Apparently it started more than a year ago when Judith Brett (1992), a teacher of politics at La Trobe University, argued that "for too long academics have written mainly to earn approval among their peers, instead of looking toward a wider audience". At first glance this would appear to be a variant of the common slur that academics live in ivory towers and are not accountable enough to the average taxpayer. But it goes further.
Brett identifies two ways in which the writing of academics in the humanities (and, for all intents and purposes, social sciences and education) is constrained. The first has to do with 'institutional requirements', eg our needing to win the approval of employing authorities and those who bestow promotions by convincing them of the worth of our scholarship, which translates into producing respectable writing in books and appropriate journals (like this one!).
Moreover, according to Brett, it is this institutional pressure which prevents academics from envisioning a "fully imagined audience" and, with few exceptions, from fulfilling the role of "public intellectual". Brett continues in a crucial passage:
Never ... need academics think about an audience outside the hierarchy within the discipline, never need they think about the relationships of their work to a public. The use of technical language, or jargon, so characteristic of academic prose, has its origins here - in the need to indicate to higher authorities that one has mastered the current literature. Once, such technical language was motivated by a positivist dream of a language which would describe rather than constitute reality. That dream has faded but the technical language persists and proliferates. (Our emphasis).Brett's view turns out to be deeply ironical, and reveals the second source of pressure on academic writing: the need to win the approval of peers within one's chosen paradigm, and to withstand (or, if possible, ignore) attacks from outsiders.
For example, it could be argued that the reason why the "dream has faded" has much to do with the powerful challenges to established traditions in the humanities and social sciences emanating from the French philosophers associated with semiotics and post-structuralism. However, as subsequent contributions to the Australian have demonstrated, the 'new' theory is often couched in language "so obscure, so introverted that it blocks rather than illuminates meaning" (Trinca, 1992). The Trinca article attracted a number of responses in the Supplement, many of these in defence of post-structuralism, and in the ensuing ten months the debate continued, at times in a remarkably heated manner - until the present when hostilities have subsided.
There are two aspects arising from the debate we would especially like to draw to the attention of readers:
Readers will note the inclusion of several book reviews in this edition. We compliment Andrew Taggart on this initiative, and encourage readers to work with Andrew to ensure that it will be a regular feature of IIER in the future. Hopefully, a "letters to the editor(s)" section will be our next addition. We invite you to make this happen!
Trinca, Helen (1992). A bit of plain speaking on some academic narrativity. The Australian, August 5, p.13.
The views and styles expressed in the articles in this publication are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily shared by the editor or members of the editorial advisory board.
Copyright © 1993 WAIER
Published by the Western Australian Institute for Educational Research (WAIER), Perth, Western Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior written permission from WAIER. Desktop publishing (1993) by Clare McBeath. Printed (1993) by Printing Services, Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia.
|Please cite as: Hall, J. and Sooby, A. (1993). Editorial. Issues In Educational Research, 3(1), iii-v. http://www.iier.org.au/iier3/editorial.html|
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