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Mind

Why Don't Social Scientists Want To Be Read?

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticJuly 29, 2012 10:38 PM

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Here's the abstract of a paper just out called In pursuit of leanness: The management of appearance, affect and masculinities within a men's weight loss forum.

In a somatic society which promotes visible, idealized forms of embodiment, men

are increasingly being interpellated

suggests that men negotiate appearance issues in complex and varied ways, partly because image concerns are conventionally feminized. However, little research has considered how overweight men construct body projects in the context of weight loss, or how men talk to each other about weight management efforts. Since sources of information and support for overweight men are now provided online, including dedicated weight loss discussion forums, our analysis focuses on one such forum, linked to a popular male-targeted magazine. We conducted a thematic analysis of selected extracts from seven threads on the forum. Our analysis suggests a widespread focus on appearance, as well as the use of emotion categories when describing difficult bodily experiences. Invariably, however, such talk was carefully constructed and constrained by hegemonic masculinities founded on discipline, work-orientation, pragmatism and self-reliance. The findings are discussed in relation to magazine masculinities and aesthetics, as well as literature on male embodiment.

[sic]

as image-conscious body-subjects. Some research

Phew. Now I think it's fair to say that this is a typical example of what might be called the "social sciences style" of writing. That's why I've chosen to blog about it; nothing I'm going to say is a criticism of this paper as such, but rather of the whole genre.

Why do social scientists write like this?

This paper is about a really interesting topic - the mixed messages men get about what it means to be "a man" or "manly" in today's society. Very topical, not at all 'niche', and important in lots of ways. So why is it written in a way which makes it impenetrable to all except specialists?

I don't think it has to be that way. I've rewritten this abstract, and I've tried to say the same thing without the jargon:

Modern men face a dilemma: society tells them that they ought to have an attractive body, but they are also warned that being concerned about beauty and body image is a feminine trait. However, little research has considered how overweight men think and talk about weight loss. Online weight loss forums offer a window onto such issues, so we analyzed seven threads from one such site, linked to a popular men's magazine. We found that while men took part in (often emotional) discussions of their own appearances and bodies, they always framed such talk strictly within conventionally "masculine" terms such as discipline, work-orientation, pragmatism and self-reliance. We discuss this, in the context of men's magazines treatment of masculinity and male beauty, and relate this to previous work.

Whether I've succeeded, I'll leave others to judge, but I think I have and there's no trick to it - I just read the original, tried to understand it, and wrote down my thoughts.

I'm not saying that the original abstract was "badly written". I suspect it was quite expertly written but that the purpose of writing it was less to communicate ideas clearly, than to satisfy some set of criteria of what 'serious social science' should be like.

If I'm right - isn't that a shame? The ideas here deserve a wide audience, so why aren't they aimed at one?

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Bennett E, and Gough B (2012). In pursuit of leanness : The management of appearance, affect and masculinities within a men's weight loss forum. Health (London, England : 1997) PMID: 22815334

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