In my early days as a University lecturer — which wasn’t that long ago — I sometimes found myself reluctantly involved in ‘multidisciplinary’ work. In the case of most other discplines this was fine. But there were a few disciplines, namely the ones that had a rep for being havens of bullshit, that turned out to be full of — surprise suprise — bullshit.
Probably the worst was Sociology. (You’re shocked, I know. You never saw that coming.) There was one practice that was popular at the time amongst Sociology PhD students, at least judging by some of the presentations I was forced to attend. This I called the High School Social Science Project. The student would hold up an exercise book, into which they had pasted sections they had cut out of magazines and newspapers. Headlines, pictures, stories, snippets. The sort of thing you’d sometimes have to do in high school, in Social Science class. (Actually, I’m not sure I ever did anything like this in high school. But some kids definitely did.)
Then the student would provide us with their left-wing opinion on whatever the topic was, these opinions being a simplified — although only slightly simplified — version of the sort of theory that was popular amongst the Sociology lecturers. The material in the exercise book was sort of supposed to be evidence for this interpretation, although of course it was nothing of the sort. Or perhaps it was just supposed to be an illustration of the theory in action. Or perhaps just window-dressing. You never knew, because concepts like evidence were never mentioned.
The Sociology lecturers all acted as though this was perfectly normal, while we multi-displinary academics from non-Sociology departments (young ‘uns the lot of us) sat there with our jaws hanging open, unable to believe what they were seeing. Of course, the slightest attempt at criticism of what was being said, or the method, would cause the sociologists to circle the wagon and get aggressive, and basically try to make you feel like a bad person and a fascist for talking about evidence and logical analysis and the testing of theories. And they certainly didn’t like even the suggestion that perhaps pasting stuff you’d cut out of magazines into an exercise book wasn’t serious scholarship. This was Intertextual Media Analysis, or some such grand shit.
Whenever I would tell people about this, they always seemed like they were reluctant to believe me. I think they thought I was exaggerating for comic effect. I wish to God I was.
(To be continued…)