Going Public

As a scholar and a sibling, I am deeply committed to producing work that is relevant to multiple communities, both applied and intellectual.  I am, in fact, wholly unconvinced that there needs to be a split between the two.  Over the course of my graduate career, I have found myself increasingly frustrated with the arcane language of my discipline, which necessarily closes many anthropological insights off from a general readership.  Linguistic gatekeeping is alive and well, yet I’m not sure whom it serves.  Must intellectual rigor be cloaked in indecipherable prose and demarcated clearly from real-world application?  I’m not sold.

Anthropologist and disability scholar Rayna Rapp on the “academic-activist interface.”

“Be prepared to continually learn how to make your research and teaching resources more accessible” – Rayna Rapp

This is one of the many provocative and informative talks from the the Center for Genetics and Society‘s Tarrytown Meetings, which address the themes of ethics, biotechnology, medicine, variation, and human life.  These are an incredible resource for anthropologists and other scholars interested in bioethics, disability, health, science and technology studies, and related fields.  Check out the CGS YouTube page for additional talks.  CGS also has a wealth of information relating to disability and human biotechnology on the Disability section of its website.

The theme of narrative style and accessibility looms large as I move forward with my dissertation.  I think here of a recent Huffington Post piece by Paul Stoller, in which he challenged social scientists to use writing to connect to diverse audiences and, in turn, reassert the relevance of their disciplines.

“There is no reason that theoretically informed findings cannot be communicated to broad audiences” – Paul Stoller

Will a revolution in academic prose halt the right-wing, capitalist-driven attacks on the social sciences and humanities?  Nah.  Still, when friends and family members with multiple degrees – PhDs from Harvard, graduates from prestigious medical residency programs, law school honors students – cannot decipher even the book jacket of a current ethnography, we have a problem.


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