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View Diary: Race & Gender Studies: Expertise Counts (129 comments)

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  •  Yeah, but the problem with Justice Potter's (4+ / 0-)

    aphorismis, that while Potter and the other members of the SCOTUS had particularly well-trained sensibilities in regard to "constitutionality", "precedent" and other legal topics,  there was no reason to think their opinions on obscenity/pornography was better in the slightest than the opinion of any randomly chosen nine men passing the time of day in a bar or barber shop.
    maybe his claim would have carried some weight

    In contrast ... when a topic has been studied and debated  for at least a century ... as Race and Gender issues have been ...  by  professional level by experts who read each others books and attend each others lectures and whose new arrivals  are then subjected to a peer review by mentors, critics and colleagues -- the idea that someone whose expertise amounts to "my friends and I feel" ought to be accorded equal weight an value makes no more sense than the idea that the lead guitar of a teenage garage band is qualified to criticize (much less conduct)  a philharmonic orchestra.

    •  I totally agree, but it depends on the context. (1+ / 0-)
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      One of the biggest flamewars ever since I joined was over whether the Obama comic by a progressive artist was racist because some interpreted the Alice n Wonderland scene as a "minstrel show". Would you argue that a PhD in sociology would better tell someone how to feel or figure that out, than someone who was African-American, or someone who was well-read and understood the reference?

      Justified anger does not grant you unrestricted license.

      by GoGoGoEverton on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 12:13:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Telling someone how to FEEL about (1+ / 0-)
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        this or that almost never works.  

        I remember a kerfuffle a few years ago in which one politician used the word "niggardly" to describe a municipal budget  he considered stingy, mean and inadequate.  But what the  word meant and what the fellow meant by it was a whole lot less interesting than what many, many others felt the word sounded like ...

        And of course, we all remember how a great many people worldwide felt that a depiction of a bearded man with a burning fuse in his turban was obviously an insult to the Prophet (pbuh).

        As for the Alice in Wonderland cartoon ... well, an expert from the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts could give a 2-hour lecture on why that image owed little or nothing to the iconography of  Minstrelry
        . But there too, a great many people were determined to take offense ... ( ...  the cartoon certainly was no complement to the President, so some kind of offense probably was intended) --  so  it's doubtful that any quantity of expert opinion supported with citations, references and color slides would have made the slightest difference.

        On the other hand, when some Sophomore Savant decides that his/her personal  redefinition of the terms used in 100-year-old fields of study is JUST what's needed to bring clarity to much debated issues --

        And when it looks like these new definitions serve to blunt and deflect the action agendas of the people who have been immersed in these issues for many years   (my own favorite is the contention that the word "Humanist" ought to global-replace the narrow and partisan "Feminist" when discussing gender politics and power issues) ...

        Well, yeah, words like "naive", "jejune", and yes, "ignorant" come easily to mind.

        I guess while all people have a right to their opinions ... opinions -- unlike people --  are NOT all Created Equal --

        Thinking of the old Kibbutz cliche:  All (members) are Equal, however some are more (or less) worthwhile.

        •  Sounds like we agree. (0+ / 0-)

          There wasn't a direct call-out (which is good I guess) of the comments/commentors who sparked the diary to be written, so it's somewhat ambiguous whether we're talking about randoms who are telling PhD's what a word means, or whether PhD's are telling other people how to feel or to interpret something.

          Justified anger does not grant you unrestricted license.

          by GoGoGoEverton on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 02:07:16 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  both are social constructs (1+ / 0-)
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      First, I think I might ditch the idea that there is any absolute "better" or "worse" definition, since all terms are defined by particualr social units and used by those units in various ways.

      For example, in the work of the SCOTUS, interpretations of constitutionality bring to bear both reference to historical arguments as well as (in some views anyway) the judgment of current society.  Look to the debate about capital punishment of minors, for example.  In this case, Justice Potter's job is arguably to encapsulate the views of those 9 passersby, because they define the polity with which the term is to be defined.  This is the "community standards" approach, which explicitly recognizes that terms have a social dimension.

      Contrast that with the "expert model" approach advocated here, which seems to take as an assumption that there is a better or worse definition, and in this case asserts that the better definition is in fact the one defined within a particular social group (academics).  From a literary criticsm standpoint, the conceptual move to establish one social group as the arbiter over another, power relations are necessarily implicated, because one group is empowered while the out groups are disempowered by the assertion of a privilege by one group to control the terms.  At an abstract level, this is no different than, say, fashion magazines privileging themselves to be the arbiters of what is beauty, for example.

      Now, as an former academic myself, part of me agrees vigorously that there is a well-justified reason for academics  (namely the effort of careful thought) to be assigned that primacy and privilege.   I personally think that better informed and better reasoned viewpoints are well "better"  

      However, I am also aware that there is necessary privileging that happens when I make that determination.  I think being aware of how and when we privilege ourselves is critically important to self awareness.  Without that, real discussion gets very difficult.  

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