One of my special interests is knowledge production: how do we create knowledge and how is that knowledge then perceived and received? Bear with me, this is not empty waffle, I assure you. Think about it for a moment, how do we know what we know? We can only know what we know when others validate that knowledge in some way. It is in the application of knowledge and in our actions knowledge will reveal itself. Of course I am biased, I have an epistemological standpoint that can roughly be explained thusly: knowledge has to be meaningful in order to make sense. Without sense, there is no genuine knowledge.
Upon reading through Professor Shorter’s work[1,2] it becomes obvious to me that he is a privileged man who speaks from a privileged position of power. The bias shines through via the titles on his publication list and one only needs to read his blog to realise Toronto University apparently has no qualms about harbouring a misogynist to name but one of the problems with colleague Shorter’s work. They are in good company, the list of universities nurturing and enabling male ‘thinkers’ is impressively long, occasionally articles appear in which this fact is critically examined and deplored. In his work I can only detect overly assertive polemics but no genuine questions being asked, especially no questions that would suggest a will to engage in serious, rigorous research. Instead, Professor Shorter ”knows” things, and he is not afraid to share his pearls of wisdom.
Tony Becher and Paul Trowler (2001) describe in detail the intricacies of scientific disciplines and power structures in higher education. In Chapter 8, The Wider Context, it becomes clear that some academics have adjusted fully to ”demands” by the so-called market. They pride themselves on collaborating, for the greater good, with the society they are part of as academics. However, there is a difference between contributing to the greater good in order to arrive at more sustainable knowledge-based solutions and cleverly rendering yourself into the product itself that is sought after and snatched up by some with vested interests (most of the time they can easily be summed up as accumulation of more privilege and power), never mind how flawed or biased the work to the detriment of others. Of course one could argue that in some way, this is the ultimate collaboration in market-driven universities and societies as a whole: being cynical and selling yourself, live the good life and never be too concerned about ethics or rigorous research.
I am opinionated, too. In my opinion, what I have just described does not count as knowledge as it is meaningless and makes no sense to anyone but the likes of Professor Shorter and those who equally benefit from his work, say, certain members of the medical profession who see fit to harass and ridicule ill people or journalists who all too often jump on the bandwagon of scapegoating the sick and disabled. There are weightier aspects to such practices, too, for instance authorities picking up on the ridicule and incorporating it in their routines, gradually firmly institutionalising that ridicule at the expense of people who cannot work due to not being able to ‘snap out’ of the state of hysteria or other malaises of whose existence Professor Shorter et al are so certain. I suggest the creation of a perpetual state of misinformation and misrepresentation of reality is, in other words, deliberate. It is important to note in this context that universities have a long, dark history of aiding and abetting oppression, be that by barring women from entering higher education altogether until rather recently (historically speaking) or be that by bestowing privileges to certain professions, the medical one in particular, for hundreds of years and endorsing sinister scientific experiments (cf Husu, Lisa,)
What is knowledge for, I have asked initially. Knowledge ought to be created and used to make sense of the complexities and perplexities we are confronted with, and to be able to ask better questions. Hate speech, regardless of it being wrapped nicely in academic terms and witticisms, is not knowledge. Academics ought to be held to a high ethical standard and they should be made to critically examine their positions of privilege and power instead of accumulating privilege by abusing the positions of power they have reached. Many academics do exactly that but they are not the ones journalists tend to turn to for input. As for television they are not the self-aggrandising personalities who have audiences in stitches. They don’t make for good entertainment as they so disappointingly refuse to deliver stirring soundbites. They may be a tad dreary in their well considered answers. To be knowledgeable, however, is to be ‘vague’ on occasion, it is to doubt and to listen to others because they, too, might have something of value to contribute.
To contribute, on the other hand, to a societal climate in which soundbites are (willingly) confused with knowledge is shameless and unworthy of a rigorous, responsible academic and the institution he represents. The role of Psychology Today in propagating hate speech should not be ignored or underestimated*.
2) http://www.freezepage.com/1424484834CZFJDNHSFV (accessed 26/02/2015)
4) Becher, T., Trowler, P (2001) Academic Tribes and Territories: intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines. Open University Press.
5) Husu, L (2001). Sexism, Support and Survival in Academia: Academic women and hidden discrimination in Finland. Department of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki.