30.7.07

CULTURE-STUDIES FOLLIES. The dean at Anonymous Community hosts group therapy for nerds. His meditation is inspired by a New York Times article with this howler.
Mary Bucholtz, a linguist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been working on the question for the last 12 years. She has gone to high schools and colleges, mainly in California, and asked students from different crowds to think about the idea of nerdiness and who among their peers should be considered a nerd; students have also “reported” themselves. Nerdiness, she has concluded, is largely a matter of racially tinged behavior. People who are considered nerds tend to act in ways that are, as she puts it, “hyperwhite.”
Give. Me. A. Break. In economics, we shy away from explanations based on preferences, because just about anything can be explained by appeal to a strong preference, and we are careful about constructing transaction costs arguments, because it's easy enough to attribute any inefficiency wedge to costly information. Cultural arguments appear to have the same plasticity.
As a linguist, Bucholtz understands nerdiness first and foremost as a way of using language. In a 2001 paper, “The Whiteness of Nerds: Superstandard English and Racial Markedness,” and other works, including a book in progress, Bucholtz notes that the “hegemonic” “cool white” kids use a limited amount of African-American vernacular English; they may say “blood” in lieu of “friend,” or drop the “g” in “playing.” But the nerds she has interviewed, mostly white kids, punctiliously adhere to Standard English. They often favor Greco-Latinate words over Germanic ones (“it’s my observation” instead of “I think”), a preference that lends an air of scientific detachment. They’re aware they speak distinctively, and they use language as a badge of membership in their cliques. One nerd girl Bucholtz observed performed a typically nerdy feat when asked to discuss “blood” as a slang term; she replied: “B-L-O-O-D. The word is blood,” evoking the format of a spelling bee. She went on, “That’s the stuff which is inside of your veins,” humorously using a literal definition. Nerds are not simply victims of the prevailing social codes about what’s appropriate and what’s cool; they actively shape their own identities and put those codes in question.
Please. I could probably eavesdrop on random conversations in the historically white neighborhoods of M'waukee or Chicago and catch a dropped "g" on ANY participle in the first five minutes. As far as the "punctilious" use of proper forms, that's simply one of the Habits of Highly Effective People. I've emphasized this phenomenon, repeatedly.

The propensity of some researchers within the cultural-studies ambit to suggest commonalities between "whiteness" and what I call the Habits of Highly Effective People troubles me. It's not too difficult for a more malevolent observer to extrapolate from those commonalities to put together a message along the lines of "It is the Nature of the Other to Have Bad Habits." Do we really want to go there?

SECOND SECTION: At American Thinker, Jerome J. Schmitt talks smack.

The article does not mention the true common characteristic of nerds: they are numerate, i.e. conversant in the language of mathematics - an odd omission for a linguist. This omission can be explained by the fact that Berkeley-style multi-culturalism is threatened by numeracy, the development of which is the hallmark of Western Civilization and the historical wellspring of western economic and military success. Consequently, it is incumbent on multi-culturalists to discredit whenever and wherever possible those who are numerate.

In sum, I believe that this article and study reveal a lot more about the racial bigotry and monomania of the NY Times and swaths of the liberal arts and social sciences than it does about nerds.

"It is the Nature of the Other to Have Bad Habits," forsooth. Is it really "Berkeley-style multi-culturalism" that is threatened by "numeracy?"

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