Sunday, May 24, 2020

I'm Out with the In Crowd

A couple times in the not so distant past, I've seen or heard someone in my field use terms I don't understand.  In one case, it was before the shelter at home orders; in the other, it was on the interwebs, in an academic effbee discussion group.

First, I'm older rather than hip and young.  Heck, even when I was young, I was never hip.  Now, it's even worse.  And yet, I'm absolutely sure I used terms such as "Other" or "other" in ways that indicated I was "in" on the cool critical studies stuff.  And I don't imagine I was terribly thoughtful about making sure that everyone in the conversation knew what I was talking about.

I remember, in the mid-nineties, using the term "queer" in a women's studies class in my small, midwestern, SLAC, and realizing from the shocked looks that I needed to stop and talk about reclaiming the term.  For me, I'd long felt it was reclaimed and owned by the LGBTQ communities.  But for my students, it surely wasn't.  And so we talked about it.

At this point, I tend to be at least moderately aware of my audience when using lit studies cant, the semi-secret language of humanities fields; I avoid it if I'm talking to people outside of academic contexts, just as I avoid talking about quirky bits of Shakespeare.  In classes, I'm going to define the term, write it on the board, and make sure that my students understand it, and what I'm after when I use it.  And in hallways with my colleagues, I'm sensitive to whether my colleague is more or less a lit crit type theory person, and might well avoid some terms if so.  (If they're a music theory person, that's a whole different world!)

This change is largely, I think, the result of a lot of teaching, and partly the result of feeling reasonably comfortable with myself.  I can't think of the last time I felt the need to "prove myself" in terms of theory, or pretty much anything except when I had my department interview as part of the chair decision.  And that was about trying to prove that I would be a decent and responsible chair.

In these cases I'm thinking of, my impression is that the users of the terms are both "young" in terms of the profession.  Maybe they were just totally comfortable using the term, the way I was with "queer."  Maybe they're trying to prove that they're in the know about things. 

In person, I asked (the word was "Ace" but clearly not about cards or sports or flying), and the person said what it meant, someone who identifies as asexual.  (I would have just said, "asexual," but I guess that's not the preferred term??  No doubt there are subtleties.)  There may have been a slightly patronizing look, or maybe it's just me feeling stupid.  On the web, I looked it up (the word was "DisCrit," which I thought at first might be criticism of dystopian lit, but nope, it's Disabilities Studies using a Critical Race Theory approach, I think).  In the latter case, I don't know the person, but they were asking for help finding resources about DisCrit in a way that didn't seem like a more experienced person's approach.  (I may be wrong, of course.)

1 comment:

  1. This post is my first encounter with DisCrit. I knew about Ace from reading Captain Awkward (and yes, I gather that there are various flavors).