Yet another article on the scourge of opaque academic writing is making the rounds, and someone on Facebook got mad at me for being so dismissive of it. After all, surely I must admit that sometimes academic writing is needlessly complex and jargony? Right? Right?! But I don’t have to admit anything.
What I wonder is not whether the generalization is justified, but why it is an issue suitable for discussion in the mainstream press. Further, though the critique is aimed at “academic writing” in general, the proverbial “howlers” are almost always in the humanities.
Why are the humanities singled out? The reason is twofold. First, it reflects a belief that specialized knowledge in the humanities simply does not exist. Any humanities research that is not immediately accessible to an undergraduate is therefore an elitist imposture. Second, there is little doubt that there is a political agenda at work, given the ire directed at the influence of “Theory” in humanities writing — which is almost always a left-wing enterprise.
So no, I won’t “admit” that sometimes “academic writing” is bad, because in the public sphere, such rhetoric functions to delegitimate the humanities. There is a serious discussion to be had about the accessibility of our work, etc., but that is a discussion for us to have, on our own terms — not the terms set by a tediously cliched article in the Atlantic Monthly.