What's wrong with academia

Fri, 4 Mar 1994 15:58:00 PST

Carrier ends his thoughtful comment with:

" This aspect of adequate representation, then, seems to fall back on both
the notion of essential categories (but again, only those categories that are
socially recognized and approved as categories -- lower class again being the
obvious contrary case) and the notion that only insiders can know what the
category means. "

But to a degree this is true of all hirings. When department X says that
want to hire, say, a symbolic anthropologist, and my student does symbolic
anthropology via mathematical modeling of analogical systems of thought, I
find that regardless of his qualifications as a scholar (his dissertation was
highly praised by his committee) he is (in my interpretation of his
difficulty in finding a position) not considered be a "symbolic
anthropologist" in the way the "insiders . . . know what the category means;"
i.e., he is not a "real" symbolic anthropologist, whatever that means. In
part, what seems to be involved is the "belief" that the background of the
person's academic training affects how the person will do research and there
are certain approaches or ways of doing research that are desired.
Mathematical modeling is not believed to impart highly desirable
qualities on the part of a potential scholar, in effect. Whether
one agrees or not with what happens in a particular situation, it is clear
that this kind of informat attribution of qualities to academic background is
and always will be part of how hiring decisions are made.

It is easy to extend this kind of argument to characteristics other than
academic background; e.g., it might be argued that person X, by virtue of
having been raised a female in this culture, will have an approach or way of
doing research that is seen as having a highly positive value. THis would
seem to be the best interpretation of the rationale for diversity; different
folks from different backgrounds have different perspectives and the
difference in perspectives is, in and of itself, considered advantageous. IF
this is the rationale for diversity, then it avoids slipping into the "who is
qualfified" kind of argument that is not defensible as Carrier disucsses
and then uses past injustices to justify present injustices.

D. Read