Friday, May 11, 2012


In the wake of the Naomi Riley fiasco (original post, college misery with more on the issue), I've noticed the occasional blog commenter on other blogs saying something that I have seen before but never paid much time to. Indeed, it seems to me that I am seeing it more often, though that could just be confirmation bias. What I'm seeing are comments like this:
I have always thought that any discipline requiring "Studies" in its name isn't a discipline.
I find that an odd position. Logically, it falls apart when confronted with some basic facts, like the meaning of -(o)logy. Biology, Immunology, Virology, Archaeology, Zoology, Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, Geology, Toxicology, Theology, etc. All of those have -(o)logy in them and are serious disciplines. Okay, maybe not theology (I kid), but having -(o)logy in a discipline's name certainly doesn't lessen the discipline. -(o)logy means science or study of. Perhaps it's the Greek origins of the word. If only African-American Studies, Cultural Studies, Women's Studies, etc. were properly made into word chimeras. Then we could have Negrology, Cultrology, and Gynology. Except those don't sound so nice. Perhaps gussying things up in Greek or Latin dress doesn't result in an inherently superior name. The issue with Naomi Riley and those who see "Studies" as an indicator of a weak discipline does not lie in the view of "Studies" disciplines. The issue lies in their intellectual rigor. Those who deride "Studies" as above tend not to actually examine the scholarship. It is far more efficient to deride them for being Humanities rather than STEM or as focusing on what are seen trivialities. Naomi Riley shows similar skill in critical thinking in her post. Rather than attempt to engage with the dissertations on a meaningful level, Riley shows that all one needs to do to understand a discipline (and how silly it is) is to read silly dissertation titles. If the title sounds silly or contrary to privileged orthodoxy, then clearly the whole discipline is worthless. Let's have some biology dissertations and run them through what someone who knows nothing of biology might say in reaction to them: "Systematics and ecology of benthic salt marsh algae at Ipswich, Massachusetts" -- Algae? What do we need to study that for?" "Explorations in Protein Expression and Attempted Purification of the CBI Cannabinoid Receptor" -- Sounds like pro-pot nonsense. "Do Human Sex Pheromones Exist?" -- What's a pheromone? And why are you talking about sex, you depraved ivory tower intellectual? "The Importance of Dynein in the Fashioning of Left-Right Asymmetry in the African Clawed frog, Xenopus laevis" -- Clawed frog? Are frogs where the X-Men are going to come from? What do you know? It's very possible to take a serious discipline's work and make it sound silly if you don't actually take the time to engage with it. Titles are enough. Riley's approach of mockery without information betrays her. She is either incapable of deep rational thought or she finds shallow "analysis" to be a more worthwhile pursuit. She is either blind to privilege as she dismisses the scholarship that oftentimes confronts it head on, or she aims to hold onto her privilege at the expense of the disadvantaged, hoping that attacking the scholarship will mask her prejudice. No matter what it turns out she was thinking as she wrote her piece, it does not reflect well upon her. However, commenters like the one quoted above may find themselves comforted by shallow and small-minded attacks on the Humanities and on cultural studies in particular. I only hope the numbers of such people are small.

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