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Academic Speak: Filling in the knowledge blanks

The other day someone hinted that I needed to get some media training because many of the things I say went over the person's head. Today, I was sharing a research question that I am interested in exploring with my partner to see if it could be simplfied. In our discussion, I had the petite epiphany that the "problem" with academic speak is not the use of "big words" but the fact that your knowledge claims have to be specific not general. What do I mean? Let me provide an example.

This is the original research question that I am thinking about exploring:

How can the alignment of high-speed ICT systems and the comparative cultural value systems of Australian Indigenous, white-settler farmer, and Horn-of-Africa migrant communities lead to culture-based innovations in technology platforms that support semi-formal knowledge sharing?

After getting a scratched head, I then eliminated all the adjectives and "big words" to get this more simplifed question:

How can technology be matched with values in order to lead to innovations that support their sharing?

Now in the context of a media interview, the host might ask, "Which technologies? Which kinds of values? What kinds of innovations?" But, I would be expected to answer with some witty anecdote, for example, about some indigenous community using moble phones to teach tracking skills to semi-rural youth. [NOTE: This is just an example and if nobody has done this work, then I claim the idea. Grin.] Then, the show would go to commercial and that would be the end of the story.

In the context of an academic performance, the other scholars would definitely ask, What technologies? What values and whose values? What do I mean when I say values? Which innovations? To benefit whom? What is being shared in context and content? They would expect me to provide definitions with sources on how I came to the ideas behind that simple question and what would I contribute through the question.

Now, because I am making knowledge claims, it is better for me to be clear about those claims the opening question, even if it makes things more convoluted: What technologies? High-speed ICTs. What values? Cultural values. Whose values? Those of Australian Indigenous, white farmer, and Horn of Africa migrant communities. What kinds of innovations? Culture-based ones. What are they sharing? Semi-formal knowledge. Why all the adjectives? Because I are required to make my knowledge claims very narrow to avoid looking ignorate and getting attacked. It may seem to be jargon but that is because the modifiers must flag certain domains of knowledge to which I am contributing.

So the "problem" of academic speak is one of how you fill in the blanks. In the media, it requires a story to fill in air time. In the academic context, it requires a specificity of definitions in order to narrow the bounderies of your knowledge claims against that of others. I think I am pretty adept at both.


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