Posts tagged academia
Reading David Graeber is such a weird experience for me. he had all these political opinions and then realised quite late in life, after he’d already forged a solid career as an anthropologist, that he could actually act on them as part of a Social Movement. then he started writing on anarchist social movements in North America. I actually really like most of the things I’ve read by him, but it’s strange to see this guy who clearly knows a lot more than me about lots of things get really excited about the idea of “spokescouncils” and want to explain them to me like it’s something I’ve never heard of before. And I mean, I want to challenge that reaction in myself, because I want to challenge the idea that if you don’t get involved in social movements when you’re very, very young, you’ve lost your chance. But it also does actually shit me? I’ve been active in anarchist-y social movements about as long as he has, why don’t I have a desk? I am also wondering what this says about anthropology and about the rest of Graeber’s work. What does it mean that I am vaguely annoyed by some of his work, but only the ethnographies of environments I’m familiar with?
I should mention here that I don’t trust people who are not constantly challenging themselves — which describes a lot of the people I’ve met who critique theory as “inaccessible”. I’m mostly talking about white, professional-class humanities students with English as a first language and no learning/developmental disabilities that make it particularly difficult to parse nonstandard language. That is the #1 population I have heard make this critique of theory, by a huge distance. But theory’s not inaccessible — to them. The word you are looking for is “challenging”. I don’t understand how you even justify going to uni and doing a humanities degree if you don’t see the value of theory. and like — I know so many people for whom this knowledge is a lifeline, who’ve struggled so hard just to get in the door — and then there’s a bunch of losers just vaguely percolating about because university seemed like the Thing To Do and it was the easiest choice for them, talking shit about what kind of loser actually thinks this is important, lol, eat pills, meet people who go to cool parties, complete your socialisation into the middle+ classes, that’s what university is for, that’s way less self-indulgent than theory.
Obviously there are a lot of ways to challenge yourself and develop your understanding of the world, and some people are challenging themselves just by getting up every morning, or 70% of mornings, or staying alive at all, and there are a lot of problems with the applicability and accessibility of the loose conceptual lineage we call theory — but c’mon, some of us are just being lazy, and that’s a fundamentally untrustworthy quality, if you ask me. to contextualise this, I once had an anglo Art History intentional drop-out from an elite uni throw their hands in the air and snap at me for my “academic language”. The language in question was the phrase “social democracy”. if this isn’t you, I’m not talking about you, but trust me, these people exist, and they make me a bit defensive sometimes, yes, okay, that’s true.
However, I also don’t trust people who spend a lot of time developing their theory and then decide to put this elaborate conceptual framework into practice. I’ve organised with sheltered radical theory nerds before and it’s a fucking nightmare. they think they know more than everyone but actually they’re pretty useless. theory needs to develop in concert with action or it gets weird and floppy and self-indulgent.
I suspect this was what was going on with a lot of the problems with Occupy but I don’t really know. this wasn’t even really about Graeber in the end.
what white people should do
When white people are confronted with racism, the most common question is “but what are we supposed to do?”
I get it, it’s hard. You’re trying to think about all these things but it seems like you’re always wrong. Like if you’re a white academic and you only write about white Western culture, you’re being Eurocentric and contributing to the invisibility and erasure of marginalised peoples and cultures, but if you write about people of colour and their cultures, you come up against appropriation, exoticisation, issues of self-representation and self-determination.
I’m not being sarcastic! It’s hard even if it’s harder for someone else. I appreciate when people are genuinely trying to address racism. And I know what I’m like when I try to think about something that is outside my sphere of experience, that has maybe honestly only just occurred to me: I’m bewildered and overwhelmed and anxious, I have no idea what to do, I want someone to give me all the answers.
But hey, if you’re a white academic, you probably have cultural power over anyone you research. Or any academic really - and even when you’re writing about marginalised communities you’re part of, you get to choose which representations are prioritised. By virtue of your position, regardless of your own background and identities and ideology, you have hierarchical power over people. There are definitely better and worse ways to approach that power. But to some extent you can’t “get it right”. There is no perfect, ethically pure use of unethical power. Sometimes you don’t get to be good.
I’m not saying that white people are inevitably racist all the time and there’s nothing you can do so don’t bother trying. But I think the way we’re implicated in systems of oppression puts us in a position where there’s no right act. Trying to break down a system is dirty, messy work. We’re going some place we can’t see yet. We don’t get to be good. We don’t get to be right. That’s not the point.
I was brought up to believe in being correct. And that smarts will get you anywhere. I don’t think that’s true though. I’m trying to unlearn that. Trying to learn to be humble and kind, to be gentle. All the kindness I can afford, always. I know I’ve been saying this for a while now. It’s hard but it’s harder for someone else.
on citing tumblr posts wherever we wanna
Two weeks ago I wrote a bulleted list about people doing research and writing about Tumblr. A week later I had an intense conversation with my adviser (all of our conversations are intense) about doing post-internet research. I’m mulling all this over and thinking about what it means, and all I’ve landed on is lol no one should ever use someone else’s Tumblr for an academic purpose without their explicit consent.
That might seem like an easy conclusion, but I’ve seen it happen over and over—particularly in the past year, and particularly around specific Tumblr users’ blogging about trauma. What’s hard about this particular question of methods is that it’s unclear to me and to many other people whether or not a Tumblr is a human subject. I don’t mean that only in a OOO way—institutional review boards have a hard time coming down on this; they’re often unclear if things like Tumblr and Facebook are truly “public” and if you should get the consent of the user before using their Tumblr even if you plan on citing it. No one can decide if Tumblrs are “just text” or extensions of the people who create them (though to me I feel like that’s pretty obvious).
Part of what is interesting about Tumblr is the inside-outsideness of how community building works here. So yeah there is this public page, but then there is a private web of connections on the back end, one that seems much more important to me; the only way that I interact with people on Tumblr is if they are tapped in as well, since I don’t do Disqus for blog commenting functions and I don’t keep track of stats externally. It makes me think about how when you go to an archive, there are often sealed boxes that can’t be accessed until 50 years after the death of the person; usually these boxes are full of letters and diaries and other life documentation. What if we treated Tumblrs like sealed archives? Ostensibly anyone can access a person’s Tumblr, but that doesn’t mean we have to treat them like they are public.
i’ve been thinking about this thoughtful post since i saw it a few days ago and it is obviously very relevant to my research interests. as anyone who regularly reads my posts probably already knows: i think it is fine to cite anything on tumblr pretty much anywhere, ever, at any time. journalists already do.
and maybe this is the former journalist in me: i just don’t believe in getting consent. or maybe, more importantly, this is the person who got locked up for being crazy who could really only adequately document the ways in which the locker-upper was able to do what he did via a non-consensual publishing of ostensibly personal missives and photos.
i realize publishing on tumblr and publishing an academic paper are not the same actions, but they are related in terms of how i think about what is citable where. and in how i think about who getting consent from—to post things on tumblr, to cite tumblr posts in academic work—really protects.
i do often ask people i am close to if i can post things, but i never ask anyone if i can cite them, nor do i expect anyone to ask me. i just used a term i got from a tumbler-er as the name of a panel for an academic conference; if i get in i will message her and let her know, and i will certainly cite her in my paper, but the term is already out there and i didn’t feel like i had to ask if i could use it.
all this said: i don’t believe in the 50 year rule either. i believe in radically rethinking the public and the private; the value of truth claims; what different forms of documentation have to offer us; citationality; and, maybe more importantly, intentionality.
and, certainly, i think that the power dynamics, and their financial implications, that transartorialism notes in that bulleted list are harrowing and worth exploring. part of what is interesting about tumblr is the micro-interventions the platform makes possible and also the ways it might help us think through different economies.
I come from the same journalistic tradition but I had a crucial paradigm shift away from this perspective. I still don’t necessarily think that one must ask for consent, but it’s so easy to ask that there ought to be a really fucking good reason not to. This is especially true because oftentimes one can get away with not asking, especially if the power dynamics that transartorialism notes are in favor of the citer and not the cited. There is just too much laziness in journalism, academia, etc. not to seek consent. As you put it, “the power dynamics, and their financial implications, that transartorialism notes in that bulleted list are harrowing and worth exploring.”
there’s probably a lot we can usefully take from the journalistic tradition — timeliness, accessibility, I dunno, stuff like that. but journalists are notoriously slapdash and sketchy (phone-hacking, anyone? every pop science article ever published that somehow manages to twist any study into a naturalisation of the status quo? jezebel dot com?). I mean, I have a critique of academia’s sense of entitlement to the stories and labour of those outside the institution, too. but looking to journalism of all trades for guidance on ethics or intellectual rigour seems especially laughable. good god.
Honestly, if we just recognize that public schools (Kinder-PhD) are not there to educate us because “education is good” but are there to impart the minimum standard of knowledge needed for the next generation of workers to keep the economy functioning, we can move toward a more comprehensive critique of capitalism.
True true. But then you lose a whoooole lot of ground when arguing with neolibs about why it’s bad that universities are increasingly run like corporations, and funding is shifting from paying profs to paying for high salary admin, sports and buildings. How do you have that argument without calling up the public/learning/citizenship ideal? The thing about neolibs is that they don’t think it’s bad that school exists to train up the next gen of workers. They totally accept that school is a business, that students are customers, that professors are service providers and that the whole point of it is to train workers. Where do you intervene in that discourse then, without defending supposedly naive idealism about learning?
It occurs to me that critique has kind of bit the left in the ass. I guess this is what Latour was talking about, but it just connected tangibly for me right now. We see what’s wrong with everything, so we cede all ground. If this or that institution is unsalvageable, we constantly lose our footing.
And anyways, it’s not like we don’t already have this more comprehensive critique of capitalism that recognizes this role of education. Geez, the situ “On the Poverty of Student Life” was published 47 years ago.
IDK man, critique is great, but somehow we also have to find sites from which to struggle, and for that I think we do need to identify “positive” or useful or valuable aspects of existing institutions that can be defended, expanded or reworked. I don’t like the kind of aging useless cynic ~total critique~ has threatened to turn me into. Sparks fade without kindling.
the thing about philosophy is that it’s not supposed to be easy, if it’s easy it’s probably not busting open your mind the way it should be. & that’s not necessarily a fault in the text, if I devour an accessibly-written theory text in an evening and don’t discuss it with anyone I probably won’t remember it the next day, I certainly won’t have been ruminating over it for a month the way I will over something that’s hard. someone else might relate to the text differently. sometimes a text being difficult and slowing you down and making you reread every sentence is a virtue, it depends, it’s all about the reader
so that’s a thing, pushing yourself like that, it’s important
but a lot of the theory nerds nodding along to this will be white dudes who read almost exclusively white dudes, probably in english, probably from within their discipline and/or political lineage, and hang out mostly with people like them
and I mean honestly, you wanna talk about the merits of pushing yourself past your intellectual comfort zone, are you really gonna go there
if you talk about “striking a balance between theory and praxis” or something it seems like you’re just using “praxis” as a fancier way of saying “practice” and it’s annoying and also wanky
“praxis” means the implementation of theory/learning
the whole point of the word, esp. as used in philosophy, esp. as used in Marxism which informs the use of the word by the whole of the Left, is to collapse the binary distinction between theory and practice
for the record I don’t care about the “balance” because I think the distinction is arbitrary and wrongheaded but I do care about whether we are effective or not and sitting around living the Life Of The Mind doesn’t seem particularly effective any way you slice it
I wish we could just learn together rather than snottily weaponising our knowledge of theory or our supposed authenticity
or second-guessing the other’s intentions and assuming that they are thus weaponising their position, and reactively getting snotty, and so on blah blah blah ad infinitum
i don’t know, I decided not to do a masters or PhD partly because I was jack of uni and partly because I feared getting sucked into a vortex of bourgeois white armchair revolutionaries but mostly because I couldn’t afford it and the academic career track looks horrifying anyway
I guess what’s brought this on is that I’m not impressed with the way people talk about academia on tumblr, it needs to be way less vague and way less defensive and way more attentive to material conditions
never not mad at men making an academic career out of feminism
I said you had to have an opinion, I didn’t say you could make money off it