DIMWIT stands for Does It Mean What I Think?
On this section of the website you will find a series of explainers for terms you have likely seen used in the humanities and social sciences, in fields like sociology, cultural or gender studies, political science or law.
I decided to start DIMWIT having spent the past several years inside the Ivory Tower, where I have become increasingly conscious of how easy it is to become co-opted — that is, to lose sight of why I thought academia was an ethical career to enter to begin with. I believe deeply in the importance of these concepts, particularly ones relating to postcolonialism and feminism, because they give us a way of (or a vocabulary for) talking about race, gender, and power (or agency). We need these tools, which exist on the level of language because these concepts exist in the social realm (that is, they are a by-product of society, and are not inherent or contextless). We need them to dismantle implicit assumptions we have about other people or groups — it is impossible to challenge white supremacy or patriarchy without these tools. Inside academia, though, the game often becomes about how clever you can make yourself sound (for marks or publication or status), which sometimes involves a lot of refusing to admit that you’re actually not making an effort to make sense, and instead are making an effort to seem clever by using every Large word you can. You end up alienating the people you want to empower. I don’t think this is ALWAYS why people write inaccessibly. Sometimes people have justified reasons for writing inaccessibly. But usually those reasons are less important than writing accessibly. So here we are. I believe that these concepts back themselves — they’re important and they don’t need to be made any more complicated than they are in order to seem important.
I also believe that I understand these concepts more or less. Of course I am always learning, but I feel no need to engage in obfuscation. One of the greatest barriers to the inclusivity of academia that I’ve noticed is that there’s no real difference between the people who think they’re “dumb” and the people who think they’re “smart'”s understanding levels. In fact, people who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about sometimes think they do; and the people who have the self-awareness to feel shy or nervous about their understanding often totally have a grasp of the concepts. Unfortunately this functions as a bit of a filtration mechanism; people who believe they belong in academia stay in academia and the people who don’t believe they belong leave. And there’s not much people in leadership positions can do about this self-selection.
People who believe they belong usually believe it because they have family members who have graduated from university, or went to a private school, or grew up around university-educated individuals (etc). I grew up in Western Sydney; my parents speak limited English and their highest level of educational attainment is high school; my father is a bricklayer. This doesn’t diminish them in the slightest in my eyes, of course. But I understand what it’s like to feel like you don’t belong at a university or to not have it all come naturally to you. I’m here to say that’s all bullshit.
For example. Many times during my English degree I had the experience of having a bizarro avant-garde poem in front of me. And someone more candid than the rest of us would stop and say “Man, I have no idea what this is talking about.” Guess what? No one does! We just make up interpretations that sound good to us or make us feel good. There is no secret.
Here are some notes I dug up from an English class I took in my first year. In this case a professor — who is a lovely and eccentric man, and I don’t fault him for how he delivered this lecture, but I do think about its total insanity to this day — delivered this interpretation of AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad:
That’s an excerpt from the notes we all sat down and diligently took inside this big lecture theatre in this big old university. Does this mean anything to me? Did this mean anything to anyone in the lecture theatre? Nop!!!!!!! Is it sort of fun and funny and interesting to think about? Hell yeah!
Anyway, so that’s a very long-winded explanation for why I have set up this section of this website. I will attempt to provide plain-English explanations of, at this point, concepts I’ll be choosing at random that I wish were defined more simply. I’m not saying they’ll be primary school level — they will just be as simple as I can make them and no simpler. I will provide reference lists at the end in case you want to do further reading. Ultimately I endeavour to show that, yes, stuff usually means what you think it means. You’re not a dimwit. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying, either to you in order to alienate you or to themselves to raise their self-image.
None of us are dimwits. We have differing levels of access to information; differing levels of interest; and different perspectives. This isn’t to say that words don’t have definitions. Those definitions are just based on what a bunch of other randos have said. There’s nothing that separates you from those randos, though, except self-belief and access to info. I am trying to provide one, or the other.