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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: September 12, 2005
Latest Update: September 12, 2005

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Index of Topics on Site Lecture 8: The Social Significance of Academic Jargon


This morning I received a forwarded e-mail from Susan. ( I was gonna say "got," but this is an English Professor after us, so, no slang." By the way, you shouldn't even use "so" as I did here, according to the NY Times on Language by Safire, I think it was.) I was trying to put up learning records for transparent grading, but this stopped poor Susan cold, and me with her. Thus, I've taken time out from your learning records to create this lecture for Week 4 when I will have been absent this Thursday. This will give you some fun while I'm gone.

Here's the forwarded e-mail:

"Date: Mon, 12 Sep 2005 12:49:02 -0500 (Central Daylight Time)
From: Susan Takata
To: Curran Jeanne
Subject: Forwarded mail....

fyi... one of UWP's english professors put this out to all faculty (the governance email). geez.


. . . . . .

Gee, susan. I guess it doesn't matter that we define and put up on our site all those words as concepts and link them to both our courses and our lectures, so that students will understand "transparency" when it's all the fashion in discussions of Enron and "no-bid contracts" in New Orleans and Iraq. I guess only Enron and Halliburton get to use those big words, the better to subordinate those without power. jeanne

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 12 Sep 2005 10:28:04 -0500
From: Robert H Canary

The Emperor Has Transparent Clothes

Prompted by one of our rate-busting award-winning colleagues, the Institute for Institutional Prose has declared September "Transparency Month," in an effort to promote the new uses of "transparent" and "transparency" in institutional prose. The multi-syllabic Latinity of "transparent" makes it preferable to such out-of-date words as "clear" or "open"e.g., "clear grading standards" might be nice but a "transparent grading process" is much more impressive. Its use has the additional advantages of warning the alert reader that something is being concealed and of lending itself to double entendre.

A quick search of the UWP archives suggests that too many of us are behind the curve and out of the loop on this. We do, however, have a splendid model taken from an actual Parkside site, showing how "transparency" can be strung together with other jargon to make splendidly opaque sentences, rich in sexual symbolism. We cut and paste it without (we swear) any alteration: "Because we are going to conceptually relate this back all our midterm discussions and exhibition projects to theory on illocutionary discourse and answerability, transparency, responsibility, structural violence, and accountability, we'll have to review this concepts. This is where we have need of our naked space to bring in all our fractal patterns of experience and share them with each other in reacting to the new work we create together."

Now that you see how it is done, we hope that you will all go out and use this concepts as you conceptually relate your fractal patterns in whatever naked space you can share.

[Previous, equally useful bulletins of the Institute for Institutional Prose can be found at ]

Well, although I have already defined most of these these technical terms we have drawn from texts like Jonathan Lear's Love and It's Place in Nature, Jürgen Habermas' Between Facts and Norms, Maria Pia Lara's Moral Textures, Gordon Fellman's Rambo and the Dalai Lama. etc. I had forgotten the "fractal patterns," drawn from T.R. Young's Red Feather Site in Critical Theory. For students at UWP, who may be using different texts, you'll find our definitions in the Lectures, Indexed on the Current Issue of Dear Habermas.


  • fractal pattern - a non-linear pattern approximating nature in which multiple images are repeated, branching out, as happens in real social interaction that cannot be predicted on a linear a to b to c to z pattern. Fractal patterns are used by sociologists trying to discover a closer approximation to the ways in which humans actually interact both with each other and with their perspective of their context. But neither Susan nor I are teaching that this semester. And I guess we should stay away from such "big words and ideas."

  • Naked Space - The name of our semester end Gallery Showing of visual sociology, photographs, sculpture, and painting. The title came from a protest by the Dear Habermas group against the Political Science Club's use of the naked lady mud flap as it's newsletter icon, which was posted around school. We resolved that controversy by sharing the Gallery Show in which both genders were displayed with all the perspectives of nakedness and its social and political meanings. For those who would like to see the Gallery Show you will find the interactive show at Table of Contents for Freeing the Feminine Other and Freeing the Feminine Other: A Collaborative Hypertext Poem Encompassing the Naked Space Exhibit of Spring 2004 and the The Invitation to the Gallery Show.

    The definition of naked space came about from negotiated discussions between Dear Habermas and the Political Science Club as we discovered that what both of us wanted was to stimulate discussion of real world social and political issues in which people felt it was socially accepted in expressing their thoughts, not in passively accepting what they were told. We discovered that both groups tended to situate themselves in circles and keep the center space free, as a symbol of our acceptance of answerability (Bakhtin) or the expression of our own voices (Women's Ways of Knowing) and validity claims (Habermas). And so we called the Gallery Show the Naked Space Exhibition. (I know, I shouldn't use so thus.)

  • answerability - the gift that every human possesses of a unique reaction and response to every experience. Remember that the reaction, response may be in archaic rather than conceptual langue (Lear, Love and Its Place in Nature)

    See our extensive definition at Answerability: Definition to which you will also find a link in the Site Index.

    Discussion Questions

    Relating to Sociology 220: Analytical Statistics

    • Glance through some of the material on fractal patterns. What does it tell you about statistics, as you are learning it?

      Consider that fractal patterns relates to mathematical theories about non-linear relationships. Not only do we not have equal intervals along an x or y axis, we don't even have an axis. We have multiple images repeating in ever smaller sizes with the need to find patterns in the chaos. Figure T.R. Young might be considering fractal patterns as we wonder about how to cope with the chaos that is now New Orleans. No, we won't have time to cover chaos theory this semester. But be aware of it. It's called "thinking out of the box" in some circles.

    Relating to Sociology 370: Moot Court

    • Set up an imaginary dialog for Susan and Jeanne and Professor Canary.

      Consider Susan and jeanne's insistence that you recognize professional jargon to guard against subordination by those in power who wish to deny your answerability.

    Relating to Sociology 386: Sociology of the Helping Professions

    • Both Susan and I were taken aback by this quasi-public denunciation of our work. What does this suggest in terms of how faculty support faculty in their efforts at teaching? How does this management of intrafaculty support affect students?

      Consider the chilling effect of being publicly ridiculed if you try something that is different from the main stream. Never mind that jeanne has a Ph.D. from USC in the Sociology of Education, with a specialty in learning theory. If your teachers feel a chilling effect, consider the possibility of that suggesting to them a less lovable world for their own context.

    Relating to Sociology 395: Love 1A

    • Was this a confrontation that suggested a loving orientation to the world?

      Consider the phrases:

      • "Prompted by one of our rate-busting award-winning colleagues" My take on that phrase is that it is pejorative labelling. Do you agree? Why or why not? How does that set the tone for the message?

      • "declared September "Transparency Month," - actually despite its sarcasm, I'd welcome a "Transparency Month," on our campus. And personally, I think the phrase, The Emperor Has Transparent Clothes, is a fine description of Dubya. Those clothes got a little more transparent with the federal government's response time to Katrina. But now I'm responding in kind. If I have a loving orientation to the world, I ought to recognize that Professor Canary (Is that his real name or a pseudonym, Susan?) is not party to how many of us are from New Orleans and had relatives in New Orleans. I shouldn't really take his words out of context, anymore than he should take ours out of context. See how easy it is to abandon a loving orientation?

      Consider that Susan and I do our best to explain these concepts in plain English, but that vocabulary, particularly the vocabulary of those in power, is a status symbol. UCLA Law first years begin to include "disingenuous" and "egregious" in their casual conversations during their first semester there.

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