Knowledge is nothing without practical application. You out here regurgitating something you read but never stopping to see how it applies to society/global society in 2013/14.
The social climate on some STREETS ain’t even the same as when that was written and you out here trying to apply it to the world? I got a helmet on, don’t try to beat me in the head with that bullshit.
Well, from my perspective, this is only kind of true. Not all academic work has to be about realizing some practical application. The academe is a diverse place and is, I think, particularly well suited to allow great thinkers to just imagine possibilities, rather than trying to solve some set of societal problems. Thinking in the abstract without restraint is just as important a part of research as is attempting to understand a set of societal norms, then prescribing policy and/or social solutions to them. Researchers doing the prior very often provide positive influences on those doing the latter and, in my experience, very rarely does one do both well.
I also don’t think that academics should necessarily task themselves with some sort of social justice mission. While we’re drawn into our work for a myriad of reasons, most of us simply aren’t built that way. Observation for observation’s sake is valuable. That said, I also don’t think that the academe has agency over anyone. Our expertise is limited by our experience…particularly considering that we (those in and pursuing tenured positions at universities) are strongly encouraged NOT to engage in a lot of outside activism. (A failure, but an institutional norm.)
More than that, we’re generally not tasked with solving problems, as much as we are with describing them accurately within a very specified period of time. By the time academics publish their books, our research is at least three years old…generally older. It’s the nature of the beast. At our best, we accurately describe something that has happened, then theorize about how it may be applicable going forward. We do that by using historical comparisons indicating how our ideas were true in the past and making educated guesses about how it might be true going forward. Academia is not nimble enough to provide immediate solutions to ongoing problems, so much as it is capable of analyzing the present in relation to the past. Any academic who says differently either thinks too highly of themselves, or has a fundamental misunderstanding of their training. Moreover, those who think that that is or should be the function of academics should turn their attention to activists, think-tanks and other institutions doing that kind of work. (For example, political scientists suck at predicting elections, but we’re great at analyzing outcomes.)
All that blathering is to say that developing knowledge without concerns for practical applications is very valuable. It’s not always sexy, some folks take it too far, and perhaps too many researchers operate with that intention, but theorizing about the unknown unknowns has its purpose. Some of the greatest academics are strongly influenced by those who only theorize.