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Caligula's Goat

My own quick thoughts: a good conference should be equitble and inclusive but I'm not sure that an online, equitable, and inclusive conference can be a good conference. I participated in five conferences over the pandemic, including one of the APAs, and my experience in almost all of them is that most people only go to their own session/panel when the conference is online (keynotes being the exception though attendance at those, relative to # of people particiating in the conferences, is way down in an online conference). The thing I've always like most about physical conferences is what, for lack of a better term, I'd call "conference drift" (the tendency for people at a conference to wander into talks or spark up conversations with strangers when they have free moments).

So what's more equitable and inclusive? A physical conference that aims to create sessions that represent the diversity of philosophical thinking (western, middle eastern, east asian, african, analytic, continental, etc etc) and which also aims to be inclusive with respect to speaker intersectionality and where there's a lot of conference drift...

Or an online conference that's maximally accessible (it's easy to attend) and maximally inclusive but with very little conference drift (i.e., people attend only their own sessions such that panels are attended only by the speakers and moderators)?

Speakers are better served philosophically by in-person conferences. Conference drift and embodiment both contribute to good discussion that makes us better philosophers.

I suppose we can get more lines on CVs with online conferences though and if the conference is really small (i.e., one virtual room where all participants are asked to be present throughout the conference) then maybe you can design more boutique online conferences that could be productive (though boutiqiness works against inclusivity).

Marcus Arvan

@CG: You make some very good points, but I worry about a false dichotomy here. In the case of a hybrid online/remote conference, anyone who attends in person would still be able to experience what you call 'conference drift'--and there could well be good accommodations for remote presenters to have access to something similar online, such as "online lunches"/breaks to chat with other online attendees. Also, these are still relatively early days of online events, and as new forms of technology come out (such as virtual reality rooms, VR hotel lobbies, etc.!), online aspects of conferences might progressively come closer and closer to approximating the in-person experiences you mention.

Whether online presenters choose to avail themselves of these opportunities is of course up to them (and in my experience some online "get togethers" work), but at least if the conference is hybrid, everyone who chooses to attend would have opportunities to participate in broadly equitable, inclusive, and accessible ways (especially in comparison to traditional in-person-only conferences).

Caligula's Goat

You're right Marcus and here I think that maybe I'm exposing some of my own bad citizenship when it comes to online conferences. I know that, with the APA for example, I'm much more likely to attend other sessions, keynotes, social events, etc. if I'm physically there. In part because I'm outside of my normal context and so don't feel called upon to respond to student emails and teaching duties in the same way as if I'm basically just at home where other options (like spending time with my family) just feel harder to reject.

Speaking again only for my own experience with hybrid conferences (I've been to one where I was an online speaker), I definitely felt like the "real" action was in the room and I was more of a hanger-on (even when I asked a question). This, again, might just be me exposing more of my own psychology though, if we allow hearsay anecdata, this seems to be true with most of the colleagues in my department. This isn't to say that online conferences can't be good or that they shouldn't exist and although I won't make an armchair empirical guess about the profession about our relative preferences.

I will say this, however, in favor of online or hybrid conferences: it's much much easier to get our students involved in conference presentations when things are online. Although I seem almost always able to wrangle up enough funding to get myself where I need to go, such resources are much more scarce for graduate students and even more scarce for undergraduates.


Caligula's goat is right on the money. These on-line "conferences" are not conferences at all. They are a new medium and they are not necessarily a good development in philosophy. I doubt they will tackle the real problems around accessibility. Instead, what we will find is that these on-line conferences listed on c.v.s will count for very little. And the people who could not attend conferences before will find their on-line sessions have an attendance of 3.

no more zoom

Whenever philosophy events are moved online, they get much much worse—seminars, lectures, talks, whatever. Perhaps one day the technology will be good enough that that isn't so, but Zoom is *leagues* away from that. For my part, they're sufficiently worse that there is no point attending. I suspect a push towards virtual elements at all conferences, etc. is a push towards the death of conferences: every stilted interaction, every dodgy connection, even minute staring at another screen...all nails in the eventual coffin.

To whatever extent that these events should be more accessible, I hope the consensus doesn't insist that it's achieved via going online.

Conferences in person please

I agree with the skeptics. Between doing a zoom conference and just reading a paper or writing something or talking to my colleagues or taking a damned walk, zoom ranks pretty low on the list. My current position is that I will participate in read-ahead workshops that are virtual, but not conferences, unless they come with considerable stipends to offset the torture of spending a Saturday alone in my office.

Marcus Arvan

Just to be clear: I value in-person conferences a great deal, don’t want them to go away, and think it would be a shame if they did. But, I also think it would be good to have more online options—particularly hybrid conferences—so that people who can’t afford or otherwise attend in person conferences have good options. I’ve had to turn down so many good conference opportunities myself over the years due to lack of funding, and I’m in a relatively privileged position. There are many good academics out there who simply cannot attend conferences in person, and this seems to me a good way to ensure that they have good opportunities to present and discuss their work with others. And, as long as there are still in-person components to conferences, I don’t quite see what the downside/loss here is. If the real worry here is that this will lead to the elimination of in-person conferences, then that’s a serious worry—but I’m not sure how likely that is…

Grad Student

As a graduate student, online conferences have been one of the only good parts of the pandemic. I cannot express how much it has meant to me. I've seen more quality presentations and interacted with more scholars from all over the world than I ever would have otherwise. It's disheartening to hear that some would think to discount the value of an online presentation on a CV when there is very little difference in philosophical quality between in-person and online presentations. Online and hybrid conferences can be as good as in-person conferences, sometimes better, despite what some have claimed in the above. Many have very large audiences (and I don't just mean for keynotes). Some commenters clearly had bad experiences with video conferencing technology, or are burned out from having everything online, or are just Luddites. That's all fine, but we should still continue organizing online and hybrid conferences. They fill an important gap.

Still, I agree that many conferences should be entirely in-person with no online option. The dynamics change when things are broadcast online. As a graduate students, it makes presenting that much more anxiety inducing. It also makes asking a question more intimidating. And some of us simply prefer not to be recorded (a possibility that can never be ruled out when broadcasting to the world). I also like to travel. That was part of the career choice. And the amount I would travel to conferences in a year or two pales in comparison to the amount a junior consultant travels in a given month.

Online and hybrid conferences are clearly important for greater accessibility (for those with kids, the infirm, those with low income) and should continue. In-person only conferences are clearly important for meeting people and engaging in the various forms of low-stakes socializing that go with it. Refraining from broadcasting or recording a presentation can be important for fostering open dialogue. Recording in particular has a noticeable chilling effect on camera usage and questions from junior scholars.

Why can't we just continue to do all three things (which seems inevitable anyway)?

Early career

As an international graduate student, I have a mixed feeling about online conference. On the one hand, there is no denying that online events are more friendly to those lacking travel funds to present at every venue they’d like. My department offers less than 800 USD per year to support graduate student travels, which is far from enough to cover one trip to Europe, where many prestigious conferences of my field take place. On the other hand, however, I must also acknowledge that in person conferences feel so much more rewarding and enjoyable. It makes a huge difference to see and hang out with people in person, making new friends, grabbing a drink, and exploring ideas over delicious food.

Given my mixed feelings, I am going to adopt a mixed conference policy going forward: while continuing to sign up for online conferences, I will also reserve my research fund to attend conferences in person, especially those in which my friends and people I wish to meet would also attend in person.

Prof L

Online and in person events are just *different*. Also, there’s a peculiar kind of torture in watching a zoom talk in a lecture hall. Only in the direst of circumstances should this be an option— All conferences with in-person attendees should have in-person talks.

The fact of the matter is that there is *no good way* to have hybrid events. Sure, you can live-stream the event, but online participants are (and should be) passive participants, save a (moderated) question or two. It’s not substantively different than watching recorded lectures/events.

So please, let’s not try to hybridize all events. I really like the way zoom has opened up possibilities for online events (especially as a parent of young children and someone with extremely limited travel funding). I participate in those events, and have had great experiences. But this is a different medium with different norms of interaction, and smashing them together just doesn’t work.

UK Postdoc

I agree with many that online *conferences* are a bore, but I have been ejoying online *seminars* a lot since the pandemic. There are so many places around the world with weekly seminars in my AOS, which I would never have attended if they weren't streamed online. These seminars don't have the same kind of social aspect as conferences, so I think the downside is much less here.

Some of these only allow watching without participating, and I think that's the right balance: it allows in-person participants to be there, but still benefits watchers. If I have a really burning question I can always shoot off an email.

As a presenter, I also enjoyed the fact that friends and strangers around the world could watch my latest talk, although I imagine that anyone could request not to be filmed/streamed if they didn't feel comfortable.

Assistant Professor

I am somewhat disheartened by these comments! As Marcus says, "these are still relatively early days of online events" and there is so much room to figure out how to do them better. So when Prof L says "The fact of the matter is that there is *no good way* to have hybrid events," I worry that we are operating from a failure of imagination, and too reliant on the status quo. Remember, the status quo works for some, often those in privileged positions in our discipline. But it also isn't working for many others.

If we want to take seriously inclusivity in our field AND want to take seriously environmental impact, figuring out new methods for meetings is imperative. And if a goal of hybrid or online meetings is inclusivity and accessibility then it is unacceptable to make online registrants only "passive participants" who can watch but not engage - this is not inclusive!

I like some in person conferences, and I have also found some to be a waste of time and money, to be too likely to entrench existing power systems with no real opportunities for all the elusive "networking" and "feedback" people like to say happens at them, to be hierarchical, and cliquish. I have also found some online conference to be poorly run, boring, for me to be too distracted to be a good attendee, etc.

There are flaws with both - but it is fascinating how much the comments overlook the flaws of in-person and focus on what is wrong with online, when both can be improved and getting creative about the format and methods for conferencing would be a welcome development in our field, as would the opportunity such creativity and rethinking might bring to a project of truly reassessing and clarifying the goals and objectives of conferences (which may differ from conference to conference).

Prof L

Be disheartened all you want, Assistant Professor, but unless you have some grand idea for making hybrid conferences more feasible, the fact remains that hybrid conferences are a bad idea. They don't work. The problem isn't (just) the technology, it's the manner in which people interact with each other in these different contexts.

And of course online conferences are more inclusive and easier to attend. That's the point I was making. I welcome these kinds of conferences for precisely these reasons. But hybridizing in-person conferences *does not add much* in the way of inclusivity. Done well, it simply makes those conference talks available to those not in attendance to passively watch. Done any other way, it just makes the conference bad, and this is not a technological problem, it's a feature of people interacting in two entirely different formats and contexts that do not mix.

So if we care about inclusivity, we should have more high-profile online events. Like, make 2/3 of the APAs online, or (even better) all the APAs online. Have your subfield's national or international organization meeting fully online every other year. Or have a separate fully-online portion of the meeting. These are more reasonable pledges, because online events can be good——there's a tradeoff there, with accessibility/inclusivity and the quality of the interactions, but that trade-off is frequently worth it.

"Make conference organizers work 10x as hard to live-stream your event/record all talks just so people anywhere can watch it"—No, this is not a reasonable request, and it doesn't do what it purports to do (increase accessibility/inclusivity in any robust way), for the reasons I mentioned.


Prof L, hybrid events might fail to be "robustly" inclusive in the sense that online participants aren't able to engage in after talk chats in the hallway, etc. But asking substantive questions, and following up on them, is still a pretty valuable thing to do, and hybrid events that do that are inclusive enough, as far as I can tell. They still make one of the core activities available to the online participant.

Earlier you stipulate that online participants at hybrid events should be forced to be mostly passive and to not ask a lot of questions, but I don't think it's possible to provide a good motivation for this stipulation. You gesture at the issue of overwork for organizers, but speaking as someone who's fielded a lot of questions from online participants while speaking at an in person event - it's just a very easy thing to do. You look at the screen and read a line of text aloud, then do your thing, or you tell them to speak, hear their question, and then do your thing. It's just very much like interacting with the in-person questioners.

Prof L

"you stipulate that online participants at hybrid events should be forced to be mostly passive and to not ask a lot of questions"

...I didn't say that—I said that they *were* mostly passive participants. In my experience, most questions come from the in-person audience, and an online participant might ask at most one question, and most online participants ask zero. I think including them beyond that (having a person deliver a zoom lecture to a room of in-person participants) doesn't work well and is painful for the in-person participants.

If by 'hybrid', we mean part of the conference is fully online and the other part is fully in-person perhaps with streamed or recorded talks, then I'm on board. I just think trying to mix the two into one event either doesn't really work and or it doesn't increase inclusivity/accessibility in a meaningful way.

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