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06/07/2018

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Mitchell Aboulafia

Eric, I appreciate your taking time to comment on my piece, and the way you divvied up my post into six visions of philosophy was an interesting frame, but in reposting my article you left out sections that I believe would counter criticisms that you make. I ask those reading your post to read my original and decide for themselves.

Let me use your closing claim about elitism as an example of this sort of elision. You say, “Aboulafia's rhetoric is one that used to be espoused by gentlemen-amateurs in hierarchical societies annoyed at the upstarts (professional, rootless, meritocratic, etc.) who upend existing hierarchy (and the old-boy networks they sustain). But this rhetoric rests on a mistake. (Aboulafia recognizes it is a mistake -- "the system makes it too easy to substitute quantity for quality" --, but can't resist himself.) Most of the best philosophers (we know of today in our traditions) were manifestly addicted to writing their thoughts (in notebooks, letters, etc.). This is no surprise: philosophy is, in part, a written craft, which requires enormous amount of exercise even for those that have scaled -- sorry for the elitism, but I am addressing an elitist argument -- the peaks of our history.”

If one reads the whole piece I think it’s clear that there isn’t any throwback to gentleman-amateurs or elitism. A more accurate criticism would be that I am being utopian by suggesting that it’s worth trying to challenge our productivity-obsessed culture and profession. What you are seeing as a throwback is in reality aspirational, and in a progressive, not a reactionary, way. People, not just gentlemen, should have more control over their time. The piece is anti-elitist in trying to widen the sphere of inclusion for those doing (or wishing to do) philosophy professionally. You shouldn’t have to be hyper-productive, obsessively productive, to do well, to be a good (or even excellent) philosopher and to have a rewarding career as a professor of philosophy. In terms of the elitism business, a passage like the following one, which you didn’t include, shows the tenor and concerns of of the piece, and challenges your claim that my rhetoric is that of gentleman-amateurs.

“The productivity syndrome affects not only the lives of those who are on the tenure track or are tenured.  It is also part of the system that exploits contingent faculty.  How so?  One of the justifications for the universal salary and benefit discrepancies between tenure-stream and non-tenure-stream staff is that tenure stream faculty are more productive than their adjunct colleagues.  Just look at how many more articles and books they produce!  Of course if people with tenure were teaching 5 or 6 courses a semester at different institutions, their productivity presumably would take a significant hit.  Further, once someone has not produced much for several years, it becomes virtually impossible to find a tenure stream position because the assumption is, well, once a productivity loser, always a productivity loser.  How marvelously insidious.  A perfectly self-fulfilling and self-justifying framework for exploitation.  To add insult to injury, adjunct colleagues who do manage to write must send their work to journals that are overloaded with submissions, leading to massive delays in the peer review process.  This certainly hurts those with less work to submit more than those who can circulate several articles at once.  No doubt if people were driven less by the productivity principle, the peer review process would be more streamlined.”

One other quick point: I am certainly not opposed to research and writing, including doing a great deal of it. What I am arguing against is a culture that fetishizes productivity and judges success primarily in terms of quantity.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.

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