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community of the jobless?

Breadth of fresh air, Helen, thank you for writing this and for posting it here. I hope people will read closely. Though I do not want to place blame on individuals, I appreciate your acknowledging the role senior scholars play in reproducing some of these dynamics.

I am the type who will email a scholar (senior or otherwise) to engage a conversation, thank them for their work, or ask for help. I am lucky to have had some very generous replies and formed important relationships through taking such 'risks'. The funny thing is that ultimately none of these have or seem to have the potential to actually help me 'professionally'. My experience with conferences is similar, to the point where, to my own detriment, I have little to no desire to attend large conferences such as the APA (for the reasons you describe). On the other hand, I attended a very intimate conference this spring where nascent friendships formed, some of which I expect will last a long time. Again, though, nothing about these relationships seem like the sort that will help me professionally. Perhaps it is simply the fact that I place far more importance on meaningful personal relationships and community building than I do on impersonal relationships of potential personal gain. But it seems as if community building and professional enhancement are almost antithetical to one another.

I found it interesting that the reference to Confucianism popped up. I suspect that Marx's name is perhaps a bit to 'loaded' for this forum. But it seems to me that both the 'means-to-end' social relation and the power dynamics that follow (in terms of social capital?) are some of the most basic and obvious problems that Marx diagnosed. I bring this up in the context of my experience of the antithetical relationship between professionalism and friendship/community. I think it's relevant, but I'll leave it there.


Prof L

The cynical truth is no one cares. Academic networking happens because people want academic jobs. And the easiest way to get an academic job is to make people think that you have prestige. To do that you either go to/work at a prestigious school or get close to prestigious people. So all this happens because people want to do philosophy and not die of poverty at the same time, and satisfying only the latter part of that desire is a challenge. No one needs academic events to make genuine connections. No one needs academy to do philosophy. In fact, it's likely that the sort of philosophy done in academic whatnots is bound to be a paragon of circlejerk -- and people usually need to endure this if they really want to do philosophy and not die of poverty at the same time. There is no solution to this other than making academy entirely egalitarian (which doesn't make sense) or replacing prestige games with an actual meritocracy (which is funny to even consider).

Helen De Cruz

Prof L, in some moments I feel cynically inclined as you say. Maybe all this professional socializing is instrumental to our aims of doing philosophy. But then, I do sometimes crave connection in my professional sphere and one recent joy in my life is to be able to travel and give talks again (ironic as I also am campaigning we should reign in our international travel and flying and reduce our carbon footprint). I was on a hiking academic retreat this summer and it was so wonderful. Over the years, I've made a few friendships in academia I very much value. In fact, receiving tenure was liberating bc I don't need to worry or second-guess myself that I'm doing this merely to keep myself afloat or to have potential letter writers.
But that's a luxury position. I used to be much more isolated. Making academia egalitarian won't solve the issue as long as there's job scarcity (cf Belgium, the Netherlands, where I worked, academia is much more egalitarian than in the UK and US and you still have cronyism etc.) Meritocracy--you know I'm skeptical, we can explain differential effects mainly by luck.

Mike Titelbaum

I just wanted to focus for a sec on this sentence: "Such relationships offer valuable goods: friendship, advice, information about the profession, maybe indeed even the difference between a job and no job." I think it's important, in thinking about academic relationships, not to overlook another whole set of valuable goods: their actual benefits to the practice of philosophy. My research and teaching have benefitted immeasurably from relationships developed at conferences, and from conversations had in person at conferences outside of the bounds of sessions. I could also relate numerous anecdotes about articles, conferences, edited volumes, etc. that issued directly from such relationships. I acknowledge all the biases and troubling power dynamics involved in these relationships, and the fact that I've benefitted from multiple types of privilege in my experience. I just think these conversations (and conversations about whether conferences should continue to be held in person) need to take into account all the important ways that professional relationships contribute to our field.

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