Jonah Goldberg illustrates precisely the nature of recondite and obscurantist academic prose.
There is a slice of the Left that really needs very bad writing. Horrid, opaque, impenetrable prose and jargon plays a dual role. First, it makes very dumb or simple ideas sound vastly more sophisticated than they are. Second, it lends an air of authority to very dumb and bad ideas that could not be earned via plain speaking.
He goes on to note that impenetrability is something different from technical jargon, such as subgame-perfect Nash equilibrium, the Say Aggregation Principle, or the modularity of elliptic curves precluding nontrivial solutions in integers to Diophantine equations of order greater than two.  You can't fake your way into proving Fermat's theorem or working zeta functions.  You can fake your way into culture studies.  And look Cultivated and Thoughtful while doing so.
The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
That's from an electronic mail gripe somebody once sent to Mr Goldberg.  Or perhaps it's something he ran through a postmodern phrase generator.

We can render the first and second clauses loosely as "The power of capital over social relations used to be a given.  We now understand it as emergent."  We might propose a counter-hypothesis to the concluding passage, perhaps along the lines of "Institutions evolve to conserve on transaction costs."  Try it.

A few paragraphs later -- this is, after all, Mr Goldberg's weekly stream of consciousness, we see, "To the extent they ever were real, live, socialist societies, it was back when they were ethnically homogeneous (and poor). Socialism can “work” for a while in small, ethnic mono-cultures, because the economic inefficiencies can be papered over by nationalistic or tribal sentiments."  But the way in which that socialism works might give anthropologists pause.  "One of these days, a social scientist of great courage will look at the emergence of self-segregation, or of the more contested 'othering' as a logical outgrowth of allocating resources and status on the basis of kinship ties." I ended that post with a suggestion for future research.
[O]ppression might be a collision of emergent social systems following different evolutionary stable strategies. But when practitioners of one strategy interact with practitioners of another, the strategy that confers advantages on adopters might look like oppression to defenders of the losing strategy. Thus, structural, but not a consequence of animus on the part of its practitioners.
Thus, although structures are historically contingent and path dependent, there are constraints on the ways power gets rearticulated, which is a clunky way of referring to political processes at work, or something similar.

Your research, dear reader, might be challenging.  But if you can't explain the basic ideas ...

No comments: