Wonks vs. Nerds

Inside Higher Ed directs us to a couple sites describing American University‘s new branding campaign around the word ‘wonk.’ American has a website offers a description of what the term means, suggests that there are many different kinds of wonks (policy wonks, science wonks, theater wonks…), and draws a connection between the word ‘know’ (which does happen to be ‘wonk’ backwards).

I find the campaign interesting because it’s very much like MIT’s “Nerd Pride” slogan, but even more official and widespread. The various ways that American has tried to lay claim to ‘wonk’ strongly resemble the ways that people have tried to define reclaim ‘geek’ and ‘nerd,’ down to claiming that there are many “types” of geeks, and explaining meaning through backronyms like “general electrical engineering knowledge” or “knurd” (for “drunk” backwards). Given that American University is based out of Washington D.C. and attracting many students who are quite interested in being described as “policy wonks” someday, the new campaign is a kind of way to signal that it’s producing a particular local flavor of geek.

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Links: A Few Notes During a Moment of Quiet

Things have been busy with non-web writing lately, and are about to get busier, so updates may be sparse (or, I suppose, absent) around here for at least another week or so. Tomorrow I’m headed to Montreal shortly for the International Communication Association 2008 conference, presenting a paper on experimental comics and the concept of visual language. In the meantime, here’s a few links I’m not sure what to do with, but which seemed interesting enough to post.

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Latin Fans: Wankers vs. Geeks

Emily Wilson, an assistant professor of classical studies at Penn, has written an article at Slate reflecting on why Americans might be interested in learning Latin. It’s an interesting question, and one I hadn’t realized might be a timely issue—are there other recent examples of a surge of Latin-speaking geekery? I must admit, though, to some confusion about what the article implies about the origins of this phenomenon.

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Introducing the Nork

It sounds like some sort of mutant dining utensil, but no. Genevieve sends word of an exchange between her roommate and the ten-year-old daughter of some friends. When the adult in the conversation asked where a certain band was from (who apparently appears on the Disney Channel sometimes) and whether they were new, the young’un explained that they had a couple movies out, like, a million years ago, and that you’ve got to keep up with the times if you don’t want to be a nork. A nork? Duh, it’s a cross between a nerd and a dork.

This is, I am told, a social underclass among children even lower than the nerd, which may suggest that nerd coolness is sort of starting to permeate kids’ school culture, at least at this kid’s school. Not that it’s any better for kids labeled as norks (or just dorks) to be the ones that get picked on, of course, but a potentially interesting development nonetheless.

Breaking Down Academia

I’m in the process of revising the categories on the site a bit. Before, I was lumping a bunch of things under the “Academia” category that really didn’t belong there. Now I’m dividing that category up into three different categories:

Research: For academic research and conferences related to geek culture and various traditionally geeky media. (I’ll also tag posts about my own research with this because I still can’t bring myself to make a category titled “Me me me,” though I admit I’m especially interested in getting feedback on my papers.)

School Culture: For items pertaining to school culture as lived by students, such as clubs and social hierarchies.

Education: For issues pertaining to teaching and education at all levels.

Honestly, this is mostly for my own convenience as I go back through old posts and collect thoughts for papers and such, but I figured I might as well let everyone know.

Update: Going through my bloated “Miscellaneous” category to categorize them more specifically, I noticed a definite thread of posts tallying up people’s ways of defining the boundaries of geekdom—geek vs. nerd, art geek vs. science geek, and so on. And so I figured I might as well go ahead and also add a category for Defining Geekdom. Sorry if this brings up a bunch of old posts on people’s RSS readers (the way I believe it does with mine).

How People Are Defining ‘Nerd’

Journalista links to a recent New York Times Magazine article by Benjamin Nugent, “Who’s a nerd, anyway?” The author has a book coming out next spring titled American Nerd: The Story of My People, though this piece focuses on the core thesis of Mary Bucholtz’s nerd research, who has a book of her own on this topic in progress. Bucholtz’s thesis is that nerd identity can be understood through linguistic practice, and it is a “hyperwhite” identity, rejecting the slang of Black culture.

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Plagiarist Paradise, or Homework as Communication Medium?

A friend and fellow Ph.D. student just referred me to “‘legitimized’ plagiarism on Facebook,” an application called Facebook Docs. From the Facebook page:

Make next year easier… upload last year’s homework to Facebook Docs! […]

It may be summer, but before you delete all of your homework, you should upload it to FACEBOOK DOCS!

FACEBOOK DOCS is an application made by a company called SCRIBD.

Wouldn’t it be nice if next time you got stuck on a problem, you could just open up Facebook Docs and find the paper of a student from last year… not to cheat, but just to compare…

Everything you write is /your/ property. Thus, there’s no reason to not share off your mad writing skills and maybe help some poor soul down the road…

Its like getting a book with comments already in the margin!

PS… Cheating is wrong. but helping others is Christian.

Now, a few things.

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I Don’t Want to Belong to Any Club That Would Accept Me As a Founder

Joystiq links to an article in the Harvard Crimson about the University’s Interactive Media Group. I can thus add Harvard to the growing list of schools hosting neat clubs I can’t attend. My old stomping grounds even hosts the Hi-Score Game Development Club and a newly revived UMass Comic Art Society (which I founded my senior year before seeing it run into the ground within a couple years of my graduation).

I’d love to find something like these at Penn; a game development group seems particularly plausible, considering the growing number of interested parties majoring in Digital Media Design and working on masters degrees in Computer Graphics and Game Technologies. On the other hand, maybe it’s tougher to get club-style groups together in places that already include game design as part of the curriculum. Sadly, given my own research schedule, I’m unlikely to start another club up anytime soon.

Getting Into The Spirit

I keep coming across web sites today with funny April Fools’ Day posts, but I feel that my own site is too new to blatantly lie to readers and get away with it. (Plus, the last time I pulled off an April Fools’ joke, I got punched pretty hard. That is what you get for pretending to be descended from British royalty, I guess.)

Keeping with the spirit of the day and this site, though, I figured now would be as good a time as any to link to the The MIT Hack Gallery—and to express how impressed I am that the university actually gave a subdomain to a page chronicling practical jokes. Many of the hacks listed in the chronological index lack visuals, sadly, so allow me to link to a site that features some images of a recent favorite of mine.