Fat Studies

The New York Times recently reported on "Fat Studies," a fringe area of scholarship that is picking up steam. An excerpt:

Fat studies is still a fringe area of scholarship, but it is gaining traction. Three years ago, the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, which promotes scholarly research of popular culture, added a fat studies component to regional and national conferences.

Professors in sociology, exercise physiology, history, English and law are shoehorning discussions of fat into their teachings and research.

At the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, the subject has emerged in a course, "The Social Construction of Obesity," taught by Margaret Carlisle Duncan, a professor in the department of human movement sciences, who takes a skeptical view of the "war on obesity."

At the New College of California School of Law, Sondra Solovay, a diversity lawyer and author of "Tipping the Scales of Justice," talks about weightism in her torts classes.

And the critics:

Others argue, though, that a movement does not make a scholarly pursuit and that this is simply a way to institutionalize victimhood.

"In one field after another, passion and venting have come to define the nature of what academics do," said Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, a group of university professors and academics who have a more traditional view of higher education. "Ethnic studies, women's studies, queer studies — they're all about vindicating the grievances of some particular group. That's not what the academy should be about.

"Obviously in the classroom you can look at issues of right and wrong and justice and injustice," he added, "But if the purpose is to vindicate fatness, to make fatness seem better in the eyes of society, then that purpose begs a fundamental intellectual question."

Or as Big Arm Woman, a blogger, wrote: "I don't care if people are fat or thin. I do, however, care that universities are spending money on scholarship about the ‘politics of fatness' when half of the freshman class can't read or write at the college level."

Leaving aside whether "fat studies" is a legitimate scholarly pursuit, let me say "amen" to Big Arm Woman. Any cause would be better served if its advocates first mastered how to speak and write well. (Incidentally, I love the subtitle of her blog: "Making fun of academics, 'cause it's easy!")