Theoretical Physics Status Envy?

A PhD thesis on the writer’s hobby of letterboxing, which leads to profound observations about actor network theory.

This study focuses on actor network theory which deals with any entities equivalently and therefore which serves to elucidate touristic phenomena in society being composed of diverse entities. Through the activity of letterboxing, this study aims at advancing actor network theory in regard to (1) networkscapes, (2) linking acts and (3) artefacts’ meanings. Through the qualitative methods of autoethnography, interview and participant-produced drawing, it turns out (1) that the configuration of the letterboxing network has many non-absolute leaders respecting each other and a non-resolute boundary and a non-definite participant composition because of such mutual respect, and (2) that linking acts in the letterboxing network are carried out not only through rationality based tactics and objectivity-based technology but also through corporeality and subjectivity, and (3) that artefacts in the letterboxing network have not only a general meaning and a network-specific meaning but also individual-specific meanings. Basing on these results, this study recommends actor network theory (1) to extend in regard to networkscapes from a presupposed fixative configuration with a single or a few absolute leader(s) and with a resolute boundary and a definite participant composition to a non-fixative configuration with many non-absolute leaders and with a non-resolute boundary and a non-definite participant composition, and (2) to extend in regard to linking acts from a rationality-based tactical and objectivity-based technological linking act to a corporeal and subjective linking act, and (3) to extend in regard to artefacts’ meanings from general and networkspecific meanings to individual-specific meanings.

If there are profound observations in there, the arcane and obfuscatory language doesn’t help make them clear. The density of jargon turns it into word-salad that to the ininitiated might as well be machine-generated gibberish.

Why do academics in the humanities write like this?

I wonder if there’s an element of status envy from subjects like theoretical physics. The concepts behind theoretical physics are hard for non-specialists to understand. So much so that a caste of writers have evolved whose job is to explain those concepts in terms that can be understood by wider audiences, lest people start to question whether things like Large Hadron Colliders represent value for money. The humanities do not have shiny toys like Large Hadron Colliders to play with, but they still feel the need to write in a suitably arcane manner.

I must stop posting these things.

This entry was posted in Religion and Politics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Theoretical Physics Status Envy?

  1. Michael says:

    This might make sense if I knew what “letter boxing” is.
    Without that key definition, which is not supplied, the whole thing is utter gibberish.

  2. Synthetase says:

    I used to enjoy reading different philosophy papers. Depending on the author, you could get very ‘human’ essays. Some had first person self referencing – almost thinking out loud. It made nice change from the ‘hard science’ of my field. I did my degree, and worked for a while, in the biological sciences where jargon is necessary, so papers could be quite dry and jargon-heavy.

    All the humanities stuff you’ve been posting lately are not just dry but could be entrants in a C-code obfuscation contest. I mean why? If the purpose of publishing a paper is to COMMUNICATE knowledge to your audience, why on Earth would you make it more difficult than necessary for them to follow your ideas?

  3. Tim Hall says:


    Letterboxing is a hobby that combines orienteering with puzzle-solving

    Having read that it makes slightly more sense, but not much


    Agree with that. Many scientific papers are written for other scientists rather than for the general public, but the humanities surely have a different purpose. I suspect that if they were written in plain easy-to-understand English many of them would either be banal statements of the obvious, or make ridiculous assertions that would be easy to refute.

  4. Synthetase says:

    “I suspect that if they were written in plain easy-to-understand English many of them would either be banal statements of the obvious, or make ridiculous assertions that would be easy to refute.”

    I have wondered the same thing for a while, too.

    I remember reading a scientific journal submissions guideline paper that said that jargon and abbreviations should be used as an aid for the reader and not to indulge the laziness of the author. Words to live by :)