Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Category Archives: Professional Life

Hanging Comments

Just wanted to apologise to everyone for whom I’ve left comments hanging. I’ve got a brutal work schedule at the moment, and am also moving house, which has disrupted my net access considerably, so I’ve been online only for essentials. I’m hoping the net access issue will be resolved in the next week, and the work demands should also calm down as well, at least in relative terms…

Middlesex Philosophy

Updated 11 June – just to say that my ill-at-ease reaction to the partial resolution to the Middlesex situation has been posted in the comments over at Perverse Egalitarianism.

Just signal boosting the bizarre story most of you will have already seen on other theory blogs, about the inexplicable decision by Middlesex University to cut its Philosophy Department:

Earlier this afternoon all staff in the Arts and Education section of Middlesex University received the following email:

Dear colleagues,

Late on Monday 26 April, the Dean of the School of Arts & Humanities, Ed Esche, informed staff in Philosophy that the University executive had ‘accepted his recommendation’ to close all Philosophy programmes: undergraduate, postgraduate and MPhil/PhD.

Philosophy is the highest research-rated subject in the University. Building on its grade 5 rating in RAE2001, it was awarded a score of 2.8 on the new RAE scale in 2008, with 65% of its research activity judged ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. It is now widely recognised as one of the most important centres for the study of modern European philosophy anywhere in the English-speaking world. The MA programmes in Philosophy at Middlesex have grown in recent years to become the largest in the UK, with 42 new students admitted in September 2009.

The Dean explained that the decision to terminate recruitment and close the programmes was ‘simply financial’, and based on the fact that the University believes that it may be able to generate more revenue if it shifts its resources to other subjects – from ‘Band D’ to ‘Band C’ students.

As you may know, the University currently expects each academic unit to contribute 55% of its gross income to the central administration. As it stands (by the credit count method of calculation), Philosophy and Religious Studies contributes 53%, after the deduction of School admin costs. According to the figures for projected recruitment from admissions (with Philosophy undergraduate applications up 118% for 2010-11), if programmes had remained open, the contribution from Philosophy and Religious Studies would have risen to 59% (with Philosophy’s contribution, considered on its own, at 53%).

In a meeting with Philosophy staff, the Dean acknowledged the excellent research reputation of Philosophy at Middlesex, but said that it made no ‘measurable’ contribution to the University.

Needless to say, we very much regret this decision to terminate Philosophy, and its likely consequences for the School and our University and for the teaching of our subject in the UK.

· Professor Peter Hallward, Programme Leader for the MA programmes in Philosophy,
· Professor Peter Osborne, Director, Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy,
· Dr. Stella Sandford, Director of Programmes, Philosophy

Infinite Thought reposts (from Peter Hallward) a useful list of people to contact to contest this decision.

As you might expect we’re scrambling to put together a response, and to begin with we’re asking colleagues and friends to send a brief email or letter about the closure to the University administrators who have made this unexpected decision. If you have time to write such a message, please feel free to extract some points from a draft letter that is being sent to Times Higher Education, below.

The four people to write to are as follows:

Vice-Chancellor of the University, Michael Driscoll, m.driscoll@mdx.ac.uk;

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise, Waqar Ahmad, w.ahmad@mdx.ac.uk;

Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic, Margaret House, m.house@mdx.ac.uk;

Dean of the School of Arts & Education, Ed Esche, e.esche@mdx.ac.uk.

(The full set of emails is m.driscoll@mdx.ac.uk; w.ahmad@mdx.ac.uk; m.house@mdx.ac.uk; e.esche@mdx.ac.uk).

If you are able to send such an email, it would be helpful if you blind copied (BCC) it to our campaign email, savemdxphil@gmail.com.

Email (mis)Management

I’ve just spent the better part of the last three days answering student emails. I’m responsible for some large courses this term and, due to the last-minute finalisation of my teaching schedule, my name is also attached in various ways to courses I’m not teaching, so I’m the proximate target for several hundred students trying to get their term organised and off to a smooth start. At a staff meeting yesterday, one of my staff members teased me that I’ve taught half the catalogue in my time here, so students reasonably think they can contact me about any course on offer… ;-P

Student emails have cycles. One of the things that always strikes me about mails at the beginning of the term, is how many of them operate under the clear assumption that the only thing I do, is whatever I would do in relation to that particular student – that I teach only one course (and so the course doesn’t need to be specified) or that I only teach (so it should be obvious the mail relates to me as a teacher, rather than to me in various other roles). I spend hours sending out requests for additional information: who are you? what class are you taking? are you already registered? what are the details of your registration? This step then doubles the interaction, since they’ll reply, and I then need to respond to that. Sometimes we have to go round the bend again, if their response isn’t particularly forthcoming…

I’ve spent so much time on this, this term, that I’m seriously considering putting an auto-responder in place next term, that advises anyone who emails that I will need specific information before I can help them. This would prove mildly embarrassing when it responds to colleagues who are emailing for other reasons. But at this time of year, colleagues are perhaps 2% of my incoming email traffic – and presumably they can judge that I’m not demanding extra information from them before I’ll reply… ;-P

I’ve occasionally considered writing into my course guide that certain kinds of emails should never be sent. These are the ones that come later in the term: the ones that ask “Did I miss anything important today?” If the first type of mail causes me to want to go into Taylorist, assembly-line, auto-response mode, this second kind brings out my anarchistic tendencies – I’m always tempted to reply, “Well, there was a pop quiz worth half the course mark…”

But all this aside: I think mainly I’m just sort of shell-shocked at the quantity of email traffic generated while I am teaching. My inbox fills up – exceeds its capacity and starts bouncing messages – if I don’t log in and trim it every few hours… I type extremely quickly, but it still takes immense amounts of working time to slog through the backlog. There must be some better way of managing this… What do other people do?

Thesis Completion Seminar: Update

So just a quick update that yesterday afternoon I fulfilled the requirement of holding a “successful” Thesis Completion Seminar – basically, a one-hour presentation and Q&A session which is a hurdle requirement in order to become eligible to submit the thesis for examination. So: hurdle jumped.

I wanted to thank all the folks who came to lend moral support during the presentation (you guys didn’t all have to hide in the back, though, you know :-) – they would have let you sit up front :-) – but seriously, it was really good to have you all there).

Because this is a new requirement, I hadn’t known what to expect. It didn’t help that a certain sometimes commenter around these parts led the way with an absolutely terrifying presentation of their excellent research. I had been planning to speak much less formally – and, in fact, I did speak much less formally. But I spent several hours worrying about how bad a decision that might have been, having rocked up to the event intending to ad lib a presentation, rather than giving a formal paper – because the opening formal paper was, in a word, perfect.

That said, perhaps best in that context not to do something too similar… ;-) So when it came my time, I basically stood up and ranted at everyone for half an hour. I felt like something out of a Zizek video… The questions were extremely generous, giving me an opportunity to expand on many points that by rights probably should have made their way into the original rant… The atmosphere was extremely supportive – a really nice way to bring the project publicly to a close.

Now for the actual completion – which, in true dialectical fashion, unfolds as a process that follows the presentation of its results… ;-P

Deformation

Since I am now a quasi-official (or, at least, honorary) grown-up at my university, I need a staff ID card. To obtain the card, I had to fill out a form and send it off for official approval. Once official approval was granted, I was told to present myself to security, who would check that I am who I claim to be, photograph me and, some days later, issue a card. How would security check that I am who I claim to be? By checking that I look like the picture on… my student or staff ID card. Now, as it happens, I do have a student card. However, since not all new staff members pupate into faculty, having first been students here, this can’t be the entirely accurate description of the process of obtaining a staff card. So I mentioned the issue. “Uh…” came the confused response, “You need a card…” voice rising slightly, “to get a card?” “That’s what it says,” I pointed helpfully at the form. Some rustling. Another form. “Why don’t you just use this one?” A form exists, then, that provides a means for becoming a staff member… from the outside…

But perhaps I prefer the immanent reflexivity of the former process?

Abolishing the Quant/Qual (and Other) Distinctions

So today was the formal logic lecture in our newly designed social research course. In the spirit of the best pedagogical traditions we established in our quantitative methods course last year, my esteemed colleague L Magee set out to instil in our students the virtues of rigour and precision with a thorough discussion of the connections between logical operators, variable types, and research methods. For reasons that quite elude me, the normally intrepid LM seemed however to stumble when it came to explaining to our students the culminating point of one of his slides, which confidently informed:

Interval – constant intervals between values.

Consider temperature:

Arbitrary starting point

But degrees are constant and fixed units

Values are additive: 10 degrees + 10 degrees = 4 days

I’m not clear what the problem with this conclusion is meant to be? Why else were you recommending Lewis Carroll during this lecture, were it not to equip our students to parse conclusions such as this?

Administered Uncertainty

We have this university online environment we are compelled to use for classes. Read more of this post

That Philosophy Woman

Someone just wandered past as I sat in my coffee shop, laptop at the ready, works by Derrida and Spivak scattered around. They did a quick double-take, walked over to my table, and burst out: “Hey! Are you that philosophy woman?”

Is there supposed to be only one of us?

An Inconvenient Talk

*sigh* A few days ago, I was dragged from my coffee shop by an urgent phone call, begging me to stand in at the last minute for a lecture that needs to be given next week to an advanced undergraduate course in social and political theory, aimed at students currently preparing their honours thesis. The request was presented in terms of the need to have someone discuss the sociology of scientific knowledge – to provide a sort of massive-brush-stroke narrative of Enlightenment degenerating into postwar technocratic myth, the anti-technocratic backlash in critical theory, and then contemporary rapprochements between social theory and science. Although I wince every time I do this sort of “bottled modernity” lecture, I have actually delivered lectures with this particular narrative line in the past, and so the request seemed “do-able” around my extremely packed schedule.

Now, though, I’ve received the course materials and seen how the lecture has been advertised to students, what readings they have been assigned, what their tutorial activities will be. And it turns out that I should have paid more attention to a sort of muttered mention of “you know, global warming sorts of things” when my interlocutor mentioned that the lecture should also include a discussion of rapprochements between social theory and science. As it turns out, as far as the course materials and therefore the students are concerned, this is a lecture on global warming. The students will be watching An Inconvenient Truth after I shut up and send them off to their tutorials. The “point” of the lecture, as far as I can tell, is to talk about the social theory of global warming denialism.

Now, as much as I love lurking the wonderful Real Climate site, I have no particular competence to lecture on the topic of global warming. I have not researched social theoretic interpretations of climate change scepticism. I have no idea what to say. I’ve done some work on parallel forms of imagery in conceptualising the economy and the natural environment over time, but that hardly seems on target for a lecture of this sort. I can talk (possibly endlessly) about capitalism and the compulsive transformation of material nature – on production become a runaway end in itself… But these shreds of competence seem to flutter past the “point” of this lecture…

If you were called on at the last minute to give a lecture on this topic, what sorts of things would you want to say? Any ideas? Anyone? What I’m trying to do is get my head around how to link what I already know, with a narrative structure that might be useful for a lecture of this sort… So any suggestions around which my ideas can begin to crystallise, would be most welcome…

Conversations on Textual Strategy

I am absolutely buried at the moment, but I thought I would belatedly post a pointer to an energetic discussion still unfolding over at Larval Subjects on the question of the necessity of “difficult writing” in certain kinds of philosophical texts. From the original post:

Hopefully I have enough “cred” to inveigh against “difficult books” (I am, after all, mired in the work of figures such as Deleuze, Lacan, Hegel, etc., who are the worst of the worst), but I have increasingly found myself suspicious of the “difficult work”. On the one hand, I read texts in the sciences that express extremely complex ideas in very basic prose. Somehow I’m just unwilling to concede that what Hegel is trying to talk about is any more difficult or complex than what the biologist, complexity theory, economic social theorist, ecologist, or quantum physicist is attempting to articulate. This leads to my concern. I wonder if terribly dense styles such as we find in figures like Deleuze, Lacan, Hegel, Derrida, etc., etc., etc., aren’t a form of intellectual terrorism. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not referring to the quality of their concepts or arguments. What I am referring to is a general writing strategy that demands so much work on the part of the reader in the art of interpretation, that by the time you’ve managed to make heads or tails of what Lacan is arguing or Hegel is seeking to articulate or Deleuze is seeking to theorize, you have so much invested that you simply cannot think critically about that figure.

The rest of the post, and then the extensive discussion that follows, open interesting questions around the ways in which particular kinds of writing cultivate, or fail to cultivate, particular reading experiences and affective attachments to authors. Adam has also weighed in at An und für sich with a gloss on the original post:

I have some reservations about the recent Larval Subjects post about “difficult” books, but I think that, in part, it points toward a real phenomenon — one that I call “academic Stockholm Syndrome.” We’ve all seen it before: an academic invests great energy and undergoes profound suffering in the attempt to grasp a particularly difficult thinker and, upon succeeding, spends the rest of his or her career thoroughly identified with that thinker.

“Academic Stockholm Syndrome” sounds like it might not be a bad phrase to pick out a structural risk of a number of dimensions of academic training…

I’ve posted briefly in the discussion at Larval Subjects, before other commitments overwhelmed my blogging time. I wanted at least to put up a pointer for those who haven’t already seen the discussion…

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