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« Academic philosophy and psychological well-being | Main | Experiences with copy-editors »

02/16/2016

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Derek Bowman

This is a nice post, and I find myself in agreement with the majority of points you make. But I want to emphasize two points that I hope you'll see as friendly amendments to your analysis.

1. In your discussion of Wood's "Part 4" you count up the score of merit vs dumb luck and suggest that they are in tension. But, at least in this instance, I'm not sure that's right. One way of consistently holding all those positions is to think that being philosophically excellent is usually necessary even to be seriously considered for a job, but that because so many candidates are excellent in one or more ways, it is impossible for "merit" to determine which of the many excellent candidates get offered an academic position. That means if you get a job you're almost certainly both lucky and excellent. (Of course this view is obviously in tension with some of Wood's earlier remarks in Part 2 - thanks for taking note of my commentary there).

2. You're absolutely right about the toxic nature of the view you describe - particularly the pair of commitments you rightly call "devastating": that an academic life is about the best life you could wish for, but that some people just aren't cut out for it. And I couldn't agree more that people who can't imagine doing anything else need to expand their imagination.

But I don't think you go far enough in identifying the problem with this view. It does not, I think, lie either with the view of philosophy as something more than a job (e.g. a vocation), OR with the view that some people aren't cut out for an academic career.

I actually think both of those things are true. An academic career, especially under current market conditions, require particular skills, dispositions, and - as you rightly note - social and economic resources that have very little to do with philosophical ability or excellence. And if philosophy wasn't something more than just a job, why should any of us waste our time with it? As a career choice, it's a pretty lousy bet.

The problem is rather with identifying the vocation of philosophy with the job of being an academic. We need more imagination, not in thinking about how to do something with our life other than engaging in philosophy - we need more imagination in how to continue to make philosophy part of our life outside of an academic career.

Stacey Goguen

Thank you for the amendments, Derek. I think you're right on point 1.

Ya and I think I see what you're getting at with 2. That could be it--that there's nothing pernicious in itself if you think of philosophy as a vocation, but that can only mean one thing: an academic career of a certain sort, then it starts getting problematic.

Stacey Goguen

I also want to emphasize what I'm trying to get at with talking about "endorsing" the MIV model. I don't think a lot of us are intentionally or deliberately doing it in many cases (though sometimes people are.)

And because I'm picking on Wood in my post, here's an example of how I have screwed up doing this, even when explicitly trying not to.

I was having a conversation with some fellow graduate students yesterday, and we are talking about the job market, and what sort of support we want and need.

At one point, I said something about why it's hard to be "successful" on the job market, and meant this is as shorthand for, "successful in getting a TT position, for people who want a TT position."
My good friend looks over at me and says, "You mean getting a TT position."
I say, "right."
She looks at me further, "That's not the only way to be successful on the job market."

And I realized, even when we mean a lot of this as shorthand: "job market" = "academic philosophy job market,"; "success" = "landing a TT position that hopefully is a good work environment," the constant use of this shorthand bolsters the already existing notions that leaving philosophy for a non-academic job is at best a consolation prize, and at worst, giving up on the good life. Through repetition, it implies that the academic philosophy job market is the only job market that mattes. So my friend was calling me out for continuing to use that language in a way that greases the wheels of the conceptual machine that implies that looking for non-academic work is a kind of failure.

And I think this creates a sort of a double bind for us--where to even try to articulate a lot of this stuff is to potentially add to its re-entrenchment. (And I think that is what Wood is trying to do in various places in his posts--pointing out certain ways of framing what we do, which he does not reflectively endorse.)

gradjunct

Wonderful post Stacey. I'll only add, with respect to your comments about Plan B-ing, that I must be in a very strange minority class. Not only is it the case that, despite having published in top journals, and having landed a full time (though not TT) job, I nevertheless have NEVER thought of myself having ANY innate talent for philosophy, or even as being very good at doing philosophy. Instead, I would say I do philosophy because it interests me endlessly, and for no other reason. It's the only thing I've found that fully satisfies and engages my mind. So I don't do it because it is the only thing I have ever been good at; but, at the same time, I really can't think of anything else, beyond low-wage labor, that I could do outside academia. Nothing out there interests me in the peculiar way that philosophy does. I wonder if there are not other people out there motivations like mine.

Pendaran Roberts

gradjunct,

I'm a similar way, very few careers/jobs are of any interest to me. In fact, it wasn't until I found philosophy that I was passionate about anything.

I'm a decent philosopher, but I don't do it for that reason. I do philosophy, because there is nothing else I enjoy doing (well besides the normal stuff everyone enjoys like hanging with friends etc).

I don't really care about money or having a ton of stuff, so it would be hard to motivate myself to work hard for any other career.

All this said, I also have a love/hate relationship with philosophy. I enjoy writing it, but publishing and job searching and the competition are all so stressful.

I wish I was born a decade or two earlier.

Stacey Goguen

I'm curious to hear more about what people mean when they say they don't really care about money. Does that mean, you don't care about making money above some average amount (like assistant professor ranges)? Or you don't care whether you really make a living wage at all, as long as you can do philosophy full time in some capacity? (My guess is the former.)

And I mean, this is something I myself said a few years ago: I'm doing this because I love philosophy, and I don't really care how much money I make.

And then I realized I was wrong, and I didn't really know what I had meant by it (maybe, I'm not primarily doing this for the money?). Because now, faced with the potential future of needing to adjunct at 3 schools to make a living wage, I suddenly care about money a lot more. I care about having good health insurance and medical care, and being able to save for retirement, and not needing to work 60-70 hrs a week in order to have a career in philosophy.

Stacey Goguen

I'm also curious to hear more about what people think about their current and potential future interests. I often hear people in philosophy say, "no other careers really interest me," and again, I myself thought something like this some years ago. There were no other careers that excited me, and no others that I could really see myself doing (happily).

And then a year or so ago, when I started talking to someone in another career field, I realized I hadn't really known much about that field, and the more I learned, the more it seemed potentially interesting. And then I thought about how I wasn't interested in philosophy until I had learned about it in college.
(That other field is now one my many Plan-Bs.)

So when people say that nothing else interests them, does that mean, "nothing else interests me now," "I can't envision myself being interested in anything else, even in the future," or "this is the only thing I know and am familiar with," or something else?

gradjunct

Stacey...having worked a lot of jobs in between high school and college, I know that most the work I would be able to get if I left academia right now would be jobs that would require about two weeks of training and then doing the same thing over and over as the years stretch on. Here, I am talking about factory work, retail work, or the service industry. Many people suggest that I should look into computer programming, but I know many people who are coders, I have seen what they work on, and it looks to me like absolute tedium. I lack the mathematical/logic aptitude for it, and I do not find it conceptually interesting. Other people have suggested that I should look into technical writing as a possibility. But I honestly cannot think of anything more tedious than writing instruction manuals, grants, and/or employee handbooks for a living. It's hard enough to get through a writing project, like my dissertation, where I cared about the subject matter. To make that kind of Herculean effort for something utterly indifferent to me, just does not interest me (to say nothing of the fact that every listing for a technical writing position that I have been able to find to date requires 5-10 years previous experience in the field). The only other options available to me would likely require me to go back to school to earn another degree. This is something I have neither the money, nor the time, to pursue.

Other options that might have interested me are philosophy related but practically unattainable, for instance, starting a philosophical podcast, or teaching philosophy in a charter/private high school, or writing philosophical works for the public audience (i.e. Alain de Botton)...etc

Part of my idiosyncratic job market problem stems from the fact that my B.A. is (i) from a tiny regional public school with no prestige, (ii) in the humanities. Also, my MA and PhDs are from public schools with little or no prestige. This severely limits the things I can do on the non-academic job market. If my any of my degrees was from an IVY or a top public, a lot of options would presumably open up both from the "good old boys" network, and because everyone likes having people with Ivy League degrees in house.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Derek: I like your suggestion that, "We need more imagination, not in thinking about how to do something with our life other than engaging in philosophy...[but] in how to continue to make philosophy part of our life outside of an academic career." And indeed, some ex-philosophers (Terence Malick) have gone on to make philosophical films, others have written philosophical novels, etc. I could also imagine (and know at least one example of) someone leaving academic philosophy but still publishing in academic journals.

But, I wonder, what other imaginative ways do you think we can make philosophy part of our lives outside of a philosophical career? I'm truly curious!

philm and filosophy

Marcus,
Incidentally, the film maker Duncan Jones also studied philosophy ... he was in the graduate program at Vanderbilt.

Marcus Arvan

Ah, yes, *love* Duncan Jones!

Derek Bowman

Marcus:

It's a really good question - one I'm still working on myself. I guess I have on the one hand an argument that we have good reason to hope such forms of engagement are possible, and on the other a limited list of potential examples. But when I say that "we" need to expand our imagination, I really mean that "we" in both the inclusive and collective sense: it includes me, and it's a kind of imagining that is best done in and across one or more communities of people thinking and working together.

The argument that it should be possible simply extends from the kind of experience that gradjunct describes above: being passionate about and good (even excellent) at something called "philosophy" and not being thereby prepared or well suited for the competitive process of networking, journal submission, and job applications. Add to that the fact that whether someone gets an academic job (and how many and where) is largely a product of factors that have nothing to do with philosophical ability or practice (e.g. how many faculty lines various provosts, deans, or university boards decide to fund). And finally, add my own experience of the utter disconnect between my own philosophical activity and whether and under what terms I've been employed.

Partial, suggestive examples include:
(i) various strands of the philosophy for children movement which, though it has some academic connections, involves resources for and from people outside of academic careers;

(ii) various philosophy in prison, or in women's shelters, etc which, though typically connected to people academically employed, are not essentially so;

(iii) Matt Drabek, who still engages with academic journals from an outside career http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2015/11/long-journeys-part-7-matt-drabek.html

(iv) Bharath Vallabha, who has engaged in his own philosophical reflections without concern with the journal system http://insearchofanideal.com/ and http://theroughground.blogspot.com/

(v) PhDs teaching at private high schools, including teaching traditional secondary school subjects in philosophically informed ways.

(vi) My own personal conversations with friends outside of academia with varying levels of philosophical sophistication and explicit theoretical machinery ranging from "none" to "the same thing I'd present in an advanced undergrad class".

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