Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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The hideous whiteness of the American pumpkin


YOU don’t have to be crazy to be ‘woke’, it’s just that it is a considerable advantage if you are. In today’s competitive higher education sector, where political correctness reigns, burgeoning Social Justice Warriors are force-fed a diet of progressive opinion and posturing masquerades as education, it can be difficult to retain a position, never mind reach the top.

A career as a university lecturer depends upon one thing: publication. It is possible to be a mediocre lecturer, haphazard on faculty committees, have a reputation for drinking hard and ogling faculty spouses, and still get promotion as long as you are published. A lecturer lives and dies by publication. It is vital to get your name in print. An article published in a peer-reviewed journal is good, but even a mention in a footnote is not to be sneered at.

Not long ago, a scholarly journal called GeoHumanities published an article by two academics on the important subject of ‘The Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins’. 

One of the authors, Lisa Jordan Powell, describes her research interests as including ‘agriculture, food, resource extraction, and agriburbia, particularly in the contexts of landscape, rural studies, and environmental history.’

Elizabeth S D Engelhardt, the other writer, includes among her academic interests ‘Southern cultures, gender, food studies in the humanities, feminist theories, Appalachian studies, public humanities, oral history practices, and the intersections of race, class, and gender in American literature and society’.

Important-sounding as they may be in academia. these are warning signs in the real world. Alarm bells ring when you find any couple of lecturers passionately interest in ‘agriburbia’, or ‘food studies in the humanities’ when combined with ‘feminist theories’. Such academics are less than likely to come up with anything which connects with real life in a meaningful way. Once again, where you start from determines your journey.

Try to imagine that you are given the task of writing a parody of the abstract for a paper exploring ‘The Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins’. It can be quite amusing to take five minutes doing just that, an opportunity to explore the wilder reaches of wokedom.

Then have a read of the actual abstract. If you have managed to produce anything as off-the-wall as this you have a richer imaginative life than is healthy for you:

‘This article examines the symbolic whiteness associated with pumpkins in the contemporary United States. Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte, a widely circulated essay in McSweeney’s on ‘Decorative Gourd Season’, pumpkins in aspirational lifestyle magazines, and the reality television show Punkin Chunkin provide entry points into whiteness-pumpkin connections. Such analysis illuminates how class, gender, place, and especially race are employed in popular media and marketing of food and flavor; it suggests complicated interplay among food, leisure, labor, nostalgia, and race. Pumpkins in popular culture also reveal contemporary racial and class coding of rural versus urban places. Accumulation of critical, relational, and contextual analyses, including things seemingly as innocuous as pumpkins, points the way to a food studies of humanities and geography. When considered vis-à-vis violence and activism that incorporated pumpkins, these analyses point toward the perils of equating pumpkins and whiteness.’

This type of endeavour does not survive in the absence of subsidies. Amidst calls for governments to spend more money on higher education we should understand that they are not asking for improvements to the educational system which will produce more and better qualified engineers, scientist and doctors. They are calling for more of this, articles on how pumpkins ‘reveal contemporary racial and class coding’, and ‘the perils of equating pumpkins and whiteness.’

There are professors whose entire record of publication consists of absurdities like this. Meanwhile, we who pay them should ask if their students are acquiring real knowledge and understanding which might actually help them earn a living and make a contribution to society in any meaningful way.

PS: The Conservative Woman writes: Campbell’s article reminded us of the project that exposed ‘Grievance Studies’ which have no academic rigour but are based on prejudice and unproven ideological assumption. Well worth a watch!

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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