Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Academics and scholars

Via aut-op-sy :
Dear Editor,

One of my ethnobotanical friends once said to me that there were two kinds of people to be found teaching in British universities. He described these as the scholars and the academics.

The scholars (Lewis Mumford is an example) think of knowledge as intrinsically a social product. It is thus something to be shared and disseminated as widely as possible. So scholars write in a style that is readable and accessible. As knowledge belongs to no one it is fallacious to treat knowledge as a commodity, or the property of any group or individual. Scholars, my friend said, were essentially egalitarian: they believed in reciprocity and mutual aid, helped others in their work, encouraged them to express and publish their thoughts, and freely shared their own knowledge. Scholars moved freely across disciplines, happily combined teaching and research, and devoted their scholarship to critically exploring social issues and a world outside of texts. They did not promote themselves as gurus, resisted being made into academic icons or experts, and sought no disciples. Nor did they act as patrons.

They were approachable, non-sectarian, valuing the diversity of viewpoints and alternative perspectives, even though expressing their own commitments.

Academics, on the other hand, were quite different. Heidegger and Wittgenstein are prototypes. They treat knowledge as a individual product, either as a commodity, or as something to be kept secret or confined to an exclusive, intellectual elite. Academics thus tend to flaunt with great pretension their own originality and self-importance. To do this they either cultivate intellectual amnesia, or practice a kind of competitive 'slash and burn ' scholarship, or write in an 'elevated' or obscurantist, jargon-ridden style, promoting the false idea that obscurity is the essence of profundity. Academics hate teaching undergraduates, still less people outside the university setting, and devote themselves to academic research, usually of an esoteric nature, meeting only with postgraduate research students who they cultivate as devotees. Emphasising hierarchy, academics actively promote themselves as 'gurus' or as academic icons' or 'experts', and surround themselves if they can with admiring disciples who promote their own work. They thus actively promote patron-client relationships. Academics also tend to be sectarian, rubbish alternative perspectives, as well as being narrow and exclusive in their scholarship. My friend warned me that it is difficult teaching in universities as they are full, as Brian Martin's book explores, with aspiring academics. It would also seem that many contemporary anarchists model themselves on the 'academic' style.

Brian Morris

BobFromBrockley: Fisking Chomsky, Stalinist librarians, Wacked Professor, The Rage of the Intellectuals

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