the ways in which

Have you ever heard the phrase “interested in the ways in which”? If you have, it was probably uttered by a scholar in the humanities or social sciences, describing their research interests. There’s a good chance that the explanation that followed was rich in jargon, heavy on social theory, and an mostly opaque to anyone not in the same field as the speaker. It was probably also an American or a Brit. (If this doesn’t ring any bells for you, take a look at the search results for “interested in the the ways in which“.) As a fellow graduate student pointed out to me, “the ways in which” has a very strong connotation, marking a certain style of thinking and writing about history and society. Most people that come through giving talks to my program, whether for job talks, colloquia, or some other lectures, can pretty easily be divided into “ways in which” types and people who know how to hold an audience’s attention.

Reflecting on the problems of jargon that come with writing history that is only meant for other historians, I’m working on a paper: “The Pedagogical Semiotics of Interlinguistic Anglophone Discourse, 2008-1999”. On a closely related note, the grad students are think of doing either drinking games or jargon bingo to spice up future talks. “Blah blah blah, blah blah actor’s category, blah blah.” “Bingo!”

On another related note, every would-be historian needs to watch the latest The Simpsons, “That 90s Show”, if you haven’t already. See a few clips here. Choice quotes:

  • Suede-elbow-patched associate professor: “Look at that lighthouse! It’s the ultimate expression of phallocentric technocracy violating Mother Sky.” Marge: “I thought they were just tall so boats could see them.” Professor: “No, Marge, everything penis-shaped is bad.”
  • Marge: “Did you know that history is written by the winners?” Homer: “Really? I thought history was written by losers!”

Bonus link: PhD Comics on thesis titles

One thought on “the ways in which”

  1. Ever since you wrote about “ways in which” it’s been getting on my nerves and I have purged it from my own writing. My reason for hating it is grammatical.

    Example Sentence 1 : This paper explores the ways in which hermit crabs compete for available shells.

    Example Sentence 2: The shells in which the hermit crabs were living were two inches in diameter.

    My understanding is that the “in” in Sentence 1 is unnecessary, because it is not attached to the verb, “compete,” the way the “in” in Sentence 2 is attached to the verb “living.” A better rewrite of Sentence 1 would be simply to say: “This paper explores how hermit crabs compete for available shells.”

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