Do our discursive dialectical discourses have
much impact beyond the academic domain?
Jyonah Jericho DSocSc Syd
The title of this article is intended to be thought-provoking. It is also mischievous on purpose although its intentions are honorable. The question that it poses is serious. It is pertinent to scholars and others who are passionate about knowledge and truth.
The terminologies in the title may have little significance beyond the scholarly domain. The inclusion of this noun and adjectives aims to encourage us to reflect inwards and outwards and examine our relevance and status outside the realm of higher education.
Those who expect academic writers to cite scholars and conceptually theorize their analysis using discipline-specific vernacular and methodological frameworks may be disappointed by this article. This article avoids this approach and does so with purpose.
A minority of people engage with the academic domain as graduate students, teachers, researchers or support staff during their life-course. This observation is near-universal at the national level.
This article aims to be accessible to a broad audience. It appeals to our common-sense. I endeavor to tap into the readers’ anecdotal experiences, i.e., those ‘real-life’ incidences that sharpen our sixth-sense as we evolve as humans. Our intuition guides us to distinguish truth from myth in the practical encounters that shape our daily existence.
The enviable work conditions of academia are a double-edge sword. One the one hand, academia offers scholars a safe and suitably resourced space to seek truth. It is a place where we may learn and create alongside like-minded colleagues. In a ‘perfect’ academic world, we may disseminate our research findings far and wide, without fear or favor.
In theory, the structures of academia allow us to resist mimicking the goal of the firm. Empirical observations have repeatedly proven that profit maximization invariably conflicts with the pursuit of truth and justice, one way or another. Any corporate formation that does not pursue an ethical, higher humanitarian purpose is the antithesis of truth and knowledge. The academic environment should also shield us from the murky political agendas imposed by some governmental and non-governmental organizations.
As career academics, we may focus our energies full-time on our search for truth. The tenure system and academic freedom of speech are examples of social structures that aim to protect the scholarly domain from manipulation and distractions that distort our quest for justice. They also insulate us from those whose ethics align with the ivory trade.
On the other hand, the haven of academia is a dominant source of criticism that is persistently directed towards scholars and our profession at large. I suspect that most career academics are never employed by corporations, governments and NGOs. Moreover, we are rarely embedded in these environments as guest workers for extended periods. We may voyeur into these worlds as an outsider via a raft of obtrusive, reactive data collection instruments such as participation action research and ethnographies.
Our status as perpetual outsiders, divorced from the ‘real-world’, provides the chief explanation for perceptions of the so-called Ivory Tower. The nature, degree and validity of this criticism varies by context. It may also change for better or worse over time.
I argue that jealousy of the richness of academic life, among those who are not qualified to access this sphere, is a motive that drives some or most ‘academic haters’. Earning a Doctoral Degree by research requires the highest levels of self-discipline and the ability to self-supervise a monstrous project. Doctoral dissertation non-completion rates are around 40% in most Western nations. This rate is near-uniform across the academic disciplines.
My perspective of academia is what I term an ‘insider-outsider’ mindset. Some may regard this term as an oxymoron. Those who may access this angle may offer a unique contribution to our profession if they can utilize their dual perceptions objectively and do so for the greater good of humanity.
I accrued 18 years of work experience in the commerce (in accounting and retail) in the public and private sectors prior to earning my Doctoral Degree. During four years of my Doctoral candidature, I taught part-time at four Australian universities, and was simultaneously employed full-time by various Government agencies.
I am a strong proponent of industry and academia. Both arenas complement and enrich each other. They are equal partners that justify and replicate the other’s existence.
The opinions in this self-published article have been brewing for over a decade. My involvement with the IELTS Reform Project was the catalyst that motivated me to extract this idea from the perpetually overloaded backburner that is typical of most academics’ workloads and our ‘never say retire’ disposition.
The IELTS Reform Project aims to enhance the pedagogical design of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). It seeks to provide a truthful account of the political economy of this multibillion dollar industry. IELTS is a morbidly obese ‘cash cow’ enterprise. It has largely been ignored by academics beyond those whose gentle research projects have been vetted and funded by IELTS’s self-titled Research Series.
The IELTS Reform Project engages thousands of private citizens and hundreds of stakeholders in the corporate and public sectors. These agents include former test-takers, parliamentarians, trade unionists, freelance linguists, immigration advocates, the media and professionals from several other industries.
Engaging with those who work in commerce and government and private citizens may require a different approach than a project that interacts exclusively with career scholars. Academics are trained to think and behave like academics. This generalized statement is a neutral observation. It is not a value judgement that is intended to have a sharp edge.
Academia shares many similarities with commerce and government. Most staff employed in these sectors are professionals who constantly hone their craft throughout their career. The use of exclusive language in academia is a defining feature of this arena. Jargon such as ‘discursive’, ‘dialectical’ and ‘discourses’ are more prevalent in the social sciences, arts and humanities than they are in career-oriented fields such as law and engineering.
When engaging with those who work industry, I do not request them to deconstruct textual content using Postcolonial analysis. I ask a person employed in commerce or government to interpret messages that executive managers of an Anglo-Euro business consortium aim to communicate to their fee-paying clients. I inquire why they draw this conclusion and record their contribution as evidence that is analyzed using standard academic conventions such as data triangulation.
Engaging with academics is major part of the IELTS Reform Project. My experiences thus far are the specific inspiration that has propelled me to write this article.
The positive influences of the academic dominion are far-reaching in the context of the IELTS Reform Project. Virtually all freelance linguists that have I consulted hold undergraduate and postgraduate post-secondary qualifications in language studies and allied fields. Some are employed part-time as adjunct college faculty and have collaborated on research ventures coordinated by corporate and government entities.
My experience working alongside academics with a stake in the IELTS has been mixed. On one side of the coin, I have received much genuine encouragement and practical support from scholars from several countries in both hemispheres. Most of this support has been altruistic. Many participants have responded to my e-mail from their home computer out of business hours. Most of these scholars have forwarded my research brief to interested parties, with no expectations of receiving a return favor in kind. Such contributions are evidence that ‘academic generosity’ is alive.
On the other side of the coin, many responders remind me of the negative stereotype of the Ivory Tower fantasy bubble that is severed from the realities of society. The context of the IELTS transformation project shapes this perception. My project aims to reform a global test that is administered by a mammoth global business empire that dominates the field of international English language testing. IELTS and its official business partners maintain operational branches in over 140 countries and employ thousands of staff.
The IELTS Reform Project is an ambitious venture that has virtually no chance of succeeding unless it is vigorously supported by a multiplicity of non-academic actors. When communicating with my colleagues, I put forward this argument in subtle terms. I naïvely assume that my full audience will comprehend this reality or care to recognize it.
I have received several well-meaning e-mail responses from some academics that are limited to brief statements which imply that scholastic interventions are the answer to my research problem. These four themes are paraphrases that capture the dominant issues raised in these responses. This text italicizes these popular topics for emphasis:
“Please see this link to my résumé and cite my publications in your journal articles.”
“This project needs to be managed by institutional academic staff”
“Have you thought about using this particular academic theory to frame your discussion?”
“This work is being done by IELTS – they self-manage research that improves their services”
The first quote above has been the dominant theme among the dozens of responses that I have received. Interestingly, text that refers to IELTS’s self-directed research has been proffered only by those who have received research grants from the IELTS consortium. A search of academic articles indexed on Google Scholar confirmed this suspicion as fact.
I liken the business practices of leading academic publishers to the model used by an established, infamous network marketing brand that starts with the letter ‘A.’ The vast bulk of ‘A’s’ products never reach an end-user. They are perpetually resold among ambitious plastic puppets in strait jackets whose modus operandi willfully manipulates a soulless system that eventually rewards the craftiest few who shift the highest volume.
I surmise that the celebrity society syndrome has infiltrated academia on a mass scale. This phenomenon likely provides a co-dominant explanation for the popularity of the ‘please cite me’ response. In recent decades, academia has become increasingly obsessed with citations and other sterile statistical measures of success. The impact of less-cited quality research is often ignored or not measured. More is more. And cash is King, or Queen.
I question whether the celebrity syndrome that has come to define academia is an action or reaction effect. Does the self-important, introspective culture of academia fuel our desire for mass recognition? Or has the celebrity model, which is replicated by the global mainstream media on a colossal scale, poisoned academia? There are premises built into these questions. I welcome you to reject these assumptions and draw your own conclusions.
I suspect that most career academics have delusions that their secondary source research articles automatically contribute to the eradication of persistent, wicked social problems that bedevil our global society. In cases where this transpires, the impact is usually small, subtle and gradual. Popular journal articles, such as those published in The Lancet are read by a diverse, massive audience of student scholars, academics and others. It is inevitable that at least some of these articles will guide those who exit the higher education sector and pursue a profession such as midwifery and pharmaceutical research.
I question whether the content of academic journal articles have been seriously corrupted by the goal of the firm. The market for ranked scholarly journals published in the global lingua franca is a cushy oligopoly that is dominated by six powers: Sage, Routledge, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Elsevier.
Most premier journal publications are vetted and marketed by personnel who are employees of a revenue maximizing publishing house. Many academic publishers are owned and controlled by elite public universities whose business practices resemble for-profit multinational corporations. The income generating tactics of these so-called ‘registered charities’ have little overlap with the ethos of authentic humanitarian entities.
I am an ardent supporter of academia and industry and consider both spheres as equals.
My passion for academia causes me to challenge its relevance to the modern world.
Do our discursive dialectical discourses have much impact beyond the academic domain?
How long is a piece of string?
The answer to both questions are difficult to measure, vary by context and are fluid.
May you reflect critically on the mischievous title of this article and decide for yourself.
The truth is out there.
And it doesn’t have a price tag attached.
This article has not been peer-reviewed. All opinions in this article are my own.
Copyright is recorded © Jyonah Jericho 2017.
Any agent may reproduce this article if the original author is afforded full recognition.