Saturday, January 17, 2009

Is It Because Readership Is Down?

From Don Assmussen's Bad Reporter, my favorite comic strip. This week's gem is the first panel: "Obama to Close Gitmo - But Promises to Retain Its Online Presence".

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Am I R1? Or Just R1-Is-The-Loneliest-Number?

So I mailed my first ever job application yesterday, Priority Mail because the materials have to be in by this Friday. In the process of geting that appready, I started to muse about a few things. First of all, can a human being live strictly off of Fig Newtons? I submit that it may actually be possible -- and maybe even enjoyable. By the way, the "fig" in "Fig Newton" stands for "FrIckin' Good". Also, what is a fruit?

But what really got me to stop in the middle of Providence slush and take a minute was whether or not my time here at Brown has actually proven to me that I'm not an "R1" kind of researcher -- that is, a publishing machine who brings in tons of external grant money and commands legions of graduate students. I have meager accomplishments by R1 standards, I think. Actually, "meager" might actually be me avoiding the truth, since I'd think by R1 standards, I have no accomplishments. But I wonder more deeply whether or not I failed along the way to become R1 material or that somehow subconsciously I was steering myself towards what I thought my profs at Conn College were like -- independent scholars who were sort of unbound by data sets to milk or grant deadlines to meet (probably not true, but it seemed cool).

I should know better, of course. I do have memories, however, of a couple of my favorite profs going on long sabbaticals to write their books, which sort of indicated to me how the typical process of scholarly work supposedly went: you teach most of the time, you go on a long sabbatical and write a book, and then you come back and teach again. Actually, when I was younger, I was convinced that the publication process was when you write an article, someone criticizes that article, and then you compile that "conversation" and others into a book. Oh how naive was I.

But these past few weeks I saw my good friends pick up NSF grants, I read my friend's research statements, and just generally looked back on my experiences as a "researcher" and realized how strangely uncommitted I was to any particular topic or research project (mine or others). And I'm not talking about effort; I mean to say that I was never a "something-ist" nor was I ever continuously part of some big NSF-y team. As such, I was never part of a sort of publication mill, nor did I work with (or was attracted to) big data sets or flashy methods. But I never really had a substantive passion either, or even sort of a sense of daring-do that I think people who do really good fieldwork have to have. Also, since I'm so obsessed with my writing, I haven't been able to turn my own work into something publishable (now if dissertations were blogs... well, I'd still not be done!)

Anyway, I really wanted to write my research statement (I'll link the bastard for ya'll) like I wrote my teaching statement: personal, more passionate, and just plain better. And in writing my teaching statement, I reviewed my all-time favorite C. Wright Mills piece, the last chapter in The Sociological Imagination -- about being an intellectual craftsman (I guess now we should be craftspersons or craftspeople. Might as well be artesanos). He had this line that I didn't quite quite get as a piece of advice, until recently (though as a sort of philosophy of the discipline, it makes sense given what he wrote in the rest of the book):
Now I do not like empirical work if I can possibly avoid it. If one has no staff it is a great deal of trouble; if one does employ a staff then the staff is often even more trouble
and later, he basically speechifies:
Let everyone be his or own methodologist; let everyone be his or her own theorist; let theory and method again become part of the practice of a craft. Stand for the primacy of the individual scholar; stand opposed to the ascendancy of research teams and technicians. Be one mind that is on its own confronting the problems of the individual and society
Replace those periods and semicolons with exclamation marks and I think I might start crying. And this is certainly not what we mean nowadays when we talk about "independent scholarship". Mills wanted us, I guess, to be a little like him: a sort of a maverick, as we'd say now, who did his own work and justified it because it had meaning for the "big questions" of the day, and who didn't base his status off of the quantity of his publications, but their craftsmanship.

I'm not going to be C. Wright Mills, though what Mills advocated wasn't the R1 model, it'd seem. I think I do see my research as being more oriented towards this sort of individualism, that includes sort of these thinly-veiled fuck yous that Mills would write into his work (when he wasn't actually writing explicit fuck yous). I mean, I think like he suggested: take opposites, play with words, move stuff around in your files, I write to think and think to write, all that good stuff. And really, in terms of research "themes", I'm interested in historical irony and the strangeness of human agency, not in some three-headed monster of a research agenda that we all have to stick up front in our CVs or in these research statements. And sadly, I did not do the file thingy for my research statement; had I though, maybe I'd have written something different.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Missing Mural

This was one of those times when I should have used my mobile blogging powers, but as Elli drove me home today, we took 101 past Farmers Market and I noticed that the People Power mural that was on the side of a nearby building was gone.

Apparently, it's been gone since 2007 ( and shit, I wish I could find a picture for all you folks, but it was the first and maybe the only political mural that ever really affected me, that I was proud of. It featured people pushing back a tank (the tank's cannon ends at a grate in the wall), and on the left -- if I remember correctly), there was a hand holding a torch, smashing a bust of Marcos.

Fuck, I feel like I've lost something.