The Language of Academia as A Barrier


When I refer to the language used in academic circles as a “barrier”, I don’t intend it to be entirely negative. As someone who has graduated from university and has taken an avid interest in probably too many topics beyond my formal studies, I have no trouble understanding the complexity that oft times permeates academic prose, and I am somewhat exaggerating my point by throwing some relatively mild examples right here because I am guilty of the same. But another may read the same text and be overwhelmed by it, which is problematic when the ideas you are expressing are of great import to the wider populace.

I have not written anything lately, nor have I read much, and what I have read has been scattered across a few books as my interest in them jumps around. The latest book that arrived on Friday, which I have only read a few pages of so far, is the catalyst for this post. Changing Anarchism: Anarchist Theory and Practice in a Global Age is a collation of essays about anarchism across an array of other topics in a more modern framework (published in 2003, I believe) than the older works of the 19th ad 20th Centuries. While the words of the older thinkers can’t be entirely dismissed, of course, a more modern take or definition of the core ideas would be much more accessible to the people of the 21st Century.

Alexander Berkman’s The ABC of Anarchism had a similar goal for his time, a simple explanation of the ideas within the context of events that had occurred during his lifetime. The key word here, however, is simple. Only part way through the introduction to Changing Anarchism, it is obvious that the book (at least this section of it, the foundation) is a very academic work, intended for those with prior knowledge of a lot of concepts. Within a few pages, I had to briefly look up what situationism and post-structuralism (following that, structuralism itself) were. There were also some other words I had to look up, such as liminal and oeuvre, as I had never seen them before.

While I can somewhat understand what the authors are referring to when they use the various “-isms”, even I can’t help but look at the complexity of the book as some impregnable work of high intellect. This is not the fault of the authors, necessarily, and there is most certainly a place for these ideas to be discussed as they are in academic spheres and contexts, but the audience is limited automatically due to the style of writing.

What makes me use this book as the example is that the introduction claims that anarchism has resurged in public interest over the past few decades (a resurgence I, admittedly a rather hermitic person, have not really seen in much of the West). If that is the case, however, and your goal is to launch anarchism into modernity, then should it not be accessible to the widest audience possible? In particular, those disenfranchised by the current State and corporate systems, many of whom will likely not be well versed in academic language and jargon, should be the priority audience. It is mass movements and solidarity, not solely intellectual echelons or walls of convolution, that will see systemic change shake up the status quo.

Again, I am not saying that Changing Anarchism is wrong to be academic in nature – it is a collection of academic essays, so that is kind of the point. But it would be prudent to, alongside the thinkers’ works, to have more grounded, simplistic interpretations of these concepts. Perhaps later on in the book this is the case in some of the chapters, but I would not blame people for their eyes glazing over at the introduction and being turned away from it.

Berkman refrained from adding unnecessary complexity into his final book, offering it as something everyone could easily understand even if they had never heard of anarchism before. Today, perhaps some prior knowledge of the examples of history he uses might be useful, but even they aren’t overly important to the discussion generally.

Politics, economics, and law are all topics that many people are disassociated from or ignorant about, mostly because of the confusion and uncertainty surrounding them. A lot of it, however, can be broken down into basic components, human components. There are numerous ways one can break down “complicated” issues and give them a human face, like in healthcare or housing, and from there it is quite easy to argue what is and is not fair in a just society.

Academia is incredibly important, but we can’t allow it to separate its ideas from those who do not belong to it.


Liked this? Read Rethinking the Definition of Radical

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