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It's not love, it's not hate—it's just 'like'

Kristen B. Morales

April 19, 2017

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Studies have long agonized over the effects of love and hate.

But, like, what about "like"?

Kevin J. Burke, an assistant professor in the University of Georgia College of Education, has put this innocuous word under a microscope in his new book, "The Pedagogies and Politics of Liking." Together with fellow researcher Adam J. Greteman of the Art Institute of Chicago, Burke has found a passion for a word that is known for its lack of such emotion.

"People have written a lot about love and care and hate—it's ground that has been trod," said Burke, who teaches in the department of language and literacy education. "Here, we're putting them aside and saying, here's a different kind of concept—liking—which does different things that nobody has considered seriously because it can be associated with inarticulacy."

As a professor in the College of Education, Burke initially approached the subject from the angle of why college students pursue teaching—usually, he said, because they love children. But considering the adage, "I love you, now change," he turned the idea on its head. What if people pursued teaching simply because they liked children? The difference, he says, can mean the difference between adapting children to an educational environment versus teaching children as individual learners.

But the research by Burke and Greteman goes beyond the classroom, exploring "Valley Girl" speak, how we represent ourselves to future employers—our "likeness"—and even our pursuit of likes on social media. So far, the only research on "like" relates to advertising and marketing, and incomplete love, Burke said.

And while the research and new book aren't coming to a direct conclusion about the word—Burke even admits "like" can be cloying if you hear it too much—for now it's about raising questions about how we use the word, and how we can use it in different ways.

"We don't really talk about it and it's all around us. On Facebook you want likes. It's a verbal tic we use constantly. It's the way in which we relate to relationships, even commerce relationships—'I like that sweater,'" he said. "People spend a lot of time thinking deeply about how love affects us and how hate affects. We're not saying liking is better or worse. It's just different."