Sunday, February 17, 2019

Nonsense on Stilted Language: A Review of Nine Pages of Michelle Murphy’s "The Economization of LIfe"

I’m a professor at Evergreen State College.  This year I assigned a new-ish book I hadn’t yet read to my class, and to my chagrin I discovered it was pseudo-scholarship instead of the real thing; so I wrote the following apologia.

UPDATE: Problems like the ones I identified in Murphy’s book are not simply individual shortcomings.  I addressed my critique to a particular book and author, but it’s clear the problems are more widespread.  Murphy draws on the work of other writers like herself, her manuscript was reviewed by other “scholars”  in her field, and since its publication it has been frequently cited as an authoritative source.  More broadly, Murphy holds a tenured professorship at a well-established university and directs a research institute.  She is held in esteem by her peers.  Thus, pseudo-scholarship of the type I describe should not be considered a rogue, individual failing but a normal attribute of a substantial swath of academia.

To continue the analogy I offer in the review, the social problem posed by “fake news” is not that a particular journalist or blogger made up something, but that a large and well-funded industry exists to provide an ecosystem for the production and circulation of “facts” without concern for their actual facticity.  Similarly the discipline of which Murphy is a part.  Economists should be aware that universities are stocked with professors who believe that economics denies the value of anything excluded from national income accounting and that macroeconomic policy has its roots in colonial domination.  They know these things because the academic books and articles they read say them, citing each other as sources.

You can’t go through life always worrying about what others think of you, but you can’t entirely ignore it either.


Sandwichman said...

Never assign a book you haven't read.

Peter Dorman said...

Now they tell me.

hardindr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hardindr said...

I noticed that this book was published by an academic press. Did an economist not peer review it? I mean, it is Duke University, but really?

Peter Dorman said...

Ha! But seriously, editors have a lot of discretion over what reviewers to enlist. What this says to me is that there are probably others in Murphy's academic neighborhood who share her approach to scholarship, and that seems to include her editor at Duke.

I wonder if presses that compete aggressively for manuscripts in particular disciplines, as Duke does in cultural studies, go light on the review process.

Anonymous said...

The mere description of the book by Duke press would be enough for me to not bother to open it:

Why read open prejudice?

Fika lestari said...

Work hard and stay humble, then reach your goal.

Anonymous said...

I hope you're using it, as you state, as an example of how not to do scholarship.

Anonymous said...

The mere description of the book by Duke press would be enough for me to not bother to open it: .

Explaining; the language used to describe the book by Duke press is prejudiced, telling a potential reader the work is the same. I was quite surprised. At least try to present the work as academically balanced, unless that is too far from the case.