Why Impenetrable Academic Language is Classist AF

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I’m a fourth-year college student. At this point in my student career, I have read countless articles on literary theory, from the sex-cited body in Margaret Atwood’s novels to phallic symbolism in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, I have never read a single peer-reviewed article that has been a pleasure to read. 

The kind of language required by those who participate in academic discourse is utterly impenetrable. Don’t get me wrong- the concepts and ideas discussed in these essays are astounding and worthy of publication. My beef with academic literature is the required pretentiousness that makes the concepts behind literary analysis so hard to understand. 

If I’m being honest, reading a peer-reviewed, worthy-of-citation piece of analysis is exhausting. It takes me forever to try to decipher what could have been said in plain-clothes language and that instead is, as Grammerly would put it, wordy and hard to read. I find myself skimming the article constantly for keywords to big ideas, or else I start focusing more on the prose than I do on the actual subject matter. It’s an incredibly frustrating experience, especially after all the work it took to get there. 

I’m a smart cookie. An avid reader as well as a former gifted kid, my passion for literature is something I pursue wholeheartedly. However, the knowledge and understanding I’m looking for is buried beneath ten-point SAT words; these sentences contain so many clauses and semicolons it’s a wonder I can keep up at all. So the question begs to be asked, why is so much knowledge gate-kept by convoluted language and structure? 

I personally believe the answer lies in the power of exclusivity, and the belief that learning should be innately challenging. My belief is that academia exalts the challenging nature of literature critique. What could join the mainstream to become common knowledge is instead kept exclusive by making it hard to access structurally, as well as financially. 

The language itself is only one part of what keeps these ideas so hard to get to. Much of academic literature is reserved for students who pay thousands of dollars in tuition to academic institutions. The question begs to be asked: why would students pay high tuition rates if the information they need is readily accessible? They wouldn’t, and that’s the crux of the matter. 

The power of keeping peer-reviewed journals and articles inaccessible lies in capitalism, much like anything else in America. In order to keep tuition high and enrollment up, the knowledge universities provide must be kept exclusive or their dominion over higher education would cease to be the only authority in academia. Academic institutions are, essentially, big businesses. Universities and their affiliates would lose money if academic research and journals were accessible, and they know it. Hence, why exclusivity is everything. 

Pretentious language, expensive paywalls- they’re all a means to keep academic structures alive and well. Those who can afford higher education are the only ones who can have it; if there are no scholarships to be had or a lifetime of debt to be accepted, the knowledge is not to be accessed. What can only be found in a university education needs to be made free and accessible for all who might fancy to read it, and not clouded by overly complicated language or classist exclusivity.

The pursuit of knowledge is a part of the human condition. When those in charge of its nourishment turn against its inherent universality, they do mankind a disservice. 

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