Quotes #264 & #265

Defined by their lesser knowledge, students can do nothing which does not confirm the most pessimistic image that the professor, in his most professional character is willing to confess to: they understand nothing, and they reduce the most brilliant theories to logical monstrosities or picturesque oddities as if their only role in life was to illustrate the vanity of the efforts which the professor squanders on them and which he will continue to squander despite everything out of professionals conscience with a disabused lucidity which only redoubles his merit. By definition the professor teaches as he ought to teach, and the meagre results with which he is rewarded can only reinforce his certainty that the great majority of his students are unworthy of the efforts he bestows upon them. Indeed the professor is as resigned to his students and their ‘natural’ incapacities as the ‘good colonist’ is to the ‘natives’, for he has no higher expectations than they just be the way they are.


In secondary and higher education, it is taken for granted that the language of ideas elaborated by the academic and scientific tradition and also the second-order language of allusions and cultural complicities are second nature to intelligent and gifted individuals; or better, that the ability to understand and to manipulate these learned languages – artificial languages, par excellence – where we see the natural language of human intelligence at work immediately distinguishes intelligent students from the rest. It is thanks to this ideology of a profession that academics can vouch for professional judgements as strictly equitable. But in reality they consecrate cultural privilege. Language is the most active and elusive part of cultural heritage which each individual owes to his background. This is because language does not reduce, as we often think, to a more or less extensive collection of words. As syntax, it provides us with a system of transposable mental dispositions. These go hand in hand with values which dominate the whole of our experience and, in particular, with a vision of society and of culture. They also involve an original relationship to words, reverential or free, borrowed or familiar, sparing or intemperate

Bourdieu, P., (1994), Academic Discourse: Linguistic Misunderstanding and Professorial Power. Polity Press, Cambridge, trans. Richard Teese, p6-7 & p8.

4 replies on “Quotes #264 & #265”

Great quotes, Tom. On a related note, did you see the article in the New Yorker a few weeks back about the diminishing return from replication of many scientific experiments over time (the decline effect, as you scientists apparentlyc all it)? It’s called ‘The Truth Wears Off’ and it’s by Johan Lehrer.

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