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should grad students stop publishing? (or: why philosophers need sociology)

(This is a guest post from Samuel Loncar in response to David Velleman’s “The Publication Emergency”)

In his recent post at The Daily Nous, David Velleman of New York University and Philosopher’s Imprint argues that graduate students should stop publishing articles and that departments and journals should create organizational pressure to prevent student publications.

Professor Velleman’s post addresses an important and real problem. Velleman’s proposal, however, is an example of good thinking that becomes ineffective because it is inadequately informed by the broader institutional context in which the problems it addresses are occurring. The argument (stop letting graduate student submit to journals and stop counting their publications towards tenure) is premised on this idea: the problem of graduate student publication in philosophy is a problem created only or primarily by trends within philosophy, which makes it amenable to resolution through alteration of the practices of professional philosophers.

Let’s consider whether this is reasonable. First, it is plausible that professional philosophy, like every discipline, has some space of relative autonomy – that is taken for granted and clearly correct. Second, however, it is not only plausible but obvious and sociologically demonstrable that philosophy, like every academic discipline, is subject to transdisciplinary forces and trends. So the relevant question, with respect to this premise, is: whether the move to graduate school publication has arisen primarily due to transdisciplinary – that is, broader academic trends – or trends primarily within academic philosophy. The answer to that is: the burden of proof lies overwhelmingly with any professional philosopher to argue that it isn’t a result of transdisciplinary trends. Why? Because the same pressure exists now across all disciplines. Grad student publishing is a pressure not created by any single discipline but by the system in which disciplines exists, and is directly related to the general increase in publishing, documented, for example, in Andrew Abbott’s work. It is still theoretically possible that, acknowledging this, one could say: but let’s still try something in our little corner of academia. But this becomes questionable as to its 1) unintended consequences (which commenters on the site already noted) and its 2) professional prudence.

The most likely effect of Velleman’s proposal would be to harm those most vulnerable in academia (graduate students and assistant professors), whose job and tenure prospects are determined not by any single professor but by the entire academic system, as represented by the deans, provosts, etc. of their universities, many of which not only would not accept Dr. Velleman’s ideas, but would simply count the lack of publications against a prospective hire or tenure applicant.

A distinct, related, and properly philosophical issue that Velleman does not raise is why philosophers publish they way they do anyway, and why their publications are perceived to have any cognitive value. This is a major problem for any serious academic, given the abundance of work and the fact that no one can read all of it, and is one I have written about in an argument about disciplinary philosophy (“Why Listen to Philosophers?” in Metaphilosophy). It’s important because Velleman is grabbing the tip of an iceberg and trying to wrestle it out of the ocean. That’s not going to work without considering the sociological and institutional framework in which the problems exist and need to be theorized. There is a chain of assumptions, for example, in contemporary academia that run as follows: the university exists to create and transmit knowledge; the humanities are like the sciences in that they produce and transmit knowledge – that’s why they belong in the universities; the sciences are the paradigm of what counts as knowledge; the sciences are journal based fields; journals are reliable indicators of cognitively valuable material; peer review is the main mechanism of ensuring this legitimacy; so humanists need to publish journal articles to belong in the research university. Whatever one thinks of that chain of reasoning, it is neither self-evident nor unquestionable. Moreover, the philosophical significance of these broader issues about the academic system of publication and prestige require thoughtful consideration in order to assess any concrete problem downstream of them, like the fact that there are too many submissions to journals. Until academics, including professional philosophers, can at least acknowledge and adequately describe why their work takes the institutional form it does, it seems unlikely they can resolve the problems arising from those institutional dynamics. Such description and theorization of disciplinary forces is what I am doing in “Why Listen to Philosophers?” and my current book project. (It’s also being taken up in work by Robert Frodeman, Adam Briggle, and others.)

Until professional philosophy acknowledges the novelty and significance of its institutional location and the fact that most of even the canonical figures in its own conceptualization of the discipline were not professors and did not share the contemporary view of professional philosophy, it seems unlikely it can philosophically and practically deal with the problems posed by its embeddedness in the research and now corporate university, one dimension of which is the pressure to publish and its attendant problems.

To do that, philosophers will need to start taking sociology, among other disciplines, much more seriously, since it provides so much useful data and theory relevant to understanding the institutional dynamics of the modern university and professional system.

Samuel Loncar is a doctoral candidate at Yale and the editor-in-chief of the Marginalia Review of Books.

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Written by jeffguhin

August 5, 2017 at 5:52 pm

zones of the sociology job market

Academic job markets are odd. They are “thin,” in the sense that there are relatively few buyers. And they are balkanized in the sense that there all kinds of weird niches. And they are fluctuating, in the sense that trends come and go. Despite all that, sociology, like most disciplines, have consistent “streams of jobs” that merit discussion.

  1. The stratification zone: The study of inequality is at the core of field and every year people get hired. In fact, it is so central to the field that advertising a strat job is almost like admitting that you’re really doing an open search.
  2. The health/crim/aging zone: Sociologists don’t say that health, or criminal justice, or gerontology is at the core, but we can’t say no to the enrollments and the grants. The result is that this zone is almost always healthy.
  3. The urban zone: A small zone, but a consistent one. Most urban sociologists can honestly argue that they do race or inequality, so they tend to do well.
  4. The econ soc/institutions/political soc zone: Usually in the middle in terms of jobs. The econ soc/orgs/institutions side of things do well, but the political side can be tough. On the up side, people in this zone can often move into jobs in b-schools,policy or ed schools.
  5. The demography/family zone: Big grants, big jobs. Most programs have these folks and some invest deeply in this zone. Jobs available.
  6. The Prada Bag zone: Named after Monica Prasad’s description of historical comparative scholars, the Prada Bag Zone exists mainly in top 30 programs and some elite liberal arts colleges because they are luxury items. Good to have, and desirable, but they won’t bump off the health/crim zone in less competitive programs. Prada bags include the historical comparative people, hard core ethnographers, and movements people, among other. Tiny zone, few jobs.
  7. Niche zones: Sociology has a number of very small job market zones, for specialties that have limited appeal and meager funding. The great example of sociology of science. Another is old school political sociology. Life in these zone is nasty, brutish and short.

I intentionally left out education, because people in that zone tend to swept up into other zones (stratification or urban or institutions).  What else did I miss? What else should we talk about in terms of the sociology job market?

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

August 1, 2017 at 4:33 am

saida grundy discusses her experience with attacks on faculty

In the special issue of Ethnic and Racial Studies on Black Lives Matter, Saida Grundy discusses here experience when scandal broke over her social media posts:

This article examines attacks on black academics as an analytical apparatus for connecting histories of U.S. racial violence to the current state of white backlash against black advancement. Through an anatomy of these attacks – of which the author herself was targeted – this essay explores two processes: First, what these attacks do to blackness and, second, what this violence does for whiteness. In the former, this work explains that attacks on black academics are first and foremost anti-black attacks, not dissimilar to attacks on visible African- Americans in other arenas. The intention is to terrorize black progress on the whole. In the latter process, the generative nature of these attacks reproduces collective white identities across region, age, and newly digitized spaces. In the current political moment this digitized mob violence ritualistically reaffirms white hegemony. This essay concludes with an explanation for why the author believes these attacks will continue with regularity.

Required reading in the era of attacks on free speech.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

Written by fabiorojas

July 27, 2017 at 4:31 am

free speech and the protection of minorities

Over at The Atlantic, Musa al-Ghrabi and Jonathan Haidt argue for free speech, as a protection for minorities. They note that public schools are highly susceptible to external interference:

Here’s why this matters: In virtue of their heavy reliance on taxpayer funding and major donors, public colleges are much more receptive to calls from outside the university to punish faculty and staff for espousing controversial speech or ideas. Groups like Professor Watchlist, Campus Reform, or Campus Watch exploit this vulnerability, launching populist campaigns to get professors fired, or to prevent them from being hired, on the basis of something they said. The primary targets of these efforts end up being mostly women, people of color, and religious minorities (especially Muslims and the irreligious) when they too forcefully or bluntly condemn systems, institutions, policies, practices, and ideologies they view as corrupt, exploitative, oppressive, or otherwise intolerable.

Those most vulnerable to being fired for expressing controversial views are the ever-growing numbers of contingent faculty—who also tend to be disproportionately women and minorities. Meanwhile, the better-insulated tenured faculty tend to be white men.

In other words, public schools are influenced by politics. Women and people of color are more likely to be in public schools and they are more likely to be in positions where it easy to fire them. Think Lisa Durden (adjunct), or Steven Salaita (not yet under contract). It’s a serious argument to think about.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

Written by fabiorojas

July 11, 2017 at 4:11 am

how would you fix this journal?

On Facebook, Daniel Laurison started this discussion. With his permission, I have reposted it:

Sociologists, how would you change/improve the journal submission & review process, if you could? I’ve recently become an editor of the British Journal of Sociology, and we are making some changes to make things more sensible, transparent, and efficient. What would make submitting & reviewing better for you? Creative ideas welcome. So far, we’re:

  •  inviting authors whose papers have been rejected elsewhere to include the reviews & how they’ve addressed them. We all know papers often get shopped around until they find a home, and it seems to us there’s no need to start from scratch as if a paper doesn’t have a history.
  • making our initial ask for reviews in 2 weeks, rather than 30 days. Most of us submit a review within 2 or so days of whatever the deadline is, so this should speed up review time quite a bit. Reviewers who need longer can have it, but the default will be 2 weeks.

My additional suggestions:

  • Desk rejects: If you just don’t want to, reject now and let people move on.
  • Save orphan papers: If a paper can’t complete review after X days (90?), then the editors will terminate the review. If a paper can’t get reviewers, let the author move on to a new journal.
  • Editorial guidance: If the reviewers are in conflict, don’t just say “do your best.” Offer guidance about which reviewer seems to offer the best criticism.

How do you think peer review should be improved? Use the comments.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

July 5, 2017 at 4:22 am

the professor’s omerta

Last week, we got into a discussion about advising relationships that don’t work. In the comments, Ashley Duester posted the following:

I have encountered a sort of code of silence and protectionism among professors in which they routinely engage what I can only refer to as “pledges of loyalty” to the college of professors to which they belong. That is, they defer to the advisor in question and refuse to offer advice or feedback on any written work or on the professor’s actions, which then makes it virtually impossible to find any honest advice about how to proceed. So I’m left with the question of “where to go?”

This is part of a larger code of silence among professors. The”loyalty” thing is part of what I like to call “the professor’s omerta.” I think there are good and bad reasons for this. Let’s go through them.

Good reasons: First, if you chose Professor X as your adviser, it is probably because they are an expert in your topic. For example, here at IU, I am not going to know more than Brian Powell about family or more about mental health than Bernice Pescosolido. So I would be super hesitant to take a student from them. Also, if you are professor X’s student, there is a good chance that they have invested a lot of time, money and effort. And you may not get the pay off if they move to another adviser.

Bad reasons: Professors are in a long term tit-for-tat repeated game. Tenure means that we will have to deal with each other for a long time. So we try not to piss each other off … well, at least the wise among us. So that bleeds into advising. I will freely admit that I would feel awkward if one of my PhD students bailed for another adviser. I hope that I am big enough to get over it, but many people wouldn’t. They’d hold a grudge and make their colleagues lives miserable. That is why it is hard to get professors to “defend” students or otherwise intervene on behalf of students.

What is your view on PhD advising? Use the comments!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street   

Written by fabiorojas

May 25, 2017 at 12:27 am

that gender studies hoax is dumb, but look at this business model

Today’s five-minute-hate is on gender studies, or people who dump on gender studies, depending on your POV. The short version for those of you not paying attention: A philosopher and a math PhD decided gender studies is dumb and ideological. They wrote up a jargon- and buzzword-filled article titled “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construction” and paid to get it published in a peer-reviewed journal no one’s ever heard of. Ha ha ha! Take that, gender studies!

This is a stupid prank that has already been taken down in about five different places. I’m not going to bother with that.

But in looking at the original journal, I noticed this crazy business model they have. The journal, Cogent Social Sciences, is an open-access outlet published by Cogent OA. It charges $1350 to publish an article, unless you don’t have $1350, in which case they’ll take some unspecified minimum.

Okay, so far it sounds like every other scammy “peer-reviewed” open access journal. But wait. Cogent OA, it turns out, is owned by Taylor & Francis, one of the largest academic publishers. Taylor & Francis owns Routledge, for instance, and publishes Economy and SocietyEnvironmental Sociology, and Justice Quarterly, to pick a few I’ve heard of.

Cogent OA has a FAQ that conveniently asks, “What is the relationship between Cogent OA and Taylor & Francis?” Here’s the answer (bold is mine):

Cogent OA is part of the Taylor & Francis Group, benefitting from the resources and experiences of a major publisher, but operates independently from the Taylor & Francis and Routledge imprints.

Taylor & Francis and Routledge publish a number of fully open access journals, under the Taylor & Francis Open and Routledge Open imprints. Cogent OA publishes the Cogent Series of multidisciplinary, digital open access journals.

Together, we also provide authors with the option of transferring any sound manuscript to a journal in the Cogent Series if it is unsuitable for the original Taylor & Francis/Routledge journals, providing benefits to authors, reviewers, editors and readers.

So get this: If your article gets rejected from one of our regular journals, we’ll automatically forward it to one of our crappy interdisciplinary pay-to-play journals, where we’ll gladly take your (or your funder’s or institution’s) money to publish it after a cursory “peer review”. That is a new one to me.

There’s a hoax going on here all right. But I don’t think it’s gender studies that’s being fooled.

Written by epopp

May 20, 2017 at 4:16 pm