The academic ‘we’

Once there used to be a royal ‘we’ – the word ‘we’ used to mean ‘I’, as in Queen Victoria’s ‘we are not amused’. These days royals almost never say ‘we’ unless they mean ‘we’. The current British monarch doesn’t even always use ‘we’ when she could. In a phrase association game, the answer to ‘my husband and I’ is ‘Queen Elizabeth II’.

Yet there is one place in which people still say ‘we’ when they mean ‘I’, and that is academia. Only a couple of weeks ago I had to remove the academic ‘we’ from a sole-author article to be published in Policy. At his blog, Andrew Leigh labels this usage ‘pretentious’. Insofar as the academic we is an implicit reference back to the royal we, he is right. But I am not sure that is what academics are consciously doing when they write ‘we’ instead of ‘I’.

Perhaps it reflects the collegial tradition within academia. As Damien Eldridge (himself an academic) writes in Andrew L’s comments:

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