What is it that people just don’t get about your field? I’m interested in hearing about the single thing that academics or other professionals find people misunderstanding about their area. What’s the worst question people ask you when they hear what your subject is? Or the simple misunderstanding which always derails conversations? You’re welcome to rant about zombie factoids, lament about the Daily Mail’s attitude to your work, or suggest the one thing that you could print on your business card to forestall the problem. Is your case the fault of the press, the field’s failure to explain itself, or people’s assumptions about what an academic topic looks like?
So far I’ve heard from a few people – one was frustrated that people assume “education = teaching”, another is tired of being asked “so did Shakespeare write Shakespeare, then?” and a third is hampered from discussing the complexities of her field by people telling her it isn’t an academic subject. Whether you want to write a 500 word piece for posting on the blog, or a snarl in the comments below, I’d love to hear it.
“Okay I get what it means, but what’s the ‘literal’ translation of that?”
From Twitter: “for Victorian studies, usually ‘Hasn’t everything already been said’ about Dickens et al (also, slight disdain when revealed that you have not, in fact, read ALL the books)”
From Twitter: “*sigh* that history of Victorian workhouses and poor laws just abt grimness, atrocities and submissive downtrodden paupers”
From Twitter: “when I tell people that I’m doing a phd in Shakespeare and renaissance drama and they ask me if I’m an actress #dontgetit”
I should probably include my own in this list! It’s the assumption that literary criticism (or any academic English Studies) is about finding things that the author has hidden in a text for people to decode. This is the basis for such a lot of dismissing of the subject, on the grounds that it’s “finding things that aren’t there” or “some authors just wrote to be entertaining” or “they can’t possibly have *meant* that”. (With all sorts of knock-on effects that studying Shakespeare involves disdain for other writers who weren’t “great”, or that either pop culture or pop culture criticism are inherently silly, etc.)
From Twitter: “My hobby-horse is the continual effort to point out that Wyndham Lewis was not a fascist…”
Judith Jesch said:
Professor of Viking Studies usually gets one of two responses: (1) Do they pay you to do that? (2) My seven year-old is really interested in that. Well, those are the ones that nark me. But plenty of people are positive and genuinely interested. Then I have to explain what it actually is. That’s another story.
“I’m a scientist,” I say.
“Wow, you must be really smart then.”
Er, do you expect me to deny it? Because I won’t. Weirdly, the sort of person who says “wow you must be really smart then” reacts oddly when I say this. “Yes, I am a doe-eyed girl-child and I am several orders of magnitude more intelligent than you, you puffy-faced old pig; yes; thank you.”
From an email: ‘My pet misunderstanding is “so, here’s what the government should be doing to fix the economy”. Despite the fact that I have “economist” in my job title, that isn’t my job. At all. More generally, it’s the idea that government policy is somehow easy to do, and that one’s discussant, with their Newsnight grounding in the facts, could do a better job. We elected some guys to decide things. Now they’re deciding those things. And the people who support those decisions have studied long and hard to try to get the supporting analysis right…”
As a historian whose academic (and past professional) work intersects with criminology and law, I have found that the term ‘qualitative research’ means very different things in these three fields. When explaining that my background was in looking at archival documents, someone in the criminal justice sector said, ‘so you don’t do qualitative research?’