orgtheory.net

why i will continue to be annoying at job talks

A couple of days ago, I wrote a blog post about why I think that one should be tough on job candidates during job talks. My argument boils down to a simple point – it’s my chance to push a little and see how they respond in a tough spot.

At first, I was going going to write a blog post defending this view, but then Pamela Oliver retweeted the following, which makes my point very clear:

Bingo. This is exactly right. In your job as a professor, you will be put under pressure. You will be asked uncomfortable questions. They will not care about  your feelings or how it conflicts with your sense of egalitarianism. If you read through Professor Michener’s thread, you will see that she handled it in a very thoughtful and professional way. The thread raises many good points, but the starting point is this: this job has moments of pressure and you need to be able to handle it well.

Just to give you a sense of how the “tough Q&A” might be helpful in assessing a person, here are examples of where “thinking on your feet” and “dealing with pressure” made a difference in my own life:

  1. Around 2000, an audience member at an ASA round table said my work was offensive to all LGBT people. She then stood up and stormed out.
  2. Around 2008, an audience member at an ASA panel stood up and said that my work was completely wrong. He was referring to a draft of this paper.
  3. During my midterm review, the current chair indicated that I may be in trouble. It’s ok. I pulled through – we’re still friends!!!
  4. My work on the More Tweets, More Votes paper was openly criticized by leading political professionals, including this Huffington Post piece.
  5. I have argued with people in public about open borders. Including the spokesman of the Hungarian national government, Zoltan Kovacs. Let’s just say he doesn’t share my opinion!
  6. Students will raise potentially inflammatory questions in the middle class. Last year, for example, a student claimed in class that Catholicism is the only true religion. Needed to be real careful about that one.
  7. The blog generates a surprising amount of hate mail – from other scholars!
  8. As a journal editor, people question my rejection letters all the time. Oddly, they never question my acceptance letters!
  9. And of course, the piles and piles of journal and book editor rejections that every professor must deal with.

Of course, the typical day is not that stressful, but scholars are often called to defend themselves and they must do so in the face of tough opposition. I don’t advocate a lack of courtesy or civility. But asking about things like research design, relation to research done by scholars in adjacent fields, and inference is totally acceptable and there is nothing wrong with a courteous, but blunt, question. Heck, IU grads have told me that my questions during practice job talks were excellent prep for job talks elsewhere. Thus, if you have had years to work on a dissertation and you can’t answer a mildly assertive question about your own work, I will not be impressed.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 10, 2018 at 4:24 am

31 Responses

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  1. the student was described as “nice, engaged and curious.” Not as aggressive or obnoxious. The student’s question comes from a place of learning from an expert, not a job interview. Those differences likely matter to how a question is handled. I know it would for me.

    Or, how does a question about causal inference in a job talk test whether or not a scholar can handle an undergrad’s question like that?

    Also, the starting of that thread isn’t that being a professor has stressful moments, but the experience of being black and being expect to reasonably, calmly respond to claims that your race is genetically inferior to another race. I’ll never face that in the classroom. And it’s inelegant, to me, to take that thread that focuses on that point and use it to make an entirely different one that’s more universal (you will face tough questions and pressure) than the point she was making (what is the experience or duty of being a black professor asked about claims of black inferiority).

    Liked by 3 people

    rorykramer

    May 10, 2018 at 1:29 pm

  2. I must say, there is something disturbing about this exchange. Over the past few years, I have participated in meetings with some of the top scientists in world, including members of the National Academies, American Academy. etc They want to figure out how to improve public perceptions of climate scientists before we face global catastrophe. Many many scientists and analysts outside sociology, in New Yorker magazine etc, have asked, “where are the sociologists?” In these meetings, I pose ways that public opinion research, cultural sociology, social movements research, and big data could be combined to help us reach those publics most likely to reject climate scientists. Many in the room assume, “certainly someone in your field with resources in a top department is already doing all this.” I am ashamed to tell them the truth. Our field is largely uninterested in using sociological insights about culture and cognition, power and resources–to study the cultural authority of science and how the public understands the social terrain around climate. Instead, I have to explain, we are engaged in an infinite inward looking civil war of “negation by attribution.” That is, we are negating each other’s positions based not on the evidence or logic but on our positions themselves. Folks, it is tragic to see and even more tragic to realize how unreflexive the discipline has become. However, it unfortunately makes sense. Sociological production is increasingly concentrated among a few (top 25) departments, yet the supply of tenure track positions is declining. Thus, it is a civil war among the mansions. I hope the hubris is soon curtailed, but as debt rises with interest rates, resources and growth in our field with only decline further. So, I can only guess that “negation by attribution” will be the modal analytic framework for the foreseeable future. Literally, while Rome burns!

    Liked by 4 people

    ggauchat

    May 10, 2018 at 2:56 pm

  3. ggauchat I’m a little confused about how this debate about “tough questions” etc is relevant. I can’t figure out whether you see the critiques of Fabio as “negation by attribution” or Fabio’s comments.

    Liked by 1 person

    olderwoman

    May 10, 2018 at 9:18 pm

  4. Point of clarification: nobody suggested not asking hard questions. If people are telling you that you’re obnoxious/aggressive it’s probably not because you ask “hard” questions–most people appreciate good insightful/important questions–but that you’re doing it an unnecessarily obnoxious and aggressive way.

    Like

    Charles Seguin

    May 10, 2018 at 9:42 pm

  5. Hi olderwoman, I think climate change and its absence from discussion in sociology is ever-relevant, but I take your point. How could sociologists publishing in Nature be relevant? Again, let us table any talk about ways to save the world until tomorrow (like actually using our knowledge about networks, framing, social media, to effect policy on climate), and focus instead on the “tone” of academic criticism.

    My main argument is really simple: the critiques of Fabio’s post have been around his “position,” personal demeanor, psychoanalytic critique of his aggressive masculinity, his methodological aesthetic etc. I think the point he is making about job candidates and the job market is really important. He seems to be saying that your stuff has to matter, it has to speak to issues, it has to make a contribution. Yet, in my recent experience there is an instrumental sameness to many of the candidates I see, at ASA, in job talks, at research presentations, where I am left wondering about what was at stake in this research [stuck in the iron cage].

    Many of the “insights” of current research are fairly shallow. If your research touches on something else (e.g. cultural knowledge and truth claims in the late information age), the “negation by attribution” is deployed. If you criticize the 20th presentation on urban poverty for not providing something new, your critique is an extension of your position. So, my argument (like Fabio) is about how we engage with work, how we assess relevance, and how we reward researchers accordingly. More importantly, it is about the lack of dynamism in contemporary sociology. Why? Because the field is so competitive that we select for what is safe, offer resources to those not straying far from the conventional.

    Sadly, this has led me to head turning conversations to journalists, policy makers, and scientists about how and why my field can’t find the time or resources to invest in studying the framing of climate denial. This discussion of Fabio (being a meanie?) as well as the the absence of any attention around framing and climate change, are instances of a crisis. Moving beyond Fabio’s point, I am saying that sociology’s current crisis is more about careers and consolidating power among elite departments given shrinking resources. The crisis is about why the field is no longer producing high quality science that those outside the field recognize and value. Much like avant-garde art scenes, you can become completely disconnected from audiences outside your field and these type of fields actually emerge when supply/cultural production is greatly restricted. I think this is happening. It should be what you all are talking about. And, Fabio’s criteria for assessing quality is but a flashpoint for the broader issue of sociological aesthetics (what we say is good scientific work and whether we reward it). Instead, we have Narcissus Esoterica, musings on how we assess candidates rather than real discussions about the quality of scientific work and its potential to affect policy change.

    Liked by 3 people

    ggauchat

    May 10, 2018 at 10:12 pm

  6. Negation by attribution is what happens when a field has retreated so far that it surrenders, exclaiming all at once from every corner that valuation of scientific work is nothing more than or less than a position from which you stand and gaze.

    Like

    ggauchat

    May 10, 2018 at 10:26 pm

  7. I’m reading the original post. I’m stunned. What is supposedly out of bounds here?

    Like

    ggauchat

    May 10, 2018 at 10:50 pm

  8. Even though I don’t really buy the connection to Fabio’s posts, I gotta agree with this Gauchat dude. Most contemporary sociology, including the “good stuff,” is minor variations on a theme; inequalities exist, and they’re bad. If you don’t study strat/inequality it’s hard to get anyone to care about what you do. And god forbid if you break from that normative foundation (I don’t, but I worry about those who might, and whether they have a place in our departments – I hope they do).

    I think we’re mostly obsessed with salami slicing new ways to document inequality, or with using the newest bestest methods to do the same. Meanwhile, all sorts of existential questions pass mostly unaddressed. That environmental sociology is a trifle in the discipline is disappointing.

    Like, yes, sociologists, I get it, I really do. Inequality by race, class, and gender are core parts of our society and political economy, and even worm their way into how we think about ourselves and our place in this world. But maybe we have other stuff to offer? Insights on technology, science, the environment. Hell, I’d take a little old school Marxism or some critical political economy. Let’s move beyond documenting the presence of inequality, and train our thoughts and observations on what might come next. And I don’t mean just slapping a “Policy Implications” section at the end of our articles. Let’s ask big, bold questions, not simply record the failures of our past and current institutions.

    And, yes, I realize that there are notable exceptions to this, and there are people out there doing exactly the work I’m asking for. I just wish those discussions were more widespread, and rewarded, within the discipline, because I think we actually have a lot to offer!

    Liked by 3 people

    anon

    May 11, 2018 at 1:54 am

  9. Since there is no consensus in the discipline what good/important/insightful research is, there is no consensus what a good/insightful/important question is. If people are telling someone they are obnoxious/aggressive, it is just as plausible that the person is asking a question themselves see as good/important/insightful but others see as bad/unimportant/illegitimate.

    Like

    anonymous

    May 11, 2018 at 2:05 am

  10. ggauchat ok now that I see what you are talking about, it seems orthogonal to this discussion. Climate scientists and people doing “big questions” and people doing science and technology and philosophy and physics and biology also have debates about whether interactional hierarchies are privileging men/Whites and limiting the career prospects of women/minorities. I study social movements and racial disparities in criminal justice, so I may fall into your “inequality only” box of concern, but I don’t think orgtheory generally ignores other questions. I do know a lot of people studying environmental movements and the politics of the environment, and other people studying science and technology, so I don’t have quite the same view you do that they don’t exist in sociology. But maybe what you ought to do is write a guest post for orgtheory or scatterplot about what the “big questions” are that sociology has been ignoring.

    Liked by 2 people

    olderwoman

    May 11, 2018 at 2:47 am

  11. I don’t think the “lack of existence” argument is one I was deploying. The main point is about what kind of S&T work is being rewarded and how much we are talking about climate science in our top journals and in this blog. Certainly, you are not suggesting that S&T and environmental sociology secretly dominates our field. Of course, it is relative to other topics. It is kind of analogous to explaining to my undergraduates that arguing inequality/poverty has always existed misses the point about change in inequality or what populations are affected (i.e., changes to the distribution over time and what causes them). These seem like ethnomethods: ways to guard against the uncertainty and uncomfortable issues really at stake here. Or, cutting through the bullshit, why I have the top cited article in ASR written in the last 5 years and I am at the Urban campus down the road and not Madison. These are tough issues, I know, because they implicate real metrics, real decisions, and real departments (and power). I love my department and my colleagues, but there are resource limitations and it makes grant writing more difficult etc. Not sure that telling me about the people you know studying environment and S&T is relevant here nor have I bemoaned your research or research on inequality.

    I know full well how Science and Technology is studied. I agree that race and gender are important to the distribution to scientific reward. But this is kind of what I’m getting at, it is what I like to call “seminar room logic.” Does the fact that someone somewhere in a top program is studying environmental movements negate my argument? I use this simple aphorism that helps me with reflexivity: if you find yourself negating someones argument with one sentence, you’ve probably not thought very deeply about what is being discussed or you want to deflect from it.

    For example, if you look at our top journals and this blog, are we talking about climate and how sociological research might inform (literally world saving) interventions to challenge climate denial? Where is this? S&T has nothing to do with these questions, it deals (mostly) with scientific production and interests of scientists. What environmental sociology is dealing with this (besides Dunlap and McCright)? And ironically, you can hear echoes of S&T arguments in some contemporary climate denial (and more comically the growing Flat Earth Community).

    I would argue that climate change and the politicization of scientific knowledge poses a more subtle challenge to our field. For years, S&T and sociology has argued about how “science” expresses and reifies various forms of inequality (e.g. Foucault, Latour, Bourdieu, ), constructs categories and scientific facts, is insufficiently democratic and potentially dehumanizing (Epstien). H.M. Collins wrote an amazing piece on this in Nature “We cannot live by skepticism alone” see https://www.nature.com/articles/458030a

    Now, all of the sudden, sociology and STS is in a strange position: explaining that in this instance, we can NOW trust “big science.” There is after all no bigger science than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). So, why now? Why in this instance? If someone cared to examine it, there more than a passing family resemblance between S&T arguments about how scientific knowledge is socially constructed (and thus represents the interests and biases scientists) and those presented in “Climate Gate”

    According to Collins, we tend toward “over adjusting” in sociology. I would argue now more than ever, because we are not constrained by any reality or pragmatic end that comes from engaging with institutions and audiences that might affect change (i.e., policy/discourse). We are unfettered from the social world, allowing us to narrow the qualities we recognize and caricatural valuations we make.

    Here are the key questions for contemporary sociology that don’t receive the attention they need:
    1) the structural drivers of polarization in the US and increasingly EU
    2) how do people cognitively map the social terrain of contemporary society to simplify an information saturated social environment. Is ideology really about mapping adversaries and allies in the social world (Bourdieu’s alternative to the Poli Sci model of left-right orientation)?
    3) how has technology and teletechnology transformed the way we process information, changing our core assumptions about “mind and thinking” in sociology?
    4) what is the human experience of finacialization and globablization, is it connected to polarization, xenophobia, distrust/uncertainty, the legitimacy of our institutions?
    5) assuming that people relate to power in myriad ways, what frames do people use to deny climate science (like more than one), how might we challenge those frames, how do these frames relate to social location, can we use network theory, big data, and social media to build interventions?

    Now I want to mention that I think our top journals do a good job. I’ve had great experiences as a reviewer and author. I think the issue is at the department level: what is being rewarded and why, and evident from my comments, with “seminar logic.”

    Liked by 2 people

    ggauchat

    May 11, 2018 at 4:56 am

  12. The orthogonal thing is really just boundary work or “seminar room shut down.” This thread isn’t capable of accommodating this topic?

    Okay, back to your regularly scheduled programing of Narcissus Esoterica.

    Liked by 1 person

    ggauchat

    May 11, 2018 at 5:06 am

  13. Hi, one of the anonymous posters from thread 1 here (who made the “inversion” comment.)

    Just want to note that the exchange in this thread is a nice demonstration of the underlying issue/dynamic that a couple of us were trying to point out. While olderwoman was gently trying to point out that the thread was hijacked, she did this in a generous tone that invited Prof. Gauchat to do a guest post on his core substantive points (thus elevating the discussion from the comments). The snarky response “back to your regularly scheduled programming of Nascissus Esoterica” may have been a great turn of phrase, but it demonstrates exactly the kind of obnoxious, annoying demeanor that several of us find so troublesome.

    More substantively–and in the doubtful hope that anyone wants to constructively talk about this anymore–there are ways to link these two conversations together. Gauchat’s complaint–a familiar one–is essentially that sociology doesn’t pay enough attention to The Big Issues like climate change, while instead spending its time navel gazing through “seminar logic.” Like Fabio, there is an underlying tone of frustration, which goes something like “If we could just Get Serious and stop worrying about everyone’s feelings, we could finally get somewhere/make a difference!”

    The problem, though, is that doing this collectively takes a form of political coordination, as does appealing to anyone other than ourselves. Surely cognitive psychology, social movements, etc., have something substantively to tell us about how do to this, but so to does the strain of STS that emphasizes that science takes place in political communities. Put simply, the more we chase talented social scientists out of our ranks with unnecessary aggression in order to “make progress” faster, the weaker we are.

    My point in the original thread, and which remains so here, is that you can ask questions to find out everything Fabio wants to know, do exactly what Gauchet wants, without having to resort to aggression or being obnoxious. Yes, it may be more locally “expensive,” in the sense that we’ll have to learn how to ask questions similar to Olderwoman’s tone, but we’ll be a healthier field for it. (Once again, to invert all this, political scientists and economists often pat themselves on their backs for how brutal their job talk Q&As are, but would anyone say that they’re better or more insightful fields as a whole? I often encounter scholars in both who complain about the triviality this leads to.)

    Finally, with direct regard to Fabio’s rejoinder.

    (1) Ironically, you seem to have read that twitter exchange and come to the opposite conclusion I did. Specifically, you seem to have ignored the second tweet of the exchange, namely “But I have been thinking about what it means to be the professor, the ostensible expert, in front of a lecture hall teaching–and to have to respond (calmly, reasonably, logically) to the claims of people who assert your inherent inferiority.” Can you not see that when you ask “aggressive, obnoxious” questions, you are giving off precisely this signal of superiority (albeit clearly not a racialized one?)

    (2) As a job candidate–thankfully, no longer!–I occasionally had questions from men (always men!) like you in the tone you profess, who probably thought they were doing what you did. Based on that experience, I can say two things. (2a) Your colleagues probably apologize for you during half-hours. (2b) As a job candidate your job is simply to rephrase the questions, demonstrate you understand it, and move on, even though the questions themselves are often phrased contemptuously.

    (3) Do you realize that the latter part of your post is exactly the same logic as that of hazing? You seem to be saying “here is a list of times this, and worse, happened to me, so I do it to people junior to me.” Or, to de-personalize it, you are saying “this happens to people in the big, bad world, so I have to make sure they’re tough enough to take it!” So exactly how obnoxious and aggressive is too obnoxious and aggressive? Do they have to cry? Showing you can take a gratuitous intellectual punch is NOT the same as being an exceptional scholar, or teacher.

    To translate this into the more analytic logic you seem fond of: your approach only works in environments that are extremely tolerant to (a) obnoxious characters, and (b) false positives/negatives (depending on how you care to define what you’re trying to do–people “who can take it,” or make sure you don’t hire someone who can’t.) Academic sociology is tolerant to this because we have tenure–so your aggression and obnoxiousness is shielded from real consequence–and because the job market is oversaturated with talent, so people have no choice but to subject themselves to your tone. (And multiply this by the fact that there’s someone like you in every department, and there you are.) The issue with this procedure is that it’s likely, first, to select for obnoxious, aggressive jerks, and to weed out exceptional scholars and teachers who don’t meet your definition of “being able to take it.”

    (4) You have a vision of how science is supposed to work, and that’s fine. But I suppose I’m so insulted (and hence writing so much, anonymously) because you’re, again, failing to see the negative externalities of what you’re doing. Or, more directly, you seem NOT TO CARE how your behavior affects people. We clearly have different personalities, and that’s okay. But what really gets under my skin is your implication that your way of doing things–specifically, the way you think it’s okay to treat people in intellectual interactions, asking them “obnoxious, aggressive questions” in an effort to test their mettle–is the BEST and ONLY way of doing it.

    Liked by 4 people

    One of the anonymous posters from thread 1

    May 11, 2018 at 12:15 pm

  14. So it seems like you wrote a draft of a blog post here. I don’t run orgtheory but I am an admin on scatterplot. Do you want to edit this up as a guest post over there?

    Liked by 1 person

    olderwoman

    May 11, 2018 at 12:17 pm

  15. Ooops I delayed my comment by mistake, it is relevant to ggauchat, not to the anonymous comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    olderwoman

    May 11, 2018 at 12:33 pm

  16. And now THIS comment is relevant to “one of the anonymous posters.” Thank you. I have not seen Fabio in action in this context, so I don’t know whether the critique would apply to him personally, but agree that the general problem is real. I’ll just add that I’ve also been responded to as excessively aggressive, although it my case it is usually toward higher-status speakers, but I think sometimes we can inadvertently send a message to more junior people that we don’t mean to be sending. But I agree 100% that anything that says “my way of doing things is the only right way” is culturally imperialist and, if you are in a position of power, likely to harm others. In some cases, if one is a very senior and powerful woman, it even requires recognizing the culture of young men who prefer an aggressive way of being, or have been taught that they must be aggressive. I’ve even had to learn to be kind to young men who are trying to patronize me. (And no, I am not referring to anything that happened in this tread, just reflecting on what I find particularly annoying.)

    Liked by 1 person

    olderwoman

    May 11, 2018 at 1:00 pm

  17. I do appreciate olderwoman’s invitation and will likely post as she recommends. To the anonymous poster, who bravely uses my name but not their own. I hope your quest for civility by accusing people of being obnoxious or hijacking conversations pays dividends. I was also proud of Narcissus Esoterica.

    The one thing you are right about, clearly, is that being “snarky” allows people to ignore the substance of your argument. Fortunately, I think my contributions on these topics demonstrate that with very few resources and institutional support a tremendous amount can get done (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-mistrust-of-science). If the accusation is one of frustration, you have hit the mark. I am frustrated with the field but those frustrations can be warranted right? Are you suggesting that we do pay sufficient attention to climate in sociology? Or to the politicization of science in the public? To the structural causes of polarization, etc? And, I’m not trying to be annoying, but can you explain what “science takes place in political communities” means? It seems to me that all human thought “takes place in political communities,” if you mean that human beings articulate models/theory to further their actions, to get things done together.

    I want to mention that despite these frustrations, I have met some wonderful and very genuine people in sociology, who do great work. If their work did not exist neither would mine. So I don’t mean to demean the field as a whole. I think our perspective has a lot offer, but we seemed mired in this sort of thing. It just seems a little trite to me. To return to the topic, what about Fabio’s two posts is out of bounds in your opinion? What questions are out of bounds? Not trying to be funny, but if questions about causal inference makes you cry, I’m not sure that is a Fabio problem.

    Like

    ggauchat

    May 11, 2018 at 1:27 pm

  18. The prior comment was for “one of the anonymous…”

    Like

    ggauchat

    May 11, 2018 at 1:49 pm

  19. @olderwoman: I haven’t seen Fabio in action either, so who knows? I can say that his spirited defense of obnoxiousness touched a nerve. And there are definitely a multitude of ways the underlying issue (that scientific practice is embedded in social communities, we want those communities to be diverse, and that the diversity opens up a terrain of tone and scientific communication) can cut. The issue of patronizing senior women mentors and scholars is an especially interesting one, as it’s the opposite extreme, in a sense, that Fabio’s original issue could go to, and it can be equally demobilizing.

    @gauchet: I have to do other things today, but a few things.

    (1) You chose to use your name, not me, so I’m not sure why it’s “brave” or not to address you, respectfully, I might add, by the name you gave.

    (2) I don’t use mine because we have different tolerances for public exposure. (3) Congratulations on what you’ve accomplished–seriously!

    (4) You’ve clearly read a ton of STS, so you’ll be familiar with what I mean–against a Kantian “pure reason” wherein The Truth emanates in a way that is self-evident, actually accomplishing the goals you passionately pursue means engaging with forms of practical reason–how the work of science, and scientific communication, is embedded in communities of practice, and the compromises, negotiations, etc., that go with it.

    (5) Your comment about “if I cry, it’s my problem, not a Fabio problem” is EXACTLY the blithe attitude towards the consequences of behavior that I find trying. Simply, if your strategy in job talks is to see how “tough” someone is–specifically, to strike an “aggressive, obnoxious” tone to try and push them to see if they’ll break, which is what Fabio’s position amounts to (as I see it), then we disagree fundamentally about what the goal of our collective enterprise is.

    Like

    One of the anonymous posters from thread 1

    May 11, 2018 at 2:12 pm

  20. Not sure anyone is arguing for a Kantian “Pure Reason” here. I think the pragmatists have a pretty reasonable view of science and built off the principle of practical reason (so not sure why this is relevant). I agree that all human endeavors involve “…embedded in communities of practice, and the compromises, negotiations, etc., that go with it.” I think everyone agrees on that…I’m just not sure about the implications of that here. Given your post-Kantian view, isn’t this thread about those negotiations? Moreover, I’m not sure “negotiated” means that we can’t have strong views about good science and agreed upon standards for our work.

    Humans construct institutions and professional standards for these purposes, to cognitively simplify the assessment of difficult objects, like scientific work. I agree, they are not perfect, they have biases, but other than Kant’s ghost, who is chasing perfection. Again, are we saying that climate’s importance or the politicization of science a claim of “Pure Reason”? Seems like a pretty practical concern to me, and the NASA, NOAA, NSF, IPCC, AAAS, Nature, Science, (formerly EPA) seem to agree (the list goes on). I’m wondering, why does sociology seem late the party? No offense, but I’ve never had the privilege to be questioned by the likes of Fabio, because despite my CV. So, maybe the problem is the “Pure Aesthetic” that guides academic decision making. I’m asking, what are the standards for assessing good work (if not ASR, NSF grants, citations, Nature articles)? If not these standards, what aesthetic do we choose? Shouldn’t we be worried about dynamism in the field given structural changes in higher ed? I’m not sure arguing with Kant’s ghost can address any of these issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    ggauchat

    May 11, 2018 at 2:47 pm

  21. For the record, I never presented “a spirited defense of obnoxiousness.” I never asked people to be mean or demeaning to anyone. Rather, I argued for asking very tough questions, which “strikes people as aggressive or obnoxious.” And I agree that is how it appears to people. For example, a few years back, I asked an ethnographer about inference and modelling, which people found to be out of bounds. I do not think it was out of bounds, but some people did.

    The general issue is that job talks are part of an evaluation process. I want to know is if the person “behind the CV” is “real.” Does the person really understand research design? Are they intellectually narrow minded? Can they handle themselves well in front of an audience? Perhaps readers think proper data analysis, breadth and a cool temperament are bad things, but I don’t. Some people may think this somehow exacerbates inequality, but all I can say is that our assistant and associate professors are diverse and amazingly good scholars.

    There is also an IU specific issue at play. Our quality of faculty and student placement stems from the fact that the faculty produces research that adheres to conventional standards of quality whether it be ethnography or lab experiment. Furthermore, these habits are transmitted to our students, which gives them an advantage in publication and the job search.

    So where do get these faculty from? We *don’t* “raid” good people from other schools because we don’t have the budget. We also *don’t* hire job market stars at the junior level. Instead, to use a basketball term, we “develop the bench.” We take people who are pretty darned good and help them develop. That means that we don’t have a lot of room for people who fail to become good scholars.

    This brings me back to the job talk. By the time I see your job talk, I’ve read your papers and your recommendations and your CV. It clearly passes some threshold. But then the question is – who much of that reflect the adviser? Did you get lucky in the review process at a fancy journal? Now is the time to ask because I probably won’t get another chance. And if I make a mistake you will be transmitting your poor research practices to the next ten years of IU grad students.

    Liked by 1 person

    Fabio Rojas

    May 11, 2018 at 2:51 pm

  22. Okay, one more round and then I’m really done.

    @gauchet: The comment about Kant was about the status of tone and argument for the process by which one arrives at truth. From “pure reason,” this is strictly irrelevant because the pragmatics of speech, etc., have no status for the argument. (For example, this is why Hacking wrote a book/lecture transcript about the necessity of a philosophy of mathematics–the “orthodox” philosophical position is that it’s an expression of pure logic.) And the *motivating value* of a purified search for truth that is somehow purely objective and transcendent of any particular setting or person is *very much* still alive in science–or at least so say Merton, Latour, Collins, and even many of the pragmatists. It’s easy to translate all this into a “pragmatic” idiom. Want to accomplish what you describe? You’ll probably be more effective if you’re more inclusive? Want to be more inclusive? Ask questions in a less “annoying” way.

    @Fabio: I only disagree with one aspect of your comment: I think you very much *were* trying to defend, if not being “obnoxious and aggressive,” than at least “annoying.” “Spirited”? Okay, sure, I withdraw that word. But, for you, what’s the difference between “striking people” as obnoxious and aggressive and actually being so? Well, I take you to be saying that you don’t *mean* to be obnoxious and aggressive, but that you’ve been told more than once that this is how you come off. I take you, moreover, to be saying that there are important latent functions to those interactions, and that your intent is very different than how you are received. Again fair enough, but that’s (1) a “defense”, and (2) all I (and others) are trying to say is that there are well-known latent functions to this kind of behavior that you’re ignoring–not least, that the ability to be “tough enough” in those interactions is typically gendered and not otherwise equally distributed. At a minimum, your probe of whether or not someone is the “real deal” by asking questions like you do is a very noisy instrument for finding out what you say you want to know.

    (I’m genuinely happy that your program apparently hasn’t suffered for this behavior, as you note, since it’s diverse, etc., etc. But please pay attention to my earlier comment abut how that outcome depends on an environment where good jobs, like at IU, are scarce, and candidates cannot afford to respond to you in kind–in a way that “strikes people as aggressive and obnoxious.” I can’t think of a faster way to lose a potential job, Moreover, have you had a direct conversation with one of these scholars–perhaps a tenured one–about how they experience those interactions?)

    I don’t particularly care for your writing style (which I guess is clear by now) and I think that your reasoning is surprisingly un-sociological, but I applaud your dedication to trying to make IU a good program.

    And I guess I’ll leave it at that.

    Like

    One of the anonymous posters from thread 1

    May 11, 2018 at 4:25 pm

  23. So, to belabor the point, here are the key things we’ve learned. It is NOT aggressive (passively or not) to impute motives and personally accuse people of deleterious displays of “masculinity.” What if I imputed motives and dispositions to social class, access to cultural capital, and elitist academic position? I wonder if that would be okay?

    Are gender and race the only categories of difference? For example, given evidence in public health, growing up to a single mother, with a severe disability, in poverty would lead to fairly extreme disadvantages (like there are literally numbers on this right). If you overcame those disadvantages and were literally performing at the top of your field (i.e., grants, citations, publications, media attention), only to find yourself totally shut out of the rewards at the top of the field, might not this produce the sort of dispositions you are decrying here and associating with masculinity. I will say this, we have NEVER seen something like my case before in our discipline: publishing the most cited article in the flagship journal in your discipline over the last five years and having 0 interviews or nibbles from top 25 schools. If you want to boil it down, that is my frustration. I think it does indicate a crisis in the field. Speaking of patronizing, how about a story. Like when a senior faculty told me that mental health conditions could not constitute a severe disability (despite our governments own categorization), because mental health is socially constructed. Was she holding my masculinity in check? Or when I was told about my sense of entitlement by a top scholar (referencing my work on science perceptions), while I was living in poverty and using some of my stipend to supplement my family members medicaid coverage (so they could afford their medication). Maybe this is what I find trying about this conversation: being asked “annoying” questions at a job talk just doesn’t seen to rise to the level (climate change pun). If this is a story about social location, what about my lived experiences? Ought we negate them? I hope you forgive my unconscious biases, as I have forgiven yours.

    Liked by 2 people

    ggauchat

    May 11, 2018 at 4:31 pm

  24. You also keep spelling my name wrong. Gauchat, don’t worry not annoyed.

    Like

    ggauchat

    May 11, 2018 at 4:46 pm

  25. In sum:
    1. Questioners: Don’t be objectively obnoxious.
    2. Presenters, and everyone else: Don’t think hard questions are obnoxious.
    3. Study topics that matter, and be honest with yourself about that
    4. Recognize the multiple sources of disadvantage. Don’t impute anything based on race, sex alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    Balthazar

    May 11, 2018 at 7:36 pm

  26. This is for ggauchat Thank you for this “debate.” Very illuminating (and validating at the same time). Regarding your comment about Bourdieu’s alternative theory on ideological stance, could you please point me to the relevant works? I’d appreciate that very much. Thank you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Jane Tenisson

    May 11, 2018 at 8:18 pm

  27. @Jane Tenisson There is the oft overlooked chapter in Distinction on the political field that (I think) offers a glimpse into how Bourdieu understood politics as the aesthetics toward the field of power (i.e., the distribution of social resources on multiple dimension, social, cultural, economic capital). Although, he doesn’t use the term field of power yet. In other words, the field of politics is constituted by the cognitive map or perceptions of the field of power (whose like you and who is not in terms of capital endowments). Other than that, all I can tell you is that there is something in works on this that i hope will be out soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    ggauchat

    May 13, 2018 at 3:08 pm

  28. Thanks so much Prof. Gauchat!!! This is really interesting and much needed. We (in sociology) don’t seem to have sufficient body of theory to explain political inclination/polarization (please correct me if I’m wrong). Since your mention of the existence of an alternative view/theory, I discovered there is an article that has not been translated to English yet apparently (“The Production of Dominant Ideology,” Bourdieu and Boltanski, 1976), but there are some articles reviewing the piece. Thanks again!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Jane Tenisson

    May 13, 2018 at 5:47 pm

  29. I call what Fabio is talking about a commitment to skepticism. It never feels good to hear others expressing skepticism about your work. But if your ideas and evidence deserve attention, they – and you as their advocate – have to be able to win over skeptical audiences. We cannot simply fault audiences for being skeptical. We have to earn their trust, and earn their faith in our results, with knowledge and mastery of our topic.

    If you are telling someone to have a new and different belief about the world, expect them to question what you are selling. It is your job to convince them the evidence and logic is truly robust and compelling. Scholars have an obligation to *not* believe everything they hear.

    For the record, Fabio has asked me painfully tough questions in a department talk. Part of me thought this meant he did not “like” my work. But a friend told me afterwards that, in essence, he just has a commitment to skepticism.

    Also, I spent last weekend fending off criticism of my work on millionaire taxes from a right wing think tank. People like Fabio have taught me how to do it with grace.

    Liked by 1 person

    Cristobal Young

    May 22, 2018 at 1:09 pm

  30. Thanks for the comment, Cristobal. Indeed, I enjoyed your talk very much and I am supportive of your work. But you are right, it is about skepticism, not hostility toward the person. And I’m sorry about the pain, but that’s what happens when you launch the torpedo of truth!

    Like

    fabiorojas

    May 22, 2018 at 5:18 pm


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