Tribe Academia

I love my professors. There is no doubt about that. Still, as I get closer and closer to the academic world and read more and more academic paper, I have come to realized that there is indeed a "Tribe Academia". The tribespeople have their own language, etiquette, and rules.

The academia is a quite unique world. You have to be "that" kind of people to join. You must be an intense intellectual laborer and be willing to use words that usually end with -ism, -ment, -tion, -lization, -ty, etc. When you speak, you quote all kinds of dead people. Your obscure language differentiates you from the rest of the population, which probably makes you feel good and ultra-educated. You have to be willing to sell yourself to a certain "school of thought" and fight for self-perpetuation, reproduction, and advancement of your sub-tribe. Your success hinges upon your ability to publish long, boring papers on old, boring journals.

Disclaimer: this is a biased sketch. Most of my Hampshire professors are not like this. Hampshire professors are way cool.

My one question to Tribe Academia is their separation from the real world. They make certain assumptions of the real world, and build their imaginative universe upon it. Then they advise those of us living in the real world what we should do, with a authoritative voice. For example, economists assume people are rational and perfect competition is possible. See what happened in 2008?

The worst thing is the academic language. As an international student, I can speak daily English pretty well. However, I was shocked to find out that the English speaking academia does not speak English. They speak Acadenglish, with many Latin, French, and German words. The different between daily English and academic English is greater than the different between daily English and daily Chinese.

Maybe this objection to Acadenglish comes from my lack of patience when I am doing my reading assignments. The authors seems to take great pleasure in turning simple sentences into huge language barriers. For what, I wonder? To get the worth of your PHD? To confuse your reader? To show off your vocabulary? To torture international students? Most of the times, there are obvious ways to say exactly the same thing in a simple and elegant way. But some academic people twist their sentences in a way that makes you want to punch them. If you want to say A, then say A! Don't tell us A+A-A+A-A=A!

But recently, my impatience turned into sympathy. The tribespeople in academia are also human. They also want to feed their family and be recognized by the community. They are just doing a job, like everyone else. In order to get money and fame, they have to publish articles on big journals. They have to speak the language of those old boys who are interested in self-preservation. They think, "the more mysterious we are, the better we will survive. Let's make the public believe that they are actually dumb and could not have survived without us. Let's make normal people feel ashamed of themselves by using words they can't even find in the dictionary! Don't let the public ever find out that the emperor is wearing no clothes."

This kind of thinking is understandable. Most people in academia are also victims of this inhuman system. We are all slaves to our desires, therefore we are subjects to those who monopolize what is desirable, like money and power. "How humans drive themselves inhuman", this might be a good title for a Ph.D.

Maybe it is time for some soul searching among academia. What's the real purpose of academics? Think about Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. Where did academia come from? Why do we search for knowledge and truth? What is the social meanings of academic work? Are we more interested in getting tenured, or should we follow our heart and shape and enjoy the world?

1 comment:

Merle said...

There are many subgroups in this tribe, and they often have trouble communicating with one another. Even within broad disciplines like science there are many subgroups whose cultures differ. Sharon Traweek is an anthropologist who has studied (among other things) the tribe of high energy physicists. Her book Beamtimes and Lifetimes reports on this. In a later book she compares the two tribes of American and Japanese high energy physicists.