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August 31, 2006

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anon

I'd like to register a dissenting view. I have found the APSA a truly horible experince and I don't bother to go. I have never found even a whit of the collegiality you claim to find -- though I have a similar intellectual outlook to yours. Many many solid folks are turned off by it.

I think your idea of intellectual comeraderie is an illusion. Ther are ceratin school of commanality among those who share old school linakges. But basically these are just cliques just like high school. And it mostly the kind of star gazing that your post belies.

Many years ago Kurt Vonnegut got it right.


Jodi

Anon--it doesn't surprise me that this might be another's experience. I've been attending this meeting for over 10 years, every years. I've arranged panels with people I wanted to get to know; I've attended panels of people I wanted to get to know. For me, as for many adults, making friends isn't easy; it takes time. For folks who aren't willing to put in the time, it may seem really different. For me, now, it's better than a family reunion.

anon

Jodi:

Thanks for your reply -- I think

With respect I really don't think the matter I raised is simply a question of putting in the time to make frienddships or that dissatisfcation with the APSA can be reduced to our lack of effort. I have a much more malign view of the APSA, and of academic life than that. What I say here can't even touch the surface of that dissatisfaction.

I think if you were to look at disucssions such as the Peristrioka group or a number of blogs I have read on publishing in poltical science, you might come to the conclusion that there is widespread dissatification with the way the discipline works. Some of it clearly has to do with the conflict between social scietific naturalism and rational choice theorists who beleive that statistics mean truth, and those who follow interpretive approaches, but I tend to think the level of disatisfation is much deeper than that. I hear of grad students intimidated and afraid to even criticize, of narrow minded departments and of a discipline that is generally unresponsive to many of its members. I think for a lot of us the APSA is a place where our ideas are not welcome and we are not welcome.

I see the APSA more as a gate keeping organization than one that faciltates exchange and diaglogue. This is not even to mention the fact that as in most discplines a significant proportion of those teaching are part timers or at schools wher they have little time for conferences.

In short I think you are a bit bound by your own perspective as a successful academic who while subaltern in some respects is still well within the gates of the academic grove and not one of its migrant workers. There are real biases in the profession against those who aren't inside the gates or who don't have powerfull allies on the inside.

I'm afraid I think the matter of gate keeping both in its direct and more subtle forms, isn't limited to the conflict of disciplinary approaches and or ideologies. There is lots of gate keeping on the left not all of it against comservatism. There are lots of us on the progressive end of the spectrum who feel that we are locked out of good jobs and publication in the "important" journals (The policies of Tracy Strong as editor of Political Theory is a good but hardly the only example) and that our fellows on the left who have jobs aren't doing much of anything to help. I can glad hand all the people I want, if they don't take my experince or my understindg of the discipline seriously of if editors and reader have a lot of biases, then it really doesn't matter much if folks are superficially friendly.

There are status orders in academia -- all parts and all elements. Hierarchies that are not built necesarily on competence but other kinds of social networks. and belief systems. The progressive end of things is not that much different nor are they any more consistent in applying their principles to their own behavior than most. (Consider the way many supposed progressive academics have greeted the rise of grad student unions) I don't find most of my fellow progressives any more open interpretively than the average academic. If they hear an interpretation of a subject or a theorist that does not gibe with their sense of the way things ought to be, then they don't know how to handle it. They are tone deaf to a lot of good idea. On the otherhand a lot of junk gets publihsed because of nepotism (in the broad sense) or because someone has figured out what to say to whom.

The academic world isn't a meritocracy, but unfortunately I have found that many who end up in tenured postion often consciously or unconsciously come to accept that justification and see the complaints of othes as a result of their shortcomings or lack of proper effort.

I really think a more fundamental structural change in our discipline and in academia is needed.

anon

Jodi

Anon,

You are right about gatekeeping. The entry price of the meeting and membership in the organization is one way that the APSA puts roadblocks up for temporary and adjunct faculty.

I can also recognize the dissatisfaction you mention. A dear friend of mind, who is published and well connected, has not been able to get a tenure track in political theory. It's quite appalling. And inexplicable, particularly if one thinks that allies are the essential factor in getting a job.

My partner was in a graduate problem that sent harsh messages to its graduate students. I was not, or if I was I didn't quite get them. I was advised not to write a dissertation on Lukacs. I think that was good advice.

I agree that I am bound my perspective--one that has been ingrained/professionalized in me for a long time now. As you say, it's a matter of privilege--primarily the privilege of having a job, a privilege denied over half of PhDs in the US. You are right that it's difficult for me to see outside it. For example, when I review a ms for a journal or press, I apply what I understand to be professional standards in assessing it. I don't see my role as one of bringing in or blocking voices. I see it as assessing views in terms of their contribution.

I will say that I experience a bias against colleges in favor of universites, a bias that is not as great as that against community colleges, and better yet than that against independent scholars and high school teachers and migrant faculty.

But, I'm surprised that you link these biases and disadvantages particularly to progressives. I have not seen this, myself, although I know of many instances of tenure denial, folks not getting hired, etc.

I guess I'm not sure here about the line between biases and evaluation. Not every decision against a person or an article is necessarily a poor decision. Is this gatekeeping? Yes. But it may be defensible gate keeping.

Sinthome

It sounds to me like a lot of what Anon is talking about revolves around Kuhnian paradigms or Foucaultian epistemes on the one hand, and social networks of power on the other. In the former case, if you're not working in the recognized paradigm it's extremely difficult to get published or a job. It sounds like you experienced this with regard to Lukaks (why can't Lukak's be made relevant, can Zizek write about Lukaks in a way that I cannot?).

I'm not in political science, but I experienced this firsthand when I went on the job market in philosophy. American philosophy departments are dominated by analytic/anglo-american philosophy. There are a handful of departments devoted to continental philosophy (under 20, if that). These departments, in their turn, are dominated by German continental thought and phenomenology, with French thought largely being treated in English and Romance language departments. Because my specialization is French thought, this put me in an extremely uncomfortable position when jumping into the job market. I wasn't qualified for the English and Romance language departments because I don't have a published background in literature or language; but the philosophy departments saw me as belonging to the English and language departments. I'm proud of how well I did out of the gate (having gotten interviews in tenure track university programs with Grad degrees), but I didn't initially get those positions and life looming large ended up taking a position at a (very fine and unique) Community College (needing to eat, pay off loans, and pay bills and all). I think what I do is extremely important with these students, but would prefer to move up at some point. Yet even if the work I do is good and I'm well published and recognized, the worry now is that I have the "stench" stench of the community college on me. So there's the issue with paradigms and institutional organizations.

The network issue is serious as well. Being in the right grad program and having the right dissertation advisers can make all the difference in the world, as they'll put you into contact with people who will give you opportunities to publish and present, thereby advancing your career. These networks develop in other ways. My name, for instance, appears again and again with a small set of other people (largely as a result of my work in psychoanalysis and my relations to Fink), that has given me a lot of opportunities. Is this merit? Perhaps in part. But it's also dumb luck. Little schools of thinkers glob together, each producing opportunities for the others and advancing their careers. But this doesn't necessarily speak to the merit or excellence of the work done by any of these individuals. As such, it's not difficult to make the case that there is something of a "Hegelian contradiction" at the heart of prominent academic leftists, as they profess egalitarianism as a principle, yet practice privilege, favoratism, and cronyism as the level of their actual practice in the intellectual world. Such is the way of things, I guess. I'm not sure how these systems of identification and relations can be overcome, though I do think overcoming tribalism (whether of theoretical affiliations and academic superstars, or cronyism) is at the heart of progressive thought whether in academia or the broader social world.

I thought it a bit callous and cavalier when you remarked that all adults have friends and you have to work hard to make these connections. While I certainly agree, I also think such a remark tends to disavow broader dynamics of power that go beyond the individual. It struck me as not being unlike statements by those who claim the poor are poor because they are lazy, or who suggest that people without jobs should just move somewhere where they can get a job (as the country club women remark in Roger Moore's _Roger & Me_, in response to the horrible poverty caused by the closing of the local factories). I'm sure you weren't saying something like that and I'm just reacting as I'm a bit bitter about my own experience, but you did seem to want to deny dynamics of power and how they might manifest themselves at these megaconferences (the equivalent in philosophy would be the APA and SPEP).

Jodi

Sinthome,
I see how my remark may have sounded cavalier. What I had in mind were junior people, newly minted Ph.Ds, who assume that everyone wants to know what they have to say and who think that they are being deliberately excluded when other people are having dinner or drinks. That is, they don't recognize that folks have long time relationships with each other that extend past the immediate situation and past names on books or doors or cvs.

I also resist some of the characterizations being offered here because I know excellent people with excellent connections who still can't get a break. So, even as there are broader power dynamics, there are other factors as well: crummy job markets, small departments, narrowly defined searches, all the institutional things that create a mismatch between an individual and a job. I guess I didn't (and don't) feel entitled to my job. I feel grateful.

Let me try another direction, I know a terrific, smart, guy in another field, a narrow field in the humanities. He has published quite a bit. And, he has had a hard time on the market. His entire view of academe is in terms of those with connections being able to get everything they want. But it's not like that. There is a lot of luck and continency. And there is power--but that's not all there is.

Also, anon disregarded the field analogy you are suggesting with philosophy with the gestures to perestroika. Anon's point, if I've understood it, involves something more pernicious, but I'm not sure what.

In my own department, some of us have pushed to make sure that we hire people who don't fit the traditional mold of the APSA. In reviewing ms, I keep that in mind as well, but there are limits.

You say I wanted to deny the dynamics of power. Because I said that people want to spend time having a drink with their friends? At this point, I'm not convinced that these things are the same. I recognize that the privilege of not worrying about feeling awkward is a privilege, a privilege that most of us have and lack at all sorts of different times in our lives. But, to me, to group this under tribalism has the unfortunate effect of eliminating the possibility of spending time with friends, of making out of work lives something more fulfilling.

Sinthome

I certainly don't think there's any privilege or right not to feel uncomfortable. As a Lacanian, of course, I'm of the opinion that there's always something a bit disturbing about the Other and that a good deal of our psychic structure is organized as a defense against this Otherness (our fantasies making the Other tolerable by converting ambiguous desire into specific demand).

I said that your remarks could give the impression that you are denying power dynamics, not that you are in fact doing so. Like anything else, academia requires you to work and roll your dice, but it's also worthwhile to be aware of certain self-perpetuating social structures that are less than egalitarian and to try to have the best of both worlds. Of course, as a social scientist you're certainly aware that counter-examples don't disprove such claims as social systems are fuzzy aggregates defined by regularities, not laws. For instance, it's illegitimate to reject the role that social forces play in perpetuating poverty by referring to the person from the ghetto who dropped out of highschool, yet became a billionaire such as Dave Thomas.

I applaud the efforts of your program to hire people doing non-traditional work. The tendency to ignore work done in other theoretical orientations that nonetheless converges with other work is one of my big pet peeves and, I think, is highly detrimental.

Jodi

Sinthome,

On egalitarianism: is anything about academe ever egalitarian? At most, it's a kind of meritocracy. Laws and procedures try to ensure an equality of opportunity, but hierarchies among universities and programs as well as the preexisting structure of a department that determines in advance the kind of subject matter and approach a department or program is searching for in order to fill a TT position. The tenure process is again yet another set of hurdles that are inegalitarian in fact.

Usually, I don't refer to institutional structures, racism, sexism, and the systemic inequality produced by capitalism as 'social factors.' I would call them economic and political factors, and maybe this is unimportant. But, I'm trying to get a better sense of what you mean by social factors and how they work in the job market.

In many places, the largeness and cantancerousness of a department prevents groups from hiring their friends or people like them. So, a theory job in a big pol sci dept opens up, but folks know that it will be difficult for a postie to get hired because the dept doesn't want someone 'just like' two or three folks already there.

But, perhaps another example is closer to what you have you mind. Say, section heads choosing papers for a large meeting. I asked a friend how he made the decisions (the acceptance rate at APSA is somewhere in the area of 30-40 percent of applications). He said it was simple, with some good decision rules. No graduate students and yes to colleagues, former students, and friends. Any spots left were distributed with various factors in mind--interesting panel, topic not already covered, well known person, that sort of thing.

Now, this can sound heinous, precisely the sort of thing you are criticizing. Yet, from another side, I'm thrilled when my friends are section head--not just because I can get a panel accepted or even because that means I will find more of the panels interesting, but because I see political theory as a battleground and this means that my side, my allies, my approach (argued most generally since very few of those on my side are pro-Zizek, rather, they are generally pro some kind of postie, non-liberal approach loosely affiliated with radical and agonistic theories of democracy) is winning in a larger institutional battle that for years has been dominated by behavioralists, positivists, formal modelers, and, then, debates over Rawls' Theory of Justice--for years and years and years.

Sinthome

Jodi, by "egalitarian" in this instance I just mean merit. I do not see the other factors you mention such as subject matter and approach to be inegalitarian. After all, a pure egalitarianism would, perhaps, consist in putting names in a hat and drawing at random, which would equally undermine the integrity of programs (since programs are also political and theoretical movements as well). Clearly it's perfectly legitimate for programs to desire to fill gaps in their faculty (as in the case of a Continental program dominated by French theorists of various sorts) to hire a Germanist. The inegalitarianism I'm referring to is simply selections of faculties and papers based on personal relationships, rather than the quality of the work, i.e., "networking" (or the "it's not what you know but who you know" phenomenon). I've benefitted from these sorts of relationships in a number of ways myself, so I'm not innocent here. At any rate, there are those who do outstanding work who's careers never really get off the ground because they lack these network connections, whereas there are others who do mediocre, adequate work who are catapulted up through the system because of the network connections they have to have. I am not suggesting that this is a universal or a law, but in my work with scholars and psychoanalysts of Badiou, Deleuze, and Lacan, I've definitely seen this phenomenon quite often.

Things are also more complicated than I'm portraying them here, as well. Good work tends to lead to social connections (if you get it out there so people can actually see it) and social connections tend to lead to more opportunities for work. So it's important to avoid viewing things abstractly, or seeing social relations as entirely determining opportunities or work as entirely generating social relations. However, based on my personal experience (entirely anecdotal), I don't think it can be claimed that academia is entirely merit based. If you're a good personal friend of say Badiou or Dany Nobus, this tends to create possibilities for you that you wouldn't otherwise have even if you're doing outstanding work related to their research (isn't this one of the reasons grad students are encouraged to attend conferences?).

I agree that "economic and political factors" is a better choice of words than social and political factors.

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