The Conservative Social Scientist: What AcademicTorrents Says About the Social Sciences » Cyborgology

When you search for Foucault on AcademicTorrents

When you search for Foucault on AcademicTorrents

The Social Sciences –despite the widely held notion that we’re all a bunch of Marxists that will turn your children into pinkos– are incredibly conservative when it comes to their own affairs. Our conferences are pretty traditional, we took a really long time getting around to noticing that the Internet was A Thing, and if you take a Social Theory 101 course you’re more likely to read Durkheim than bell hooks. You can blame it on tenure, fear of action, or simple lack of imagination, but the analysis remains the same: rarely do our articles’ prescriptive conclusions make it into our day-to-day practice. When I read that a couple of students from the University of Massachusetts had launched a torrent site to share data I knew it wouldn’t be social scientists. Not necessarily because we don’t have the expertise, (more on that later) but because we so rarely seem to have the will to act. Its always the engineers and the natural scientists that come up with faster, cheaper, and more egalitarian methods of sharing data and promoting their work. What gives?

 

The Conservative Social Scientist: What AcademicTorrents Says About the Social Sciences » Cyborgology.

Selling the Social Sciences

“If it weren’t for all of you I would have lost my mind at my job.” Its a familiar refrain that I hear at lots of small conferences and, occasionally, on Twitter backchannels. Its an amazing compliment to hear that your weak tie with someone means so much, but its also an immensely troubling prospect. Hundreds (maybe thousands?) of highly trained professionals have serious misgivings about their professional associations, their home institutions, and maybe even their life’s work. I had heard variations on this theme most recently this past week when I helped out at the (really, really cool) Engineering, Social Justice, and Peace Conference hosted here in Troy, New York. The conference was attended by an array of people: engineers, educators, activists, and social scientists like myself. Some people worked in industry, others in academia, and a significant portion worked for NGOs like Engineers Without Borders. And again, I just want to reiterate: No single person said the exact phrase above, and I certainly don’t want to (mis)characterize any of the attendee’s personal feelings about their jobs or work. Rather, what I witnessed at ESJP is more accurately characterized as a feeling of “coming home.” Think of it as the positive side of the same disaffected coin. This anecdotal trend was in my mind when I read this Seattle Times articleabout social scientists finding new and inviting homes in tech companies. Are social scientists finding better intellectual homes in industry than in academia? Or am I connecting two totally separate phenomena? Is it just the pay? More to the point: can social scientists do more and better things for the world working in Silicon Valley than the Ivory Tower?
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Overcoming Tote Bag Praxis

The TtW12 Twitter back channel. Photo by Rob WanenchakTheorizing the Web 2012 was great. Everyone involved did a bang-up job. I certainly learned more in a single day than I usually do at weekend-long establishment conferences. I have said a lot about conferences (herehere, and here) as have fellow cyborgologists (SarahNathan, and PJ). All of these posts have a common thread: academia is changing, but conferences seem out of date in some way. They are needlessly insular, they rely on hefty attendance fees that are increasingly cost-prohibitive,  and they rarely take advantage of social media in any meaningful way. The relative obduracy of conference styles come into high relief once they are compared to the massive changes to institutional knowledge production. Universities have adopted many of the managerial practices of private companies. They are also acting more like profit-seeking enterprises: putting massive resources into patenting offices and business incubators, hiring less tenure-track teaching staff, and employing armies of professionalized managers that run everything from information technology services to athletic facilities. Conferences, on the other hand, have seen few innovations beyond what I call Tote Bag Praxis. 

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