02 February, 2006

They call him Chompers

It is interesting how low Noam Chomsky’s reputation is in the academic world of International Relations. One of my lecturers hedged as to why this is the case, but a couple of things spring to mind - i) the discipline's distaste for a specialist in another discipline entirely suddenly sticking his oar in ii) Chompers' "public intellectual" persona fitting ill with the refined world of academic debate iii) more generally, a sense that his writings on the subject are more polemical than seriously academic and iv) the possibility that Chomsky just says the same inadequately demonstrated stuff over and over again.

I can't comment on his work, not having read any of it, but I did recently read an interesting article* about him which asserted that his stuff on media control is rejected by academia through the kind of controversy avoidance processes he talks about. The article mentioned some other team of researchers who came up with more or less the same analysis as Chompers, but are far more cited. The difference between them and Chomsky, though, is that they are not poster boys for the radical left. I wonder how cited he is in linguistics, his actual discipline of speciality.

Separately, I have noticed this tendency on both the right and left to judge Chomsky as though he was some kind of moral teacher leading by example rather than a linguistics professor who dabbles in political analysis. What is strange about this is that Chomsky has never offered himself as a living example of how to lead the good life. Seeing him as such is surely indicative of a weak analysis of the socialist project generally. Leftism is not a religion, and socialists analyse the world to say how to change it, not to tell people how to live their lives. Meanwhile, rightists display an obsessive desire to demonstrate hypocrisy on the part of Chomsky, as though his having a shares portfolio somehow disproves his opinions on the world’s political/economic structure. This is entirely nonsense. Capitalist exploitation is systemic rather than based on the actions of “bad” individuals.

*Herring E & Robinson P (2003) Review of International Studies 29 pp. 553-568 ‘Too Polemical or too critical? Chomsky on the news media and US foreign policy’

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