Academics vs. Academia

🙋🏼‍♀️ Dearest you,

The words academics and academia are often used interchangeably. There is a difference, however.

In my view, academics is an overarching term to describe all practices undertaken by students, scholars, and citizens alike to use (social) science to better understand the world we live in.

Academia then is the subculture of the people who are involved in academics but limit the reach of their work to either solely the university they are connected to, or a small group of people focussing on the same niche. Within academia, the primary goal is to theorize, rather than to combine the concrete and abstract to truly better understand the world.

If academics is the practice of dance, academia is the debutante ball.

There is nothing wrong with a debutante ball. It becomes problematic however, if the people at the ball mistake the exclusive nature of their party as a valid reason to disqualify all other forms of dance.

Dance is dance as long as you practice its basic laws: you use the movement of your body to rhythm to express yourself. Academics are academics as long as you use the laws of science and research to better understand the world.

Many scholars are part of the subculture of academia. But not all of them.

There are scientists like my friend Bruno, who are very explicit about using science not to further theorize the world within the borders of educational and research institutions but to have a practical impact. Or the scientists at King's College in London, who coined the name 'Riot Science' to advocate and discuss Open Research.

In the past year, the subculture of academia has seen a rise among young people, especially on TikTok. Yes, you read that right.

Dark Academia is a trend popular among young people (I mean, people my age 😉) who aspire to bring back a romanticized version of the lifestyles of 18th and 19th-century scholars at prestigious universities like Oxbridge and the Ivy's. Think: writing in ink, reading by candlelight, writing letters, and wearing tweed. It's not only material though, dark academia usually comes with a fascination for philosophy, poetry, and Greek mythology. For those who'd prefer a little more light-hearted approach to academia, there is dark academia's younger sister light academia.

What seems promising, however, is that part of this new subculture is a resistance against the exclusive character of academia. Not being able to behave according to the rules of the debutante ball is the threshold to participate in the trend, it’s a love for academics. And yes, also love for tweed and old books. But hey, if that’s what it’s going to take to get young people excited to use their intellectual talents to better the world - I’m all for it.

Read on:

If you want to learn more about Dark Academia, I'd suggest reading this NY times article. Also, watch this video of Ruby Granger - a 20-year-old Youtuber you should definitely follow if you want to keep up with the subculture of studytube: young creators whose content revolves around their studies at prestigious universities.


Many thanks to Annette Dölle for introducing me to Riot Science and inspiring me to write this newsletter.


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