THERE is so much anti-intellectualism going around, and it is painful to realize that this stems from the celebration of social media freedom. As one who has embraced what is labeled as a post-modern approach, I should be the last one to complain. After all, it is this approach to theorizing that has entrenched the perspective that science is not the only source of knowledge, and that even ordinary people without the required academic degrees can become mediators of knowledge in any discipline, and that technical expertise is in itself a social construction.
But one has to eventually realize that too much of anything is also dangerous.
You know society has a problem when people fault you for being too academic, or count it against you that you enter the discussion bearing disciplinary-based knowledge in your areas of expertise, honed by years of teaching and doing research. And worse, they accuse you of being excessively fond of flaunting your credentials.
However, a closer re-examination of the tenets of post-modernism reminds us that what we should celebrate is a plurality of voices which maybe against the tyranny of science, but is also against the tyranny of knowledge simply acquired from google search. Rather, what is expected is an explosion of multiple sources of information competing in an unrestrained, free marketplace of ideas.
Thus, the displacement of science as the only source of knowledge does not imply its total silencing, or delegitimization. It is not celebrating postmodernity to oust a grand narrative based on scientific and technical expertise, only to replace it with the grand narrative of social media-based expertise. It is disconcerting to see people who may not have the theoretical and conceptual understanding of the rudiments of a discipline think that they are better at explaining things for which some level of academic expertise would be required.
In a world where it is easy to google any concept, or when Wikipedia is always available to provide instant knowledge, a college drop-out, or someone whose area of endeavor is in a different field of life, and has access to social media, can instantly become propagators of knowledge. And when these people become major social media personalities, they acquire so much power and influence to popularize what they have googled and peddle it as almost doctrine-like, for the simple reason that to their so-called followers, they are infallible, modern-day, major gods.
These people have their predecessors in mainstream media who, prior to the onset of Internet-based platforms, have dominated the airwaves with their editorial commentaries about the news from perspectives that may have been borne from years of chasing and reporting the news, but may not necessarily be informed by theoretical and conceptual rigor. I cringe whenever I hear media people mangle political science constructs. I am horrified not only because they think that they are experts, but also because people believe them.
But academics have to equally bear the blame if they are now being de-legitimized as sources of expert political analysis.
For one, there is also now a growing industry among academics to become instant political analysts. They think that the mere giving of an opinion is equivalent to political analysis. They forget that political analysis is not only the articulation of what is in the mind, but also is a product of years of research and immersion in both the theory and practice of a discipline. Practice could come either in the form of actual professional exposure in the area being discussed, or of being immersed with on-ground realities through extensive conduct of researches and interactions with other experts.
Journalists whose beats are in politics or strategists who have worked for politicians but who have no academic background in political science still face some challenges in rendering rigorous political analysis. This is also true even for political scientists who have not conducted any extensive research on an issue, and have not published works that have been vetted by their peers, and whose knowledge is simply based on textbook theorizing.
Articulating a political opinion has become such an accessible endeavor that anyone with a social media account can freely express such opinion. This is what democracy enables. However, it is dangerous when such instant knowledge acquires the level of imagined expertise, and takes on an adversarial view towards academics and dismisses them as inherently inferior or irrelevant.
And it is here that professional political scientists, particularly those whose expertise have been honed by years of practicing the discipline as teachers, researchers, scholars and consultants and have a compendium of publications, have to be ready to embrace the reality that in the age of social media, we can no longer afford to rest on our peer-reviewed, oft-cited publications as a basis of our engagement. We can no longer just be contented that other political science scholars and students read us. There is a world out there that simply does not care anymore about what we say in academic journals and professional conferences.
It is a struggle to deal with our universities which seem to be fixated on academic rankings and publication citations as bases for measuring our impacts. The reality out there is that we are no longer making impact when we just become resource persons being asked by media to render our opinions, often truncated in the final broadcast.
It is a struggle to get out of our own comfort zones to popularize our academic discipline, and launch public social media engagements.
Nevertheless, it’s about time that political scientists in academia begin popularizing our jargon, descend from our ivory towers, and assert themselves in social media. Otherwise, we will allow our voices to be diminished. If we remain defiant and stick to the usual academic venues for our engagement, we can only watch as people who just have the diligence to read and google, acquire many followers, and know how to broadcast live on Facebook take over the production of political science discourse.