At Arc Digital,* Roderick Graham takes his best shot at defending the honor of what he calls “critical studies,” that strain of “scholarship” taken to task by the Sokal Squared hoax. Deep into his argument, he questions why non-academics, outsiders to critical studies, give a damn about whether it’s a legit field of scholarship.
Many who denounce critical studies are political grievers. Research identifying more instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, and so forth bear with them implications. At the least, it accuses whites, men, heterosexuals, and cisgendered people as a class — though not necessarily as individuals — as being in need of change. At the most, the research suggests adoption of policies that reduce racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. People who benefit from the status quo, or who are otherwise opposed to changing it, are less inclined to explore its flaws.
Political grievers are usually outside of academia and other forms of knowledge production, and often have only a passing interest in the actual production of knowledge.
Meanwhile, the principled grievers object to critical studies because they believe the research is not of a high quality, and they worry critical studies’ practices are influencing other types of research for the worse. However, this measures the conclusions of critical studies through a lens of the traditional scientific method.
It’s a fair question, and one that an old lawyer should address up front: because law, reform and the ability to address the myriad failings of a system depend upon brutal reality if they’re going to work now, and be sustainable over the long term as opposed to the fix of the moment based on the delusion of the moment, only to be replaced the next time hysteria strikes and SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.
In other words, relying upon transitory self-indulgent “lived experiences” that unearth exactly what grievance studies scholar desperately want to find to prove their worth to society isn’t a particularly good foundation for effective change. And to some extent, Graham concedes as much.
My goal in this essay is to add nuance to the public’s understanding of the knowledge produced in the disciplines labeled grievance studies. I orient the essay towards those who freely employ the grievance studies label or agree with the overall sentiments the term suggests. They levy at least two major criticisms: (1) the research produced by grievance studies is at best inferior to other fields, at worst outright false, and (2) the research is overtly political.
These two criticisms are misplaced. First, while the research is indeed less rigorous if one applies the yardstick used by standard research methods, these fields are deliberately attempting to produce a different kind of knowledge. It is different, rather than inherently worse (or inherently better). Second, the research is indeed overtly political. This is a feature, not a bug. It is meant to be that way. And while these fields embrace it more than others, politics is embedded in all research, grievance or no.
In social science laboratories, this sort of rhetoric might not merely fly, but be applauded for its deep insight. But as a discipline, a course of study to be taken seriously as scholarship, it’s got some problems.**
The political bias and lack of objectivity makes many of their findings a forgone conclusion. Would anybody in Women’s Studies be taken seriously if they were to conclude that a field having fewer than 50% women is the product of self-selection rather than discrimination?
The irony is that, as a lawyer, my anecdotal experience is that racism and sexism is very much a problem screwing with the system, and as such, very much demands hard solutions to address. But critical studies isn’t producing real answer, and just makes things worse by indulging its delusions at the expense of the damage it causes by promoting its agenda.
I don’t care about the race or gender of the accused, but I damn well care if they’re being railroaded based on a fashionably bullshit narrative that no one can question without being a toxic pariah. Graham’s effort at justifying critical studies is worth a read. It’s why we end up with facile trendy answers that can’t be challenged, and why we will be as misguided in reforming law as we were when life plus cancer was the thing that would save society from crime for sure.
*Credit to Berny Belvedere, AD’s founder, for giving real estate to Roderick Graham to make his case.
Many of the people in this field quite openly call for a lowering of free speech, due process, and other rights to other citizens insofar as they’re white/male/straight/cis. It seems to me that an overwhelming standard of evidence is required before we consider doing this.
Or to put it differently, when the outcome is all that matters, the solution is to do away with any process that could produce an undesirable outcome. That fails as academic rigor. That fails as law. But unlike @iamcuriousblue, there is no amount of evidence that justifies the eradication of due process, the ability to be fairly and fully heard.