Diversifying the Network

In one of the first meetings I had with my dissertation adviser, Karen-Sue Taussig, she recommended that I read Catherine Lutz’s “The Gender of Theory” and “The Erasure of Women’s Writing in Sociocultural Anthropology.” (If you haven’t read them, go read them right now.) Lutz makes two interrelated points: despite the number of women working in sociocultural anthropology, they tend to get cited less frequently than men, and when they are cited, they’re cited as providing empirical evidence that supports an argument rather than theory that can be tested or employed. (And if you think that was a problem of the 1980s and 1990s, you can read the follow-up, “The Problem of Gender and Citations Re-raised in New Research Study” [although the link doesn’t seem to be working…] and then mull over what’s really going on in pieces like this.) At the age of 25, and a few years into my graduate studies, I might have been in just the right frame of mind for such an intervention. It resulted, immediately, in a hyperawareness of my citational practices — and shaped the kinds of questions and projects I wanted to pursue.

One of those projects has been steadily diversifying the network, both personally and professionally. In 2017, I was asked to comment on an early version of Nick Kawa, José A. Clavijo Michelangeli, Jessica L. Clark, Daniel Ginsberg, and Christopher McCarty’s “The Social Network of US Academic Anthropology and Its Inequalities,” and reading its final version was a stark reminder of just how much work is to be done. If you ever wanted evidence of that, here’s Kawa et al.’s data rendered in one handy image:

kawa social network us anthro.png
A network analysis of Ph.D. placements of tenure-track faculty based on where their degree originates and where they were hired. See more here.

Here are some practices to consider if you want to disrupt the reproductive tendencies of the discipline at every level. My guiding principle is that power is meant to be subverted, and whatever meagre institutional and reputational power I have should be used to make more inclusive social and institutional networks.

Every year when I’m pulled back to the American Anthropological Association meetings, I make sure that I participate in two panels. One has to include a majority of people who I’ve never been on a panel with before; and one has to include at least 50% recent Ph.D.s (or in-progress ones) and contingent faculty or “independent scholars.” Sometimes both of the panels meet both of the criteria. I’m not sure that I have much draw on my own, but whatever draw I have should be shared with less secure or established scholars than myself. Beyond that, I want to be exposed to ideas and research that I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. I can read my friends’ work any time, but curating a panel with strangers on a topic of my choice lets me engage with new content and publicizes it for others. It also means that my network grows in these AAA-related spurts, and I’ve watched my network permanently diversify over the years through this practice.

If you keep having the same conversation with the same people, something is wrong. Even if those people are diverse, if the network stabilizes, it’s not being as inclusive as it could be. It can be hard to exclude old friends from conferences, workshops, special issues of journals, whatever, but if the collective project is to diversify the network, they should be doing the same thing to you. And this leaves you open to be included in other people’s efforts. Stale networks are pretty obvious, both from the inside and the outside. My guiding rules are a place to start to disrupt reproductive tendencies, and I’m sure that employing them will help refine a system that works for other people.

If someone asks me to do something and I can’t, I suggest a junior scholar or someone at a non-elite institution (or both). If I can’t do something — a talk, peer review, a conference panel, whatever — I always try and make sure that I provide at least three names of people who might fit the role. My preference is always for younger people than me, although I’m very sensitive to my ability to say “no” and the obligations younger scholars fell toward saying “yes.” That said, I will commit to doing something even as over-commitment if I know that the next person to be asked is someone who isn’t as diversity-focused as I am. Better a white person with an eye towards diversification than one who isn’t diversity focused (or at least that’s how I console myself).

I don’t just count citations; I also consider how a citation is being used. This is true for syllabuses and publications. I tend to start syllabuses by piling up books and articles that I’m sure I want to include in a class, and at that point make sure that the foundation of the class is diverse (i.e. at least 50% books by women, with attention to minority status ensuring that 50% of the books are also from authors from underrepresented backgrounds). After I put the rest of the syllabus together, I go through it and make sure that it’s diverse throughout. In cases where I have to include a dead, white, male writer, I make sure that the texts around that person are by other kinds of writers. I tend to make sure that 60% of a syllabus is comprised of non-white male contributors. I also try and make sure that theory and evidence are supplied equally by all of the contributors to the syllabus. (If you think that teaching the canon means only teaching dead white guys [or living ones], just remember that it’s not in the canon if it hasn’t reached the point that non-white, non-male scholars are discussing it!)

In terms of publications, I tend to make a first pass through the manuscript citing as few people as I possibly can. Part of that is pragmatic — I don’t want to get hung up on inserting citations, and if there’s a lot of new stuff I’m planning to cite, I prefer to do all of the data entry and management during the revision process. But the other part is that I learned in the past that I over-cite. I would tend to cite too many things and then have to remove them to reach the word limit I was shooting for. I found that having to remove citations was harder than having to put them in afterwards, and that working this way helped to see who I really needed to cite. Moreover, it meant that when I was inserting citations, I could be more deliberative about who I was citing for what. Like with my syllabuses, when I do have to cite a dead white guy, I try to ensure that the citations around him are more diverse. And when I have to engage with a lot of white guys, it’s usually because I’m doing some critique…

All of these citational practices are aspirational, and I’m sure that not all of my publications meet the criteria I’ve set for myself over the years. That might be hypocrisy, but it’s also due to requests from peer reviewers and editors to cite certain work and the stark reality that working in some corners of academia means there are limited sets of scholars to engage with. The solution to the latter is to develop frames for one’s work that are capacious and bring in perspectives from feminism, critical race studies, disability studies, class-focused research (not just Marxism), and postcolonial studies. The solution for the former — sometimes — is to just not cite those people, despite requests (which gets easier to do with seniority).

When serving on hiring committees, one of the implications of Kawa et al.’s research is the need to make sure that the committee is institutionally diverse. One sure way to at least contest the dominance of particular departments in the placement of Ph.D. holders into tenure track jobs is to have people who aren’t from those institutions serving on hiring committees. If your department lacks people that fit this criteria, have a faculty member from another department serve in a non-voting, consultative role. I served on a committee like this years ago, and it was helpful because the person from outside of Anthropology couldn’t have cared less about the institutions that people were coming from since his discipline had different elite institutions; he helped to focus other committee members’ attention beyond institutional backgrounds. If that sounds uncomfortable, you could have someone go through all of the applications and redact institutions, people’s names, and acknowledgement sections. (If there isn’t an Adobe macro for this, there should be…)

I’m convinced that underlying a lot of the resistance to change in the academy is a fear of being displaced in the present and the future, especially in the context of fears about the end of the tenure system and job scarcity. Wholesale displacement is unlikely, but some marginalization is inevitable. But that’s in relation to a century and a half of dominance in the university by white, male voices, so it’s relative to total dominance. Incrementalism can get a bad rap, but when the allies in power are faced with their own potential obsolescence, a gradual approach can make important headway while ensuring that the threats to individuals are mitigated. Changing institutions is a long game, and keeping the end point in mind while addressing the concerns of the present is one way to ensure that change will come, however gradual it might be.

These practices are a start towards diversification. If you have other suggestions, post them in the comments or provide links.

Introversion in the Age of Relentless Academic Self-Promotion

I am, by all accounts, a bit of an introvert. I’m awkward at groupings of more than four people and dislike parties of any size. I’ve made a career out of feeling more comfortable around books than people. And, in terms of my career, I’m nervous about every first day of class and don’t like talking about my research and writing in contexts larger than a group dinner (and even then constantly worry about talking too much). I can be comfortable — sort of — in the role of lecturing, giving a colloquium talk, or doing fieldwork, where it’s not about me or I have a performative frame that I’m comfortable with. Even writing this is difficult; if you look at the archives of what I’ve written about in the past, even the personal stuff is pretty clinical in its detachment.

dad-watching-from-the-old-lodge.jpg
That’s a beaver hiding in a lodge. I’ve borrowed this from Cheryl Reynolds and Martinez Beavers.

But I started thinking about my introverted tendencies lately because I found myself writing about myself in two book manuscripts in ways that I hadn’t previously. The first, about neurological disorders, had me brushing up my personal history with dementia and sensory and speech impairments. The second, about speculative fiction and social theory, had me dipping into my past to think about what I was reading, where I was reading it, and why it made sense in its moment. Those experiences, in turn, got me thinking about the intimacy of getting to know an author through the written word, a relationship that’s uneven, but something that I have enjoyed as a reader throughout my life. In the age of social media, that relationship-building seems more apparent on Twitter than it does in books and articles, as the demands of neoliberal self-presentation heighten self-promotion in one medium and performed objectivity in the other.

Around the same time, I was watching an academic friend using social media to promote a forthcoming book. He tweeted several times each day, on and off the topic of the book, and garnered tons of likes and DMs. Knowing him personally, I knew he was more like me than not — a bit of an introvert, but more seasoned through decades of experience. He was able to overcome those introversion tendencies to engage — at least unidirectionally — with interested readers. I bought the book — and I’m sure a lot of his other followers and friends did too — but I’m not sure that I would have pre-ordered it if it hadn’t been for his relentless use of social media leading up to its publication…

Which, in turn, had me thinking back to a conversation with a publicist when my first book came out. She recommended that I open a Twitter account, set up a Facebook author page, and tweet five times each day and post on the Facebook page once daily. I think I managed that for about a week or two before I couldn’t bear to do it anymore. It took me years to not feel bad about failing my publicist in that way, and years more to feel comfortable using blogging as a substitute for the publicity machine that she suggested.

Part of my being okay with my failure at self-promotion is that — like so many academics — I’m not in it for book sales. But I am in the profession for the conversation (and, since I’m what psychologists call “disagreeable,” the arguments too, but those seem harder to find). So when I find myself drawn to self-promotion (usually through Twitter, since self-promotion seems to be 50% of the medium and we’ve collectively agreed to that), it’s usually because I so want to have a conversation about something I’ve just published.

After six months of thinking about this post, I finally committed to write it — not because I felt like I had profound insights into my introverted self and how to manage an ethical and sensible web-presence, but because I didn’t. (The one tiny bit of advice I’ll share, and this is from Jean Langford, is to “pick your fidget” — if you’re going to fidget during a presentation or while teaching because it relieves stress, just pick one thing to fidget with. I empty my pockets and get rid of any easy distractions just in case, which means my fidgeting is usually confined to moving my feet in particular ways.) But I know I’m not alone. So many people are drawn to academic work precisely because they’re introverted, and based on what I can tell from the internet, they seem to deal with the same challenges that I do, albeit with variations. On some level, it’s possible to succeed being an introvert in the academy (since, it seems in a world of introverts, being able to manage one’s introversion is a real asset). On another level, maybe it goes to show how in a world of relatively introverted professionals, a little performed extroversion goes a long way.

That said, whenever I do the obligatory self-promotion that comes with an article, a  colloquium talk, a conference presentation, a book, a podcast — whatever — I still struggle with being uncomfortable about talking about any success, however marginal. Part of that discomfort is based on a deep knowledge of the contingency of any success — from growing up relatively privileged, to the luck of the draw with peer reviewers working out for me, and everything in-between. There’s no mitigating those benefits, other than through their subversion wherever and however I can.

I’ve also come to realize that building intimacy between authors and readers is not just a mechanism for selling books and driving downloads of an article, but also a necessary political praxis. So often it is women, people of color, and minorities who are compelled to give an account of themselves, and white, heterosexual men sit silently by. I have always been interested in the institutional ethnography of the US academy, which this blog has represented, but I’m increasingly interested in the affective qualities of the institution and how it shapes people (hence a new little book about peer review [which, I guess the mention of is a little self-promotional]).

I’m still struggling with wanting to delete this whole post. I’m going to accept that as an indication that I should do the opposite.

The Ethics of Peer Review in the Age of Adjunctification

Academics inhabit a world in which the difference between having an article published or not can mean the difference between landing a tenure track job or not. Later in an academic’s career, the difference between one or two articles and a few might mean the difference in earning tenure or not. Peer reviewers are often in the position to make decisions that can change people’s lives. So why does peer review often take so long — months and sometimes years? Committing to timely peer review is a vital ethical resolution that might significantly change the academic landscape.

dkng-hitchcock_big

Recently, peer review has become the subject of some discussion in the academic blogosphere. Some academics have argued for the ability to track versions of an article after publication, so that corrections could be made to online versions after publication, thereby leading to commenters providing positive rather than negative reviews. Others have suggested that a quid-pro-quo approach might lead to more timely and careful reviews. Regardless of the overall structure of how academic publishing happens — and I do think online, easily amended articles is a great idea and might significantly change citational practices — every peer reviewer could make a change for the better by committing to turning in a peer review within two weeks of being asked to review a manuscript.

Two weeks might seem arbitrary, but here’s my reasoning: if it takes longer than two weeks to get around to doing something, it usually takes a very long time. That is, most of us are pretty good at scheduling in the short term — a week or two — but when it comes to scheduling beyond the next month, things get nebulous. When an article manuscript falls into that nebulous beyond-the-next-month period, it’s probably going to get lost in the shuffle. And when it comes time to read it, it’ll probably be because an editorial assistant is hounding you and not because you scheduled to read it in two months’ time. This means I’m always scheduling a peer review, even if I don’t have a manuscript on hand. If I don’t get asked to do a peer review, then it’s no big deal. But I’m ready if I am asked and don’t feel put out by the work.

Elsewhere, I’ve suggested the qualities that make for a productive peer review — generally, it boils down to helping the author make the most of the manuscript at hand. It might not be suitable for the journal that you’re reviewing for, but that’s usually up to the editor to decide. For the reviewers, the question is: what would it take for this manuscript to be published as an article in this journal? Answering that question might take a couple of hours of work — reading the article and writing up comments — and I would guess most of us spend two hours a day reading the news, checking social media, playing video games, or otherwise distracting ourselves from work. That can all wait; people’s careers can’t. Why not just commit to using that time for one’s peers, and when taking a break from one’s work, working for someone else?

We’ve all had long waits for peer reviews to come in, confusing editorial recommendations, and egregious publishing experiences, which has led me to develop these peer review practices, which might work for you too:

1) I always turn a review around in 2 weeks or less. If I don’t know the journal, I’ll take a few minutes to scan a couple articles to see if there are particular conventions in the journal’s published articles, just so I’m on the right page. I usually read a manuscript one day, taking notes while I do so, and then write the review the next day. If particular concerns nag me over the day, I’ll go back and read specific sections of the article again, just to make sure I read it right. My reviews tend to be 1-2 single-spaced pages, and focus on what it will take to make the article publishable. No snark, no random free association. Even if a manuscript is publishable as is, I still take the time to write up a review of what the author has done right, just so if some other reviewer has a different opinion, the editor and author have a sense that at least some readers are on the author’s side.

2) I never agree to review more than one manuscript at a time. If something comes in that I really want to review, I quickly review the manuscript already in my peer review queue and then agree to review the new manuscript.

3) If I can’t turn a review around in 2 weeks, I just say no to the invitation to review. Similarly, if the manuscript is way outside of my wheelhouse, I’ll also say no. But whenever I say no, I try and send the editorial assistant 3-4 names of other people who might be tapped for a review (no need to thank me, friends!); often, junior faculty aren’t really on the peer review map until they have a few publications under their belt, so it can be a benefit to both the reviewer and reviewee to send a manuscript to an untapped junior scholar (doing peer review makes people better writers… trust me on this).

4) If I’ve agreed to review the manuscript and find that I can’t be a kind peer reviewer for some reason, I get in touch with the editor and ask him or her to find a different reviewer. If this happens in the first two weeks that an article is out for review, it’s no big deal for the editor to turn around and find a new reviewer. But if it’s three months into the review process, it’s very harmful to the author of the manuscript, since now they have to begin the waiting process all over again…

Even if your final assessment is that a total overhaul is necessary, knowing that sooner rather than later will allow the author to get on with the necessary work — which might mean finding another journal. In a work context where people have very little time to focus on their own research and writing, being able to schedule necessary revisions is critical.

You might be the fastest of a set of reviewers, and so things will slow down while the editor waits for another review or two to come in. But if everyone starts reviewing more quickly, the whole machine of peer review should speed up noticeably for everyone. Not only will the academically precarious benefit, but so should scholars throughout the academic life course. If you’ve ever experienced a slow review process, commit to making it better for others by being a timely reader. Or at least refrain from agreeing to read something you don’t have the time for.

The Future of Anthropology (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics)

ANTHARCH_jobgrowth

My partner forwarded me a short blog post about job prospects in anthropology looking better than they have been (started by The Atlantic), and we collectively began wondering whether there’s really anything to look forward to. And, the short of it is this: there isn’t. The number of Ph.D.s awarded annually has increased dramatically over the last 20 years (from 341 in 1991 to 555 in 2011, up from 472 in 2006 — a 17% growth) and the job projections at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show only a 21% projected growth in anthropology-related jobs. On the face of it, this might look okay, but when we look closer at the BLS numbers there are some things to be concerned about — and to prepare strategies for:

First of all is the actual number of jobs. The BLS lists the number of anthropology jobs in 2010 as 6100, with a total of 7400 by 2020. If the job growth is gradual, with ~160 jobs being created each year, that’s still ~300 anthropology Ph.D.s out of work in their field each year for the foreseeable future. And this assumes that the normal number of retirements continue, providing for the regular entry-level jobs that account for ~100 academic jobs annually (which is about the number of jobs posted annually on the AAA job center).

Second, when you look at where the jobs are projected to be, the BLS shows that most of the jobs will be in ‘professional, scientific and technical services’ (not education, but consulting), and that there will be shrinkage in jobs associated with ‘research and development in the humanities and social sciences’ on the order of 2.5%). The jobs associated with education (at all levels of higher ed — adjuncting and tenure track) only account for about 200 new jobs (if I read the table correctly). There’s also significant contraction in the number of jobs associated with the federal government (maybe related to human terrain work drying up?).

Most of the growth that’s projected is in ‘scientific research and development services’ — which, I’m guessing, means a lot of contract archaeology. Which is pretty much what the BLS says: ‘Archeologists should have the best job prospects in cultural resource management (CRM) firms.’ But, they warn, ‘due to the large number of qualified graduates and relatively few positions available, jobseekers may face very strong competition.’ (But this, I’m going to guess, depends on growth in the U.S. housing market, where archaeologists will oversee holes being dug…) They also shore up my summary, saying ‘job opportunities for anthropologists will expand in businesses, consulting firms, and other non-traditional settings,’ but that these jobs are going to be very competitive.

So, if that’s where the jobs will be, what can we do proactively to prepare for those employment possibilities?

We should probably slow down the number of Ph.D.s programs grant each year. If there’s continued ~20% growth in Ph.D.s granted, the growth projected by the BLS will only keep pace with the number of new Ph.D.s. And unless job growth continues at the same rate, it will quickly be surpassed by Ph.D.s granted (although there must be a ceiling to the number granted, I’m just not sure what that might be — especially since there seem to be more and more new Ph.D. programs… — who doesn’t want teaching assistants?). I’m not sure how Ph.D.s might be limited in the future, but it seems that at the level of the AAA some kind of ‘best practices’ could be developed — which would both ensure a diversity of institutions granting Ph.D.s (so it’s not all elite institutions) and rewards actual success (programs that only graduate 5 students each year, but most of them are employed should be favored over programs that graduate 20 each year and only get 5 employed). But that’s a pretty farfetched possibility… More realistically, students might take to heart the success of programs when selecting where they’ll go, which might lead to the same results, i.e. unsuccessful programs will wither while more successful ones grow.

More pragmatically, programs need to start training graduate students across the subfields to be able to do contract and consulting work, which requires a firm commitment to the professionalization of students that extends past preparing a pretty CV.

Mixed field programs might find ways for graduate students across the subfields to develop collaborative projects, both as term projects, but also as dissertations. Historical archaeologists and cultural anthropologists share many concerns, and teaming graduate students up to conduct collaborative work would prepare them for a future of working on research teams in consulting situations. And cultural anthropologists might think about ways to participate in and contribute to biological fieldwork, with both living and dead populations — which training in science and technology studies might prepare students for. Preparing multi-author papers will help prepare students for the possibility of team-written reports.

Programs might usefully invite local non-academically employed anthropologists for brown bag discussions with graduate students about locating and preparing for jobs in non-academic situations. Most academically employed anthropologists are fairly alienated from these realities, so finding mechanisms to make sure that graduate students aren’t is clearly vital. (If you’re a non-academically employed anthropologist and reading this, you should offer to visit your local Ph.D. granting departments for a brown bag lunch.)

With contacts in local non-academic organizations, students might look towards the possibility of developing local projects (maybe alongside their dissertations) with organizations that already employ anthropologists (Rachel Wright has a nice piece about this in a recent Anthropology News). Whenever I teach our graduate methods class, I have my students volunteer at local organizations — a trick I learned from Penny Edgell at the University of Minnesota. It helps students get their fieldwork feet wet, can result in an early publication, and it also helps them get a sense of how their professional career might involve working in a non-academic setting.

I’m sure there’s more to be done, but the low hanging fruit seems to be finding ways to prepare students for collaborative research possibilities (which cultural anthropology tends not to do, and that’s compounded by the meager funding opportunities that favor solo research) and to introduce them to non-academic employment possibilities. There must be more though — any ideas?

What’s Your Work Week Like?

I’ve long been interested in American overwork — something that sociologist Juliet Shor has been working on for decades, and which has been embraced by popular organizations like Take Back Your Time. What has gotten me thinking about it more recently is the structure of academic, tenure-track contracts, which often don’t say how many hours per week you’re expected to work. They’re often nine-month contracts, which means that we have summers off. And they specify that people should be splitting their labor over research, writing, teaching and service in some rough way (e.g. 25% for each of those). So while they may implicitly be suggesting that you should be working a 40 hour week, there’s really no oversight on how you spend your work time. That is, you can spend as much time working as you want — or as little — as long as you meet certain objectives (especially in terms of tenure promotion).

Since tenure anxiety is usually pretty palpable for junior faculty, they’re the most likely to overwork to try and meet tenure expectations (it doesn’t help that tenure requirements are often fairly vague, allowing for institutional interpretation). Add to this that a lot of academic labor has become ‘invisible,’ e.g. answering student or colleague emails, and work can fill every waking hour of the day.

And then there’s all the visible labor: teaching, course prep & grading, faculty meetings and meetings with students, grant writing, article & book writing, peer reviewing, campus & departmental service — am I forgetting something?

The irony is that academics have long been aware of how flextime and alternative work schedules actually extract more labor from workers. Which is all to say: I’ve become interested in cataloging how I spend my work time, and I’m hoping other people might be up for similar self-research. If you’re up for it, let me know and we’ll do a little interview to talk about what the expectations about your labor are and what your actual work week looks like…

Image