Fuck Nuance

In a world where nuance seems in short supply, one acacdemic… Oh, fuck it, I’m playing right into their hands. Fuck Nuance is a provocatively titled paper by sociologist Kieran Healy that describes the academic pitfalls of something so seemingly good as nuance:

[T]he more we tend to value nuance as such—that is, as a virtue to be cultivated, or as the first thing to look for when assessing arguments—the more we will tend to slide towards one or more of three nuance traps. First is the ever more detailed, merely empirical description of the world. This is the nuance of the fine-grain. It is a rejection of theory masquerading as increased applicability or range. Second is the ever more extensive expansion of some theoretical system in a way that effectively closes it o?ff from rebuttal or disconfirmation by anything in the world. This is the nuance of the conceptual framework. It is an evasion of the demand that a theory be refutable. And third is the insinuation that your sensitivity to nuance is a manifestation of one’s distinctive (often metaphorically expressed and at times seemingly ineffable) ability to grasp and express the richness, texture, and ?ow of social reality itself. This is the nuance of the connoisseur. It is mostly a species of self-congratulatory symbolic violence.

I think that there are broad applications beyond sociology. One is that many will attempt to hide their true position behind a screen of verbiage in an attempt to sound smart. They are afraid to clearly state a position, lest it be the “wrong” one. Better to hedge your bets behind enough nuance for plausible deniability should the political winds shift.


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