Do academic discussions of political theory belong to the world of make-believe?by Christopher Fear / October 1, 2013 / Leave a comment
Writing in 1942, the Oxford Professor of Metaphysics, RG Collingwood, said that dismissing academic discussion for insignificant speech is like “scolding little girls for giving dolls’ tea-parties with empty cups and little boys for playing with wooden swords.” Academic discussions, he added, “belong to the world of make-believe.”
Collingwood was specifically talking about my field, political philosophy, as it is done in universities. Reflecting on his words over the last year, I’ve begun to realise how right he was. Political theory seminars and conferences have been getting “curiouser and curiouser.” Like everyone else, I already knew that academia was populated by the kind of characters Lewis Carroll warned us about. There are the Hookah-Smoking Caterpillars, of course, and any postgraduate knows that supervisors are like White Rabbits: always unavailable on account of some other undisclosed urgent deadline. But now I’ve started to realise that academia is in fact an internally-coherent language world presided over by Humpty Dumpty, and that it doesn’t work beyond the context of its rabbit-hole—and perhaps it is best that it doesn’t.