Phi Beta Cons

A Weekend Helping of Jargon

Herewith, the name of a paper I heard presented at a conference on African Christianity this weekend: 

“Exploring the Inchoate Domain between the Public and the Private: Christian Counselling Practices in Botswana Producing the Indeterminate.”

“Exploring the Inchoate Domain”? “Producing the Indeterminate”? An ordinary man might have had trouble fashioning a title so resolutely impervious to comprehension. It takes a special type of smart to couple generic gerunds with utterly vague abstract nouns.
You see, when anthropologists and historians tire of exposing their audience to, say, original research, they simply take a previously researched topic and cram it into whatever theoretical construct happens to be in vogue these days. Since each theory produces its own jargon, the size of its lexicon proportionate to how totalizing the theory is (Kant, Marx, Rawls, and Habermas, very much so), we get introductory sentences like this: 

Habermas’s notion of the ‘salon’ as producing a fin de siecle culture for a specific public in the context of an emerging European bourgeois elite indicates an indeterminate in-between of what increasingly became defined as the private space of social interaction and the public space of interaction with the state and it political institutions.

The author’s contention is that faith-based counseling organizations in 21st-century Botswana fulfill this same social function, if you can make any sense out of what that is. Zzzzzzzz. 
p.s. I can add nothing to the fifty or so appreciations I’ve read of WFB, except to mention that the famous Buckley-Chomsky colloquy proved so popular among a group of friends at Harvard (conservative and liberal, diligent and dilettante alike) that it was fashioned into a drinking game, with each of the debaters’ points and eccentric mannerisms honored with a sip of a gin & ton, or whatever. It was collegial, brainy, and a lot of fun — just the feeling I think Buckley would hope to elicit.

Travis Kavulla is director of Energy and Environmental Policy at the R Street Institute. He is a former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners who held elected office as a Montana public service commissioner for eight years. Before that, he was an associate editor for National Review.


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