Tuesday, December 19, 2006

When Academics is Absurd

The academic fields in the humanities and sometimes the social sciences (especially sociology and anthropology) are too often a wasteland of gratuitous jargon and dogmatic promulgation of strange critical theories. Words like "space," "discourse," "post-colonial," "post-structuralist," "post-[fill in the blank]" and "queer theory," are all too common, acting as crutches, the substitution of faddish critical theories for independent thought. Furthermore, some subjects of academic study are absolutely untenable, like "Sex and the City," hip hop (at least, most of what appears to be out there), and chick lit. It is only when you read the undergraduate and masters theses titles that you understand just how absurd are some of the things that get passed off as academic and why searching for ridiculous thesis titles online is an entertaining pasttime. I bring you the fruits of my labor, broken down by taxonomies of drek:

Here's a pretty standard one:
Narrating My Body, Narrating Myself. Body Narratives of Romanian Teenage Girls

Grabbing two unrelated ideas and finding causality between the two. Bonus points if postcolonial discourse is involved:

Genocide 'n' Juice: Reading the Postcolonial Discourses in Hip-Hop Culture.

Lesbians, space, and more lesbians:

Experiences of Lesbians at the Belgrade Pride 2001 and Zagreb Pride 2002

Re-imagining 'Romanianness': The LGBT Movement Challenging the Heteropatriarchal Order of the Nation

Sexually Active Connection In Long Term Queer Female Relationships

Drowning in Loneliness and Writing the Blues: Creating Lesbian Space in the Novels of Radclyffe Hall and Leslie Feinberg

Sapphic Sisters in the City of Brotherly Love: The Interactions of Space, Community and Lesbian Sexuality

Gender bending:

Children Doing and Undoing Gender. The Case of a Polish Kindergarten Group

Sickos, Psychos, and Sluts: Images of Transgendered Women in Media Culture

"That's an Extra One:" Adolescent Transgender Identity and Self-Acceptance

How Television Viewing During Adolescence May Influence Exotic Dancers' Perceptions of Female Gender Roles: An Exploratory Study

Conflict in Congo: Locating the Gendered Body

General weirdness:

Environmentalism Without Guarantees: The Spectral and Scatological Politics of Displacement in Miyazaki Hayao's Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away)

Images of Japanese Women Who Seek Emancipation Through the Experience of Death

Gratuitous use of vagina:

Vagina Dialogues: The Developmental Underpinnings of Older Women's Fear of Losing Youth and Beauty

Pleasing Pussy: Exploring Women-Centered Pornograph


Let's not give short shrift to the other half of queer theory:

The Racial Stereotype as Sexual Fetish: Latino Racial Fetishism in the U.S. Gay Male Cultural Imagination

Utter bullshit (which was probably written the weekend before it was due):

Self-Mutilation or Body Beautification: The Meaning of Tattooing and Piercing And Implications for Social Work Practice

(Re)producing Masculinities in Sports: Football as 'the Boys' Game'

Exploring the Relationship Between Resident Assistant Leadership Styles and Student Satisfaction in the Residence Halls

Fabulousness as Fetish: Queer Politics in Sex and the City

Comforting Touch Between Nurses and Patients: An Exploratory Study with Implications for Medical Social Work Practice

Translating Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop: the Musical Vernacular of Black Girls Play

Deconstructing the Vagina Monologues: A Taxonomic Approach to Social Change

Race, Class, Conflict and Empowerment: On Ice Cube's 'Black Korea'

Post-Graduation Career and Education Plans for Student-Athletes Who Participate in CoCurricular Activities

What??:

Systematics, Osteology, Sexual Dimorphism, Age Classes, and Population Dynamics of Teleoceras Fossiger from Jack Swayze Quarry, Clark County, Kansas, and Minium Quarry, Graham County, Kansas

and my personal favorites:

Erotic Sadomasochism: Women Finding Meaning and Opportunities for Personal Growth through Radical Sexual Practices

Brown Meets Green: The Political Fecology of Poop Report.Com

6 comments:

Jonathan said...

I agree wholeheartedly and will discuss this with you at work

Ben said...

This is exactly why I dropped out of the American Studies major- we started to read crap like this.

Elaine said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! Yeah, it's why I chose not to be an English major.

Joe said...

i agree with the overuse of shit jargon, i disagree with your insinuation that queer and postcolonial theories are simply "faddish" and lack intellectual merit. whether or not you find substance within these schools of thought (you should have taken a class with j. enteen, she might have wholly changed your mind), they have existed, much like feminist theory, as powerful movements of inducing social change. anyways, i gots to get to work but good blog. -joe (shero)

Chris said...

Most of these theories are pretty much faddish; you wouldn't get these ridiculous topics if "novelty" weren't a requirement. The thing I find amazing at least for an English major's perspective is how little literary studies have to do with the literature and how much they have to do with just about everything but literature -whether it's traditional marxism, new-historicism, lesbian-post-marxism or just Freudian psychology. All of these theories seem to exist in their own theoretical world and have no effect on the real world outside of the academy. The reason I've decided not to become an academic is reflected by one of the former comments - it's delusional to think that you're contributing to the advancement of civilization or affecting social change when no one actually cares (and probably for good reason). And yet members of these camps argue and have their petty fights.

But I've come to realize that this is nothing new - Erasmus had a similar problem with the theologians of his day (college professors are their direct descendants, of course). I provide a quote from Newman's Idea of a University from 1852:

"Men, whose life lies in the cultivation of one science, or the exercise of one method of thought, have no more right, though they have often more ambition, to generalize upon the basis of their own pursuit but beyond its range, than the schoolboy or the ploughman to judge of a Prime Minister. But they must have something to say on every subject; habit, fashion, the public require it of them: and, if so, they can only give sentence according to their knowledge. You might think this ought to make such a person modest in his enunciations; not so: too often it happens that, in proportion to the narrowness of his knowledge, is, not his distrust of it, but the deep hold it has upon him, his absolute conviction of his own conclusions, and his positiveness in {77} maintaining them. He has the obstinacy of the bigot, whom he scorns, without the bigot's apology, that he has been taught, as he thinks, his doctrine from heaven. Thus he becomes, what is commonly called, a man of one idea; which properly means a man of one science, and of the view, partly true, but subordinate, partly false, which is all that can proceed out of any thing so partial."

Elaine said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! In writing this blog, I was intending to poke fun at thesis titles, but I know that I also put forth an argument that is worthy of dispute. Joe and Chris, you both have more actual experience with English and other disciplines relevant to this conversation, so I appreciate you sharing your personal thoughts and experiences in your fields. I personally wish that we had a course in college to discuss why this is all relevant.

My views are mainly informed by my own sadness that, as Chris said, English courses in college seemed to talk about everything but the literature. I came from high school loving English but by college, history made more sense, even if I wanted to study literature, because I didn't have to subject myself to critical theory. If the goal of some of the newer academic disciplines is to bring about awareness and change, I think superfluous use of jargon and steely reliance on new dogmas only hurts that goal. My question is, does everything need to be made academic? Does a lesbian pride parade in Belgrade need to be made academic? I do not mean to argue the event's merit, but rather to ask, is it worthy of a thesis?

This is a question discussed in one of my favorite books, Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence. Barzun is actually a cultural historian who I greatly admire; the start of his career pre-dated the esoteric turn that cultural history took, and by the end of it, he was vigorously criticizing this turn. He believes that humanities made the mistake of adopting the form of inquiry used by the hard sciences. If I recall correctly, Barzun is not favorably disposed to the method of researching a small event to ostensibly shed light on larger society. Cultural history is eminently useful, just not in its current form. My own thought is that any academic should ask him/herself, is my line of work relevant to a lay audience?