Wednesday, March 24, 2010

For Peggy

Peggy asked for more on my previous post. Sorry Peggy, I'm writing this because I'm feeling bored and frankly, a little negative. So here's a barrage of thoughts.

To do full justice to what I wrote in my last post, I would have to offer some quotes from Barney himself. But I am too tired at this point to make my post into another academically-sound piece of writing. In fact, I don't even know if "vested social interests" is what Barney called it. But I do remember that it pertained to the understanding that academics are more interested in their own work, their own theories, their own language, and the advancement of their own careers than they are in the pure pursuit of knowledge. To protect their interests, they create a culture where in order for you to "advance" in academia, you have to play by their rules. If you don't, you are ostracized.

I came to this stark realization after having some really good and deep conversations with a visiting professor. After getting to know hir well, s/he told me the "secrets" to scholarly achievement. Scholars playing the game, so to speak, will only pay heed to another scholar if the other scholar has credentials behind hir name. And to get those credentials, you need to abide by the rules of the game: publish in the right journals, cite the right people, be cited by the right people. For many scholars (perhaps American ones in particular), what you have to say is less important than how well you've played the game. You could say something brilliant, but if you don't have the right credentials, it doesn't really count. It's as if you're not in the club, so your opinion doesn't matter.

I saw this "in action" last week with my own eyes. The speaker was saying some really brilliant things, but because s/he did not play the academic game, scholars in the club discredited hir. "We would have to know who s/he was first before we'd be willing to hear what s/he has to say."

Excuse me? Should not the content speak for itself?

I like academia, and I still think there is much good--and many good scholars--in it. Especially those who are older, accomplished, and really bored with the game people in academia play. I greatly admire true thinkers. The rest of those [us?] career-vested academics are, I'm afraid to say, fooling themselves (and those who are wow'ed by anything PhD) to think that they are really contributing to knowledge in any significant way.

I am thankful for people like Barney who have taught me not to be so small minded as to limit the periphery of my vision to see only what I have been socialized to see.

I will end this post with The Professor Song which I made up one day when listening to my children's Flea Fly Song (sung to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic):

One professor published behind a second professor's back
The second professor published behind a third professor's back
The third professor published behind a fourth professor's back
The fourth professor published behind a fifth professor's back

They were only playing te_____nure
They were only playing te_____nure
They were only playing te_____nure
When the one professor published behind another professor's back!

The moral of the story? Learn to play the game, but don't get your mind muddled in the muck.


Scholar Wannabe said...

Be in the game, but not of the game?

Lonely Dissertator said...

I wonder how an NT scholar might take to your use of that reference in such a context? ;-)

Pak Ngah said...

I couldn't agree more. I've noticed some professors playing the game really well.

But LD, what's the point anyway. A published mediocre work will only breed more mediocre work by others. I've read published articles in some journals that clearly illustrate the situation.

Games are for kids not professors. Don't you think so?

Lonely Dissertator said...

Pak Ngah, you are too senior to play games. Enjoy your learning to the fullest!