Noam Chomsky Calls Postmodern Critiques of Science Over-Inflated “Polysyllabic Truisms”

A couple of weeks ago Open Culture posted a great video featuring an interview with Chomsky being rather scathing about Žižek and Lacan. Now they’ve posted another one where Chomsky discusses the political implications of post-structuralist thought in equally scathing fashion. I was amused by the abuse that was directed at the @soc_imagination account after tweeting the link to the last video (“reactionary”, “anti-intellectual”, “scientistic”) and look forward to seeing what reaction this video provokes. His suggestion that disciplinary insecurity drives the impulse towards high theory reminded me of a similar claim made by C Wright Mills about grand theory in sociology:

Mills’ position here is an extension of his earlier attack on Parsons and Lazarsfeld, and is just as fierce in tone. He observes that ‘a turgid and polysyllabic prose does seem to prevail in the social sciences’ (Mills, 1959:239), and adds that this style of writing has nothing to do with the complexity of the subject matter. Mills explains the prevalence of this style, instead, in terms of a quest for status. He declares: ‘Desire for status is one reason why academic men slip so readily into unintelligibility. And that, in turn, is one reason why they do not have the status they desire’ (Mills, 1959:240). This thirst for status is said to be driven by an underlying desire for the sociologist to achieve recognition as a ‘scientist’; something, he argues, that led to sociology written in clear and accessible prose (including, presumably, his own work) to be dismissed by many as mere journalism.

C. Wright Mills 50 Years On: The Promise and Craft of Sociology Revisited


Categories: Outflanking Platitudes

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *