Features Australia

Grievance studies gone to the dogs

20 October 2018

9:00 AM

20 October 2018

9:00 AM

If it wasn’t so serious the recent example of peer-reviewed journals being duped would be laughable. Confirming Orwell’s observation that ‘some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them’ three academics have illustrated how what they term ‘grievance studies’ now afflict the academy.

Over 12 months the academics, Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian, submitted fake papers to cultural and identity studies journals to prove, by adopting politically correct, impenetrable and opaque jargon, how it is possible to be published.

With titles like Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity in Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon, Who Are They to Judge?: Overcoming Anthropometry and a Framework for Fat Bodybuilding, Going in Through the Back Door: Challenging Straight Male Homohysteria and Transphobia through Receptive Penetrative Sex Toy Use it should have been obvious that something was amiss.

On reading such titles one is reminded of Swift’s Grand Academy of Lagado where experiments involve ‘extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers’, reducing ‘human Excrement to its original Food’ and building houses ‘by beginning at the roof, and working downwards to the Foundation’.

Swift also wrote about a project ‘to shorten Discourse by cutting Polysyllables into one, and leaving out Verbs and Participles; because in Reality all things imaginable are but Nouns’ and another project abolishing ‘all Words whatsoever’ and replacing them with the actual ‘Things’ to which they refer that people would be forced to carry.


Many readers will also be reminded of the Ern Malley affair where James McAuley and Harold Stewart tricked Max Harris, the editor of Angry Penguins, into publishing what were fabricated, nonsensical poems by a mythical Ern Malley.

Not only did the American and British academics succeed in having seven papers published in reputable, peer- reviewed journals, many of the comments received in response congratulated the authors on their sound research and intellectual rigour.

As stated by the academics, their papers should have been rejected as many ‘advocated highly dubious ethics including training men like dogs (Dog Park), punishing white male college students for historical slavery by asking them to sit in silence on the floor in chains during class and to be expected to learn from the discomfort (Progressive Stack), celebrating morbid obesity as a healthy life-choice (Fat Bodybuilding)’. The Dog Park paper is especially suspect given its thesis ‘That dog parks are rape-condoning spaces and a place of rampant canine rape culture and systemic oppression against “the oppressed dog” through which human attitudes to both problems can be measured. This provides insight into training men out of the sexual violence and bigotry to which they are prone’.

The lessons to be learned from this most recent example of academic subterfuge and satire are many. In explaining why they embarked on the exercise the academics refer to the unhealthy dominance of grievance studies in humanities departments and the impact of postmodern theory.

A situation where knowledge has no inherent value as it is socially constructed. Rationality, reason and truth are critiqued as tools employed by those more dominant to exploit the marginalised and dispossessed. Shakespeare’s Othello, for example, instead of being appreciated for its moral and aesthetic value is deconstructed in terms of gender, race and postcolonial theories. Western civilisation instead of being acknowledged and celebrated, for all its faults, is condemned as Eurocentric, exploitive, misogynist, racist, heteronormative, homophobic and transphobic. In this brave new world of critical theory universities are no longer committed to what Cardinal Newman describes as an education committed to ‘freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom’.

As concluded by the three academics ‘making absurd and horrible ideas sufficiently politically fashionable can get them validated at the highest levels of academic grievance studies’.

The experience proves how those committed to grievance studies enforce group think by only publishing like-minded academics well versed in the arcane language of theory. After initially failing to have their papers accepted the three imposters realised to be successful all they had to do was to mimic the postmodern tropes employed by the cultural-left. Possibly the most concerning aspect of what these academics have revealed is that those committed to postmodern theory define everything in terms of power relationships and privilege and education is seen as the place ‘where it has to be fixed’.

Beginning in the late 60s after the student riots in Paris, the rise of the counter-culture movement globally and the emergence of critical and postmodern theories, the cultural Left has taken the long march through the institutions to radically reshape society in its utopian image. The one-time education minister and Premier of Victoria Joan Kirner best reveals the justification for this long march when she argued at a Fabian meeting that the education system had to be radically reshaped to be ‘part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change rather than an instrument of the capitalist system’. Sympathetic academics in charge of teacher training and the Australian Education Union also advocate a radical view of the curriculum and the purpose of education; one that describes society as riven with inequality and injustice where teachers have to decide whose side they are on in the culture wars. Such has been the success of this long march that the then president of the Australian Education Union, Pat Byrne, was able to boast at the union’s 2005 annual general meeting ‘we have succeeded in influencing curriculum development in schools, education departments and universities. The conservatives have a lot of work to do to undo the progressive curriculum’.

Proven by the opposition by over 150 academics at the Australian National University and the University of Sydney to establish a Western Civilisation Centre funded by the Ramsay bequest it is clear how successful the cultural Left has been in taking control. Those opposed to students learning about Western civilisation argue the literary classics and the grand narrative associated with the West promotes ‘whiteness’ — described as leading to ‘different forms of domination and marginalisation — such as racism, sexism, classism, historical injustice and prejudice based on religion’.

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