Posted by Jay Livingston
In her “Ten Commandments of Graduate School,” published recently at The Chronicle, Tenured Radical* commands
Thou shalt use the word discourse sparingly; likewise neoliberalism, and other theoretical catchphrases designed to obscure that thou hast not fully thought through thine ideas.At the ASA meetings earlier this month, I didn’t hear much discourse. But there were other trendy words. Narrative, for example, has achieved widespread use even outside of academia, though most of the time the word story would do just as well. (My post on this word five years ago had the title “That’s My Narrative and I’m Sticking to It.”) Both these terms had fallen into relative disuse until post-modernist, structuralist, post-structuralist writing pumped them with new life.
From the 16th to the 19th centuries, learned people wrote discourses – Rousseau on Inequality, Dryden on Satire, etc. Nowadays, anyone who speaks has a discourse just waiting to be analyzed. And of course we all have narratives for just about everything we think about.
A couple of words I heard several times at the ASA were newbies. They just did not exist back in the day. These were the “ize” words.
Maybe it’s because academics travel to these conferences, but at the ASA, and apparently elsewhere, there was much talk of unpacking. I even think I may have heard someone unpacking a narrative (or was it a discourse?) Unpack, too, begins is rise in the 1970s.**
I’m sure there are other trendy terms I’ve missed. Maybe you have your own favorites. It’s hard to predict which will sink in popularity as quickly as they have soared, and which will be with us for a while.
* Tenured Radical is the nom de blog of historian Claire B. Potter, who looks like she might have an even more noted relative. Claire is the one on the left.