love to hate on. Just because it takes a graduate education to understand a book or article does not make it useless jargon. Good academic writing is complicated/rich/generative and useful to advancing our understanding of BIG THINGS like language/beauty/domination/materiality.

The good thing about having complex accounts of these ideas is that they are MORE TRUE.

This person did not miss an opportunity to write an accessible deconstruction of Scandal just because he wrote this incredibly valuable sentence:

“Simply put, ‘race’ is the consequence and not the cause of racial ascription or racialisation processes which justify historically asymmetrical power relationships through reference to phenotypical characteristics and ancestry: ‘Substituted for racism, race transforms the act of a subject into an attribute of the object.'”

Let’s stop pretending that getting rid of inaccessible academic writing is the only way to have more accessible writing.


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