Thursday, January 30, 2014

The uninhabited clause (19)

The Uninhabited Clause* is a clause with a physical or conceptual subject, as opposed to a human subject. For example, “New York” is a physical subject, “assertiveness” is a conceptual subject, and “Donald Trump” is a human subject. There is nothing inherently wrong with using uninhabited clauses. But when we use a lot of them, we bore and exhaust our readers. They want to read about people.

Here are the first four paragraphs of an article titled “Overuse and Abuse of Adjunct Faculty Members Threaten Core Academic Values,” by Richard Moser:
The increasing exploitation of contingent faculty members is one dimension of an employment strategy sometimes called the “two-tiered” or “multitiered” labor system.
This new labor system is firmly established in higher education and constitutes a threat to the teaching profession. If left unchecked, it will undermine the university's status as an institution of higher learning because the overuse of adjuncts and their lowly status and compensation institutionalize disincentives to quality education, threaten academic freedom and shared governance, and disqualify the campus as an exemplar of democratic values. These developments in academic labor are the most troubling expressions of the so-called corporatization of higher education.
“Corporatization” is the name sometimes given to what has happened to higher education over the last 30 years. Corporatization is the reorganization of our great national resources, including higher education, in accordance with a shortsighted business model. Three decades of decline in public funding for higher education opened the door for increasing corporate influence, and since then the work of the university has been redirected to suit the corporate vision.
The most striking symptoms of corporatization shift costs and risks downward and direct capital and authority upward. Rising tuition and debt loads for students limit access to education for working-class students. The faculty and many other campus workers suffer lower compensation as the number of managers, and their pay, rises sharply. Campus management concentrates resources on areas where wealth is created, and new ideas and technologies developed at public cost become the entitlement of the corporate sector. The privatization and outsourcing of university functions and jobs from food service to bookstores to instruction enrich a few businessmen and create more low-wage nonunion jobs. Increasingly authoritarian governance practices have become the “new normal.”
Don’t be embarrassed if you nodded off. It is soporific text. The author has heavily used uninhabited clauses:
exploitation is
strategy is (implied) called
system is established
system constitutes
it (implied) is (implied) left
it will undermine
overuse, status and compensation institutionalize
overuse, status and compensation threaten
overuse, status and compensation disqualify
developments are
“corporatization” is
that (implied) is (implied) given
what has happened
corporatization is reorganization
decades opened
work has been redirected
symptoms shift
symptoms direct
tuition and loads limit
faculty and workers suffer
number and pay rises (sic for rise)
management concentrates resources
wealth is created
ideas and technologies become
that were (implied) developed
privatization and outsourcing enrich
privatization and outsourcing create
practices have become
Only two of these clauses are inhabited:
faculty and workers suffer
management concentrates resources
The other 26 clauses are uninhabited; all the subjects are conceptual. The rest of the article is the same: almost every clause has a conceptual subject.

The Takeaway: Unless you are writing about abstract topics such as metaphysics or mathematics, you should strive to include persons in most of your clauses. Otherwise, you may sound academic and boring.

*My coinage, so far as I know.

See disclaimer.

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