On Academic Writing

Professors didn’t sit down and decide to make academic writing this way, any more than journalists sat down and decided to invent listicles. Academic writing is the way it is because it’s part of a system. Professors live inside that system and have made peace with it. But every now and then, someone from outside the system swoops in to blame professors for the writing style that they’ve inherited. This week, it was Nicholas Kristof, who set off a rancorous debate about academic writing with a column, in the Times, called ‘Professors, We Need You!’ The academic world, Kristof argued, is in thrall to a ‘culture of exclusivity’ that ‘glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience’... As a one-time academic, I spent most of the week rooting for the profs. But I have a lot of sympathy for Kristof, too. I think his heart’s in the right place. (His column ended on a wistful note: “I write this in sorrow, for I considered an academic career.”) My own theory is that he got the situation backward. The problem with academia isn’t that professors are, as Kristof wrote, ‘marginalizing themselves.’ It’s that the system that produces and consumes academic knowledge is changing, and, in the process, making academic work more marginal.

"Why is Academic Writing So Academic?" The New Yorker http://nyr.kr/1mGzE3P

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