Tag Archive: Academe


Thinking out loud…

As I prepare to teach a course in the spring called “Media Ecologies and Cultural Politics,” I’m weighing out the benefits and risks of opening the course to an online audience.

This would involve sharing the syllabus online (though not the readings themselves, which would have to be purchased or “found” elsewhere) and moving some of our discussions to a public blog, as opposed to using the password-protected, registered-students-only Blackboard software (which many courses at this university now use).

It’s not an online course, and much of the class would still take place in a formal classroom setting. But my hope is that the public dimension could enrich class discussions both by allowing others (around the world) to participate to some extent, and by making our public conversation more accountable and potentially more meaningful. Seems to me that a commitment to open-access education calls for this sort of thing.

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I owe regular readers an explanation for the lengthy hiatus on this blog.

As I had predicted would happen back in the summer, this semester turned into an extremely busy one for me.

Directing the Environmental Studies program at the University of Vermont is a large part of that busyness: it’s a large, interdisciplinary and cross-college program of nearly 500 undergraduate majors, which has seen its student numbers climb consistently over several years while faculty and staff numbers have actually declined. This has led to a barely sustainable staffing situation, though we are far from unique in that respect. Directing it involves a lot of advising (those 500 students) and overseeing of a somewhat complicated and highly individualized curriculum, reading and signing off on paperwork, organizing, leading and/or attending various kinds of meetings (in three different Schools and Colleges), overseeing the teaching of courses including our Students-Teaching-Students courses, putting out little fires as these arise on a somewhat regular basis, and so on.

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The state of higher ed

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has a good article by Tom Lutz on the state of declining education in this country.

While the University of California system is being hit particularly hard, the trends are the same at public institutions everywhere, including here at the University of Vermont (class sizes increasing, faculty positions not being replaced, positions being cut, etc.).

Lutz writes:

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Beyond blogs… to where?

Ian Bogost throws out a challenge to us (bloggers) all: How should blogs evolve? What kinds of media do we want for our thinking, writing, debating, communicating?

In other words, rather than celebrating what blogs allow us to do, or lament the knee-jerk negativity they still elicit in some (notably, academic) circles, and rather than merely taking them for granted as we’ve received them, how can we make them do what we want them to do? And if we can’t, what can we (eventually) replace them with?

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digital agora

Levi Bryant has an interesting post on how the internet is changing the way philosophy gets done. For Levi the web, despite its drawbacks, represents

“something of a dialectical synthesis between the Athenian agora and text. Any idiot gets to speak and participate in discussion, and audience is no longer an audience of fellow scholars within a discipline, but whoever comes along and has something interesting and intelligent (hopefully) to say. As a consequence, the sorts of dialogues that emerge in print are no longer determined by the gate-keepers of elite journals, conferences, or the pedigree of schools, but rather are the consequence of the formation of collectives that are borne of people that would like to talk a bit more with each other. Not only do we witness the emergence of electronic journals and presses devoted to rendering intellectual labor a dimension of “the common”, of that which is owned by no one, of that which is readily available to everyone who is able to click on a link, but all sorts of new possibilities emerge within this common as well. [...] It is now possible for graduate students to engage with established thinkers one on one whether through email or through blogs.”

And over time, I’m sure (it’s happening already), those among the established thinkers who engage with these electronic-pioneering graduate students — blogging philosophers and cultural theorists like Bryant himself, Harman, Leiter, Shaviro, Jodi Dean, Henry Jenkins, et al — will grow in influence, while those who don’t will gradually fade away.

I don’t think the open-access internet will ever become the sole venue, and probably not even the primary venue, for philosophical and critical thought. Specialized journals and elite societies with their gatekeepers and credentials-checkers will continue to play an important role, because they perform a useful function and because the academic profession requires that sort of thing. But the two will grow into a kind of symbiosis with each other. So tomorrow’s Socrates and Zeno will be debating in the electronic agora as much as they will be lecturing in the academy, and Epicurus and Plotinus will be blogging the daily regimen from their philosophical communes. Traffic will flow smoothly and steadily between the streets, the teahouses and libraries, and the deserts and monasteries to which the empire’s refugees have retreated. (Or ecosteries, rather, where the practicalities of sustainable living will be figured out as society redesigns itself for a post-carbon future. A sweet thought in a time when the gushing blackness of oil seems bottomless.)

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With all that in mind, it’s good to see Progressive Geographies, Archive Fire, Critical Animal, and others chipping in to the Vibrant Matter blogathon (which is becoming ever more spread out, including on this week’s host blog, Philosophy in a Time of Error).

And good, also, to see the continuing activity everywhere on the Middlesex crisis — which reminds us that without the academy the digital agora, at least its philosophical wing, risks losing its muscle, if not its raison d’être. Philosophy still needs the intensity of face-to-face discussion, debate, close mentoring, and the institutional grooming that goes along with it.

Still, it’s nice to dream of a world in which philosophy and the liberal arts aren’t seen as unprofitable appendages left over from an era of bloated welfare states (a neoliberal narrative that is deeply problematic), but where they are vital nodes within a culture of social and ecological transformation — not because philosophy feeds social change in some direct, instrumental way, but because of a shared recognition between philosophers and activists of how and why it is that we have come to live in a world of oil spills and economic crises, and how and why it could be all different.

a year of immanence

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The first anniversary of the launch of this blog passed quietly a couple of weeks ago. (The blog space existed as far back as May of 2008, but I didn’t put up my first substantive post until last December.) Since it’s coming around to the end of December and I’m about to take a holiday for a couple of weeks (though I might try to round up a guest blog or two), I thought it appropriate to provide some reflections on the first year of this blog, accompanied by some statistics about its growth and a thought or two about its future.

1) Blogging is enjoyable

So much should be obvious… Blogging provides the cheap and quick satisfaction of seeing one’s thinking materialized as an object out there in the public world of internet space. It’s a bit like having your own op-ed column, but with no restrictions on length, style, format, etc. And unlike other forms of publishing, there’s no need to send queries out to editors, wait days or months for feedback, revisions, and all the rest.

It also allows one’s thinking to take on multiple forms — textual and visual/graphic, conventional and experimental. It provides an easy forum for artistic expression, which can be as simple as the appearance of the blog, the choice of fonts, imagery, etc. Philosopher Graham Harman has kindly referred to this blog as “that visually soothing elvish forest of the blogosphere.” Providing a soothing elvish forest to anyone visiting is one of the best things I can hope to have done here. (Thanks for the kind words, Graham.)

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Bourdieu wins academic Olympics

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The interactive citation analysis tool Tenurometer has taken the measure of academics around the world and, according to their calculations, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu comes out on top, edging out Noam Chomsky and Jean Piaget, who pick up the silver and the bronze.

Well, not quite… That’s what appears in the “g-index” ratings, which give more weight to publications with many citations — though Bourdieu and Chomsky are running neck and neck. In the “h-index,” Bourdieu is well ahead of the rest of the pack. But certain key details — like describing Chomsky’s field as “religion,” a topic he pretty studiously avoids, or the fact that there’s a suspicious overrepresentation of computer scientists on the list, or that once I’ve conducted a search on someone, that name mysteriously appears in the top 50 list (with the disconcerting exceptions of Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Marx!), and if I search for the same person twice, I get different results — make it all a little less than convincing.

It seems that Tenurometer is still a work in progress, being both continually revised and continually added to, in Wikipedia fashion. As the FAQ page explains, “Tenurometer leverages the wisdom of the crowds to collect data about the various disciplines. The data will be made publicly available.” So in addition to the obvious incompleteness of the database, the disciplinary tags — which are used for the discipline-specific “h_f index,” will, for now at least, be particularly unreliable.

But this means that as of today, the top 50 G-list now includes David Harvey, Gilles Deleuze, Martin Heidegger, Paul Ehrlich, and a handful of others, only because I searched for them. (And it fails to include Foucault, as mentioned, or Malinowski, Marx, and Freud.) Over the same several minutes I’ve been at it, I’ve also noticed Humberto Maturana’s and J. J. Gibson’s names appear — so someone else searched for them. You can even follow the additions on Twitter.

So: here’s an invitation to readers to download Tenurometer to your browsers and start searching for your favorite authors, so that they can each get added to the database — and a warning to tenure review committees not to take this tool very seriously, at least until it gets filled in with a lot more detail. (I also haven’t looked into what information it collects from you once you download it, so download at your own discretion.)

For now, Bourdieu remains in the lead, in both the G and H races. For more info, see Inside Higher Ed‘s story on it.