10 October 2007

Stanislav Andreski dies

I was sorry to read of the death of Professor Stanislav Andreski, the Polish-British sociologist. As the obituary in The Independent reports:
Andreski always wrote a clear, impeccable and attractive English that was a pleasure to read. He held in contempt those social scientists who were obscurantists and jargon-mongers, and in 1974 published an attack on them in his best-selling Social Sciences as Sorcery. It was very popular with the public but infuriated those of his colleagues whose careers were based on concealing behind verbiage the fact that they had nothing to say. Andreski was equally contemptuous of bureaucracy and when he received an absurd questionnaire from the Social Science Research Council asking him what method he used, he replied "thinking".

In my later career as an editor of academic texts, I had reason to be grateful to Andreski for honing my bullshit detectors, as I was often (too often) called upon to edit texts by academics "whose careers were based on concealing behind verbiage the fact that they had nothing to say". There was even an entire discipline, Fundamental pedagogics, based on that principle.

One might not always agree with what Andreski said, but there was never any doubt about what he was saying. Here are some examples
One of the manifestations (unimportant in itself but very revealing) of the timorous but disingenuous humility characteristic of a burrowing apparatchik is the taboo on the word 'I'. 'One still shudders at the arrogance of the author in his repetitive use of the first singular concerning complex issues' - says a reviewer of one of my books, who for all I know may be the only creature in whom this obscene word can induce actual shudders, although by saying 'one' instead of 'I' he implies that most of his readers suffer from this allergy. I doubt whether the reviewer in question favours the majestic first plural normal among the older French writers, and still common among their successors, but which in England is reserved for the Queen. Presumably he prefers the anonymous 'it', and likes to see an expression like 'I think that ...' replaced by 'it is hypothesized ...', which, apart from expurgating the dirty word 'to think') ministers to the bureaucratic underling's predilection for submissive anonymity combined with oracular authority. I do not see why declaring that I - a mortal and fallible man but entitled to express his opinions - hold this or that view should be more arrogant than pretending to be the Voice of Science.

Andreski has some interesting things to say that relate to my own academic field, missiology and church history, when he says of the Great European witchhunt:
The Witch Craze did not spread to the lands of the Orthodox Church: neither Russia nor the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were affected. The ferocious persecution of the Old Believers in Russia was accompanied by no witch hunts - which provides another argument against the view that they were a by-product of a fight against heresies. The schism between the Eastern and Western Churches occurred before the celibacy of the clergy was established; and the Orthodox priests continued to marry. As the schism occurred several centuries before the demonisation of women had reached a high pitch in the West, the Eastern Church was not affected by this tradition, in contrast to the Protestant denominations.

Though I'm not sure that I altogether go along with his thesis of attributing the witch hunt to the introduction of syphilis from the New World, nor am I convinced of the truth of his assertion that Orthodox bishops were castrated.


Yvonne said...

Interesting man.

Actually I did manage to find some instances of witch persecution in Russia in the 17th century, but they were not orchestrated by the Church. Some witches were prosecuted and burned by the state (and a priest testified against them) but there was no equivalent of the Inquisition.

Tauratinzwe said...

Yep! There's a lot of BS in academia. That's why the MS degree is said to mean, "more of the same" and PhD is "piled high and deep."

If someone REALLY knows his subject, he can explain it in clear simple terms without resort to the obfuscation of academic jargon.

Donatello said...

As a great admirer of "Social Sciences as Sorcery", I will miss such a great personality.
I hope social sciences will get out of the dark ages of "pretentious nebulous verbosity" they are deep in.
Andreski has been the first one to realize the dangers of postmodern attitudes in the universities.

Hounddog said...

I knew Andreski well some 30 years ago and he was certainly an interesting and engaging writer and talker. He had his faults however.

Waht you failed to mention was that his initial response to the questionnaire on research methods taught in his department ('thinking') was returned to him with a request for clarification/elaboration. His reply was: 'Thinking hard'.


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