explanation industries in information economy

Tue, 5 Apr 1994 01:16:10 EDT

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/* thought out while writing it, sorry.-------------------------------------*/
Discussion of "explanation industries," as I saw it, should be situated
within a critique of the "information economy."
Commenting on a government study showing that the difference between
"skilled" and "unskilled" increasingly corresponds to the difference between
the computered and the computerless, a contributor to the Progressive Sociolo-
gists Network said, in an aside, the other week, "Just what *is* the difference
between 'information' and 'knowledge,' anyway?" Most simply and obviously, it
is a social difference, one which is both conventionalized and enforced. To
Know Knowledge, as opposed to having a skill in Processing Information,
requuires: (a) an advanced academic credential, which is a selection device
for (b) socialization into a very-high-occupational-prestige subculture; and
(c) clearcut and secure possession of a title and position in academia
consistent with the elite pretensions of (b) *or* (d) holding a quite formida-
bly lucrative post in a private business or think tank, likewise consistent
with the elite pretensions of (b). Employees of agencies of the state (federal,
state *qua* territorial subdividion, local) possessing (a), the credential,
are construed as failed hacks, unless they attain to a quite impressive degree
of power consistent with the elite pretensions of (b), which is rare. Those
who have not secured (a), the credential, meaning graduate students, are
treated as potential attainerrs of (b) and either (c) or (d), "gonnabes," until
they either do or do not wash out at the crucial hurdle, the attainment of
(c) or (d); and then those who do wash out may get consigned to the pool of
failed hacks or worse. Acquisition of (a) without (b) is rare; should it
ever occur, the likely occurrence would be a social reconstruction of the
deviant as ignorant and mindless.

This social profile of those who Know Knowledge, hence by virtue of their
occupational subculture are obligated to generate a steady stream of papers
and books which they attempt to have certified as New Knowledge which is
part of the Literature to be Known, serves to demarcate the Knowers of
Knowledge from mere "Knowledge Workers," failed hacks, technicians, applied
practitioners, engineers, managers, executives, and below those, "Information
Processors." Below the line, one does something *correctly* or *competently*,
in an instrumentally rational fashion toward an objective defined or delinea-
ted by managers at some higher level. Above this line, there is substantial
opportunity (and opportunism) in defining the Knowledge one wants to Know
toward the end of having New Knowledge Known.

To the extent that something is defined as *hard science*, meaning that
it is so technical and mathematicized as to be *legitimately opaque* to
nonpractitioners (something which requires a great deal of explanation, as
it applies to the whole of economics, some fields of psychology, and the
most arcanely mathematical branch of sociology, but not to the rest of
social science), the certified form of New Knowledge may take the form of
brief shorthand. An article in experimental physics, for example, may take
the form of a page and a half of the American Physical Review. In economics
and applied-mathematical articles in psychology and, occasionally, in
sociology, it is admissible to have articles, especially in the Brief Notes
section, comprising a bunch of equations guaranteed incomprehensible to
non-mathematical non-practitioners. Reviewers will check the mathematics
for logical correctness, but will not necessarily worry overmuch about
the surrounding text, such as, "Since we know from..." and "From which it
follows that:"

There are "explaining" occupations, even whole industries, associated
with the *science-presumed* "disciplines" or "fields." These, however, report
on "cutting-edge" presumed-science *as if it were the only science that
scientifically could be done by scientists*; as what's advanced, the latest.
By extension, new products designed and developed by knowledge workers from
the New Knowledge Known by Knowers of Knowledge is construed as the only
possible technological development. We know, from mere beginnings as yet in
the sociology of science, and somewhat more amply developed studies of the
development and adoption or nonadoption of alternative technologies, that
these are post-facto illusions.

Significantly, the "explainers" in these areas are the science-writers,
science-journalists, and popularizers. Typically, they merely stand there
gaping at the grand theoretical and experimental feats of the source of
news: Even when writing for an elite business audience, they are mere relayers
of the oracular pronouncements of the High Priests; they are rarely critical.
Unless or until, of course, the readership starts losing very serious amounts
of money. (In the social sciences, economics alone is privileged to possess
subdisciplines wholly devoted to explaining to capitalists why, periodically,
it is a good and healthy thing that they should periodically lose serious
amounts of money; and these people are often ideologically conservative.)
Real Scientists, of course, disagree, but according to their Explainers,
they do so scientifically, for reasons too scientific to explain adequately.

That which is defined or construed as *scientific*, *real science*, or
*hard science* has the benefit of the doubt as serving the ultimate interests
of those who pay for it. The hallmark of a what calls itself civilization, on
the other hand, is its fairly lavish, by reference to the nearly nothing which
is possible - not, that is to say, by reference to squeals of niggardly
philistinism from practitioners - support of instrumentally useless, critical,
even avowedly subversive "disciplines" and sub-"disciplines." These are,
usually, nonviable outside academia, overcrowded, and in their higher reaches
compensated more by release from scheduled time and relentless bureaucratic
disciplining than by any other high-occupational-prestige, elite (that is,
Upper Middle Class) occupation. (Note, on the Humbert-Segal-Rossi Occupational
Prestige Scale, reflecting survey results, it is remarkable that the survey
respondents regarded, over prolonged periods, college and university professors
of *anything* all equally prestigious, at 78, where an MD is an 82 and a
Supreme Court Justice gets 96.) Though the practitioners here vociferously
grumble at their treatment by society at large and the funding agencies in
particular, the "fields" and "disciplines" in question are overcrowded
precisely because they offer the prospects of what is, in the context of
the wider society, something very close to a Libertarian Utopia. Also,
Academia is the only milieu where it is socially respectable to be seen
reading a book in the daytime; that is, one is not construed as "taking the
day off" or "doing nothing." The cultural-oasis ambience is such that, despite
all complaints of poor prospects for jobs, job security, and working
conditions, there is such a horde of job seekers that a Darwinian struggle
for job survival, the attainment of (c), results. (People like John McCreery
do exist, but are as rare as this writer, who is a deviant who never managed
(b), see above.)

The form of presentation of would-be New Knowledge is, in these "fields"
or "disciplines," reflective of this struggle for occupational survival.
It is, in dramatic contradistinction to presumed-science, prohibited by
convention to publish New Knowledge not comprehensible, due to technical
or mathematical notation, to a major in the relevant department, with the
usual exposure to upper-division courses, honors seminars, and the like.
The texts are longer, wordier, and more highly ritualized: The placement
of every single word is absolutely critical to publishability of would-be
New Knowledge as well as to the grant applications without which no "research"
is truly respectable even if the practitioner could afford it. The criteria
of publishability are in turn reflective of an extreme scarcity of publication
outlets, more stringent criteria for acceptance by referee approval, backlog
for publication of those texts approved, and complaints of unfair treatment
by rejected practitioners relative to what prevails in the presumed-sciences.

Here, the major divide among practitioners lies between Explainers and
non-Explainers. The latter are competing for the attention and acclaim of
practitioners who, basically, do not care very much about the non-practitioners
who do not read the journals. They wish, rather, to impress practitioners who,
usually, do not read the journals either unless a given article is rumored to
be "important." (One study found that the average article appearing in the
American Sociological Review was read by three [3] organisms on initial
appearance.) This is true, not least, among socialist-marxist sociologists,
who are incessantly prattling about socialist revolutions of the working
class or other insurgencies of Broad Masses. In any case, in all these social
sciences and humanities, the common denominator of the non-Explainers will
be highly ritualistic prose, taken as Professionalism, which is written
exclusively for the attention of other non-Explainers; and failing that, is
written to get published. As such, it represents career-development brownie
Although the Knowledge Known, and New Knowledge created, by the non-Explain-
ers purports to explain something about whatever-it-is, it does not exist, nor
come into existence, to have this Explained outside the audience of Profess-
ionals. It is Knowledge Known by Knowledgeable people Knowingly.

The Explainers, by contrast, endeavor to have their Explanations of their
scope of expertise trickle down to the media and commentators, the "educated"
audience generally, outside academia, while being appropriate for academic
consumption inside it as well. If this be The Nature of Contemporary Conscious-
ness and Things-In-General, well, that will be how it is. Similiarly, a book
dealing with the armenian Past or Japanese Feudalism will have to be what it
is. The social category of *intellectuals* has been abolished, liquidated;
there are no longer any such people as Paul Goodman, for instance, who wrote
books for popular audiences, and neither he nor anyone much cared *where* he
taught or even *if* he taught. (See also Russell Jacoby, The Last Intellect-
uals, 1976.) There are no longer direct links between fabricators of Important
Ideas and millions of people accorded the social construction of thinking for
themselves after work. In contemporary society, one who is not paid to think,
can't. Period.

High-academic culturati will, therefore, explain the nature-of-contemporary-
consciousness and things-in-general; and if I cannot understand what the
originals said, because I don't know my philosophy or art, I can pick up
Frederic Jameson to get a handle on where deconstruuction intersects with
postmodernism, and if that's not sufficient, go somewhere else, because the
higher reaches of the "cultural apparatus" (Ulf Hammerz, Cultural Complexity,
1992) have decreed that I must know this stuff, or at least drop words like
"subtext" or "discourse," else announce myself an idiot. (But as the Dog
of the Internet, this will do me no good whatever.)

I never heard of Fabian, so I am guessing that he'd be called a non-Explain-
er. It is not incumbent upon me to understand him, unless or until the cultural
apparatus decrees him an Explainer whom it is required of me to hold my head up
to understand. I have heard of, have read - and should read much more - of
Geertz, Bourdieu. Foucault was Required. Derrida, well, I still need Explainers
of Derrida to tell me what I read.

The bottom line is, this is a fake issue. There is variability in the
amenability to comprehension in both Explainers and non-Explainers. Both
types are imbued with cognitive passion, hence do not lend themselves to
Pure Seekers After Truth versus Hustlers; the two must be fused in the
role specifications of the Professional ramming potential New Knowledge
into the overstuffed certification-for-publication apparatus. But only
the Explainers have Explainers of their own who tell me what I am supposed
to Know were I allowed to Know, as opposed to being dilletantishly Ignorant,
as is the case with the Mindless bookworm.

Daniel A. Foss
<dog of the internet>