Sunday, October 13, 2013

Playing the Game

The current critique focuses on my analysis of an article entitled, “Micro Credit in Chiapas, Mexico: Poverty Reduction through Group Lending,” by Gustavo Barboza and Sandra Trejos. I believe that legal terminology and jargon, professional references, and complex, meticulous details are used by the authors in the context of this article to produce the effects of credibility and expertise.
Before getting into the details of my analysis the context must first be determined. The article was published in 2009, but uses data collected between July 2000 and July 2001. Published in the Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 88, the article was part of a supplement focusing on Central America and Mexico.
Both authors are associated with the Clarion University of Pennsylvania, which is located in Clarion, Pennsylvania. According to Clarion’s website, the school was established in 1867, has about 6,500 students, and is one of the several public higher education institutions in Pennsylvania. While both researchers are from Clarion, they are in different departments, with Barboza in the Department of Administrative Science and Trejos in the Department of Economics.
Overall, the article is fairly easy to read, with Flesch-Kincaid Reading Scores ranging from 20 to 30 depending on the section. The average grade also varies but hovers around 16. The article focuses on Micro Crediting, which is a type of program designed to aid impoverished people by providing easier means of credit loaning. The reason why it is usually so difficult to give those who are poor credit is because they often have little to no collateral, or anything to exchange if they do not live up to their end of the deal and repay the loan. Since banks want insurance that they will be repaid in some way or another they will most likely refuse credit to anyone who is especially poor.
Micro crediting, or micro loaning, offers a creative and innovative solution. Different organizations have different methods, but generally speaking they will offer credit if a family or larger group agrees to hold the individual responsible. What this does is make the loanee responsible to several members of the community as well as the bank, and the community is there to help each other repay the loans. Without knowledge in this area micro lending can be a confusing subject, but the authors do not spend much time explaining it since the typical readers of this article would already know what it is.
The official style is used in a wide array of contexts, and for many different purposes, but for this specific article I believe that it was purposely used to establish a sense of credibility and expertise. The authors knew that their publication would be read by a select few: the economists and businesspeople of the world who are interested in Micro Credit programs. Therefore they needed to prove themselves as trustworthy, credible sources who knew what they were talking about. The authors did this by using legal terminology and jargon, citing professional and academic references, and by providing meticulous details about their research.
It is common in official style to use complex sentence structures along with jargonistic terminology. Barboza and Trejos did this exceptionally well, and it is easy to notice. Since the article focused on economic practices there is a lot of jargon related to economics and loaning procedures. Some examples are “liquidity,” “delinquency,” and “arrears.” Arrears is so specific to loaning that I had to look up the definition. It is a legal term for the part of a debt that is overdue after missing one or more required payments. These are examples of terms that are generally more common amongst economists and bankers. Because of the audience, the authors deliberately used jargon to establish their credibility and professionalism. By correctly and frequently using specific jargon of the field the authors sent a clear message that they are “in.” They know the terminology, they are part of the inner circle, and so they can be trusted to provide reliable information to other members of said in-group.
In addition to simply using jargon, the authors threw terms together in complex and almost non-understandable ways. This strategy is typical of the official style and provides an even further sense of expertise. Whether the readers can understand the sentence or not is irrelevant, because the authors clearly understand it since they wrote it, and since they understand such a complex sentence they must know what they are talking about. One of my favorite phrases from the article that serves as a perfect example of this is, “The relative convergence to lower delinquency.” It really rolls off the tongue.
Jargon, although frequently an annoying aspect of the official style, is somewhat necessary to get published in today’s academic journals. If jargon is not used, it is presumed that the author does not know the jargon. If the author does not know the jargon, then the author must not really be an expert. Never mind the fact that it makes the article unreadable to most of the world. Jargon makes the author look smart, and the smarter they look, the more likely they are to be published. The more published an author becomes, the smarter they look. I think we can see the cyclical issue here.
The references the authors cite also play a key role in developing a level of credibility. The logic follows that if the sources are credible and expert then the article referencing them likely is as well. It is the same strategy as using complex, jargonistic sentences: appearing to know a lot about the subject matter and a lot about other people who know a lot about the subject matter. The article cites many authors, books, and other articles, but of interest are the types of journals that have published cited works. The referenced journals include the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Development Economics, Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, The American Economic Review, and the Journal of Economic Literature. Each of these sources sounds legitimate, which makes, “Micro Credit in Chiapas, Mexico,” seem more legitimate as well. The references also send a clear message about the intended audience of the article.
In academic writing it is imperative that one uses important and reputable references. The reference game is part of the larger picture of academic journals and the official style. Besides simply appearing to know more about the subject, the references chosen for an article are a key into the world of academia. If the right references are selected, you are in. If you choose wrongly, you are out. They key is to cite references that many other experts in the field are familiar with, so they know that you are legitimate. By citing references, a paper becomes part of a network. You cite article A, article B cites you, article C (written by the author of article A) cites article B. Suddenly you are in simply by choosing the right references. It is a game. Not only a game to come off as professional and expert, but also to get published and included in the circle of the “knows” instead of the “know-nots.”
A third strategy often employed by the official style, and used by Barboza and Trejos to
establish a sense of credibility and expertise, is verbose and highly detailed explanations. This strategy is implemented throughout the article, but nowhere as potently as the “Methodology” section, which describes the process of the research. One part of the research description, found on page 289, follows:

Loan repayment was set at 50 weekly equal payments, one payment per week (principal plus interest). ALSOL has no institutional rule for declaring a loan in default. We applied a 25-week rule: If no payments were made for 25 consecutive weeks, we declared the loan inactive, and then removed from the loan portfolio. Thus, our data contain 1509 "active loans" and 642 "inactive loans" as of the week of July 2, 2001. Of the 2151 participants, 942 operated out of 49 rural centers, and 1209 operated out of 48 urban centers. We also conducted on-site interviews to a randomly selected sample of 50 participants to learn more about their business practices, economic activities, and overall living conditions.

In describing research it is important to provide as much detail as possible so that the readers will be more likely to trust that the research actually took place and that it is potentially repeatable, or at least can be intricately scrutinized. This level of detail provides accountability and helps ensure legitimacy.
Of course there is a scientifically legitimate reason for providing details in a research article. The study needs to be repeatable and double-checked. But there are two other reasons as well. One, it gives the appearance that you thought out every detail and possibility associated with your project. Obviously you must have put hours and hours of time and thought into it, since there are so many words. But, oh! you forgot something? No worries, you simply state that it was a limitation and include it at the end of your paper as a suggestion for future research. The second reason is that the more words written, the longer the article becomes. Most academic journals have page limits, so you do not want to write too much (which would also give the impression that you are rambling, meaning you do not actually know what you are talking about). However, if the page limit is ten pages, and you write five - well that is just plain embarrassing.
There are certainly legitimate reasons for using the official style in academic writing. The article would never get published without it. Jargon may be necessary to express certain ideas and connect with other experts in the field. References are required to prove validity and that the information is not entirely made up. Meticulous details are needed for others to check the work and repeat it, if needed. So there are very real and very legitimate reasons for using the official style, and it is likely that Barboza and Trejos had these reasons in mind while writing.
It is also likely, however, that the rules of the academic publishing game were in the back of their minds as well. Jargon is necessary otherwise experts will not take the authors seriously. References are demanded if one wants to become part of the insider circle of experts who constantly reference each other. Big words and intricate details are needed to fill pages and look impressive. Legal terminology and jargon, professional references, and complex, meticulous details were used by Barboza and Trejos in the context of this article to produce the effects of credibility and expertise. But can you blame them? Everyone wants to play in the big leagues, and to be allowed on the field you have to follow the rules of the game.

-M.C. Reynolds

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