Friday, March 29, 2013

Isolation through the Official Style

            The article I used to study the Official Style was titled, “WikiLeaks, Anarchism, and Technologies of Dissent”. I chose this piece because the Official Style is typically present in the development of political philosophies such as anarchism, and technological documents often take the stand-point of either expert knowledge or “for dummies” writing. Before I could understand the context in which the article was published, I had to understand the nature of the publication. Antipode, a self-proclaimed “Radical Journal of Geography”, offers a variety of peer-reviewed papers from geographers and scholars. They “offer a radical analysis of geographical issues [with the] intent to engender the development of a new and better society”. Plainly stated, their aim is to explore global issues from a non-mainstream viewpoint to aid society. I focus here on one excerpt that showcases the Official Style, and then use it to answer the following questions: Does this article, through use of the Official Style, “engender the development of a new and better society” as claimed by Antipode, and what does this mean for the larger context of Official Style use?
            The article evaluates the claim made by opponents of Wikileaks, that the group is anarchistic, by evaluating the characteristics, technologies, and underpinning politics that could support the claim. Curran and Gibson use many aspects of the Official Style to showcase their claim to expert knowledge. The screenshot of the paragraph provides multiple examples of the Official Style, and has an Average Grade Level of 18.2. Paring out a single sentence from this section highlights many of those elements:

Wikileaks, Anarchism, and Technologies of Dissent Excerpt
Inspired by the altruistic, anarchical elements of hacktivist culture, the anti-statism of crypto-anarchism and utilising the anarchic infrastructure of the Internet and hacker software advances for the purposes of leaking, WikiLeaks seeks to make information free so that the power and privilege of governments and corporations dissolves and the “conspiratorial power” that it argues maintains their deceptions, disappears.

            The sentence is verbose, weighed down by the continual use of jargon, and repeated strings of prepositions. By the time you finish reading the sentence, you have to jump back to the start in order to understand the entirety of the context. In this case, the reader must understand the philosophies that underpin altruism, “anarchical elements of hacktivist culture”, and “the anti-statism of crypto-anarchism” to place the ideas within the wider framework that the article builds. Furthermore, the slow opening of the sentence delays the point that the sentence is trying to make: the framework of WikiLeaks seeks to dissolve the power of governments and corporations by making information free.
Outside of the language that was used, I focused on the context for which Antipode is written and read. Non-scholars and scholars alike can submit their papers to the journal. The papers are evaluated by an editor, and if selected, are then peer-reviewed by an expert on the topic before they can be published. Publication of an author’s work, then, is contingent on their own expertise and originality in topics regarding geography and radical perspectives. This means that even though non-scholars can be published, they would need a great deal of expert knowledge on these subjects.
These articles are then collected into the Antipode journal which is searchable in an online library (Wiley-Blackwell). The library acts as an archive of cross-discipline content, ranging from agriculture to veterinary medicine. These articles are viewable on a pay-per-view basis, or through a library that has purchased access to the archived content. In order to read Antipode, you either need to be a self-motivated non-academic with money to spend, or an academic with access to the database through another system (such as a library).
The combination of using the Official Style and the limitations of access to Antipode route back to my initial question: Does this article “engender the development of a new and better society”? In the short version, it does not. The use of the Official Style and the limited access to the article may hinder readers’ understanding and the widespread reading of the article. However, the expanded version has to look at the article in context. The article is written with the intent of being viewed on a smaller scale by those who are familiar with the nuances of academic language and the Official Style. It is possible that the article meets the aim of Antipode, but through the use of the Official Style, it also limits who is able to shape the “new and better society”.
The activity system aligned with the article is largely academic, but this falsely assumes that scholars are the only group capable of bettering society. This case also implies that texts written in the Official Style are intentionally difficult for the average American (or those with the average seventh grade reading level) to understand. Unless written to an average reading level, groups such as Antipode do not create a ground for “a better society”, but instead continue to limit it. If the language of the Official Style imposes limitations, how can it lead to the development of a better society? Or if a better society is to emerge, what standards do groups use to judge what that means in the larger context? While the article may lead to new developments in thought, it is also necessary to evaluate what other elements are being cast aside as a part of that process.

 -- Mitch Marty



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