Friday, September 30, 2005


Rob on Ivan Tribble

Rob Macdougall has a brilliant post on recent debates, sparked by the pseudonymous Ivan Tribble, about the perils of academic blogging. (The post gives his extended answers to Rebecca Goetz's survey of graduate student bloggers.)

Rob makes two points worth making about reactions to Tribble. First, the Tribble kerfuffle shows how much the academic job market creates a culture of fear:
The job market is scary and stressful and competitive, of that there is no doubt. But I also think there’s a culture of fear in grad school that goes far beyond what is necessary or healthy. At least there is at our particular grad school, and I doubt that Harvard is alone. That fear is often fed by well-meaning career advice workshops and Chronicle of Higher Ed. columns. … For some people maybe recounting stories of job hunt disasters and pitfalls are cathartic, but I can’t stand them. I never needed outside help coming up with things to worry about.
Ironically, Rob adds, fears about the job market are accompanied by an illusion of control: it is because graduate students "cling" to that illusion that they are afraid of doing anything (like blogging) that might lessen their control over job prospects.

I will be the first to confess that I am not immune to this fear, but I've tried to argue before that blogging can be a way of overcoming fear of disapprobation, which has a dampening effect on intellectual life. And I've also argued that the anxiety graduate students feel about jobs is part of a normal phase of life: realizing it is normal might help us keep from going beyond the level of fear that is "necessary or healthy," as Rob puts it.

The second point that Rob makes--and he's so right--is that the Tribble column reveals how totalizing a claim academia makes on academic lives. The underlying insinuation of Tribble's column is that blogging hurts a job applicant because it appears frivolous, because it makes job committees wonder where a productive academic gets the time to send silly little missives into the oblivion of cyberspace. Rob argues that there is value--even intellectual value--in protecting our right to engage in pursuits that are not strictly utilitarian, that are leisurely, that are convivial. As Rob puts it:
What does disturb me about the Tribble article … is the tenacity of the idea, sometimes spoken, often just internalized, that as an academic you are not entitled to have a life outside of work. You lose your right to be frivolous. You are not supposed to have hobbies, to let your hair down with your friends, to geek out about comic books or the ouevre of Joss Whedon, to get into flame wars, whatever. That tendency has to be fought.
While reading Rob's post (read the whole thing) it occurred to me that his two major points are related. Why are graduate students so afraid of the academic job market? Because academia often encourages the belief that there is no life beyond it. The culture of fear goes hand in hand with a theory of academics as a no-leisure class. Perhaps the way to respond to Tribble is to reject both, and thus kill two errors with one blog.

Collective Improvisation:

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