When graduate students discover the Internet
“Alan Mendelsohn” has a pretty funny first-person account in the Chronicle of Higher Education about what happens when a literature department at “a major research university on the West Coast” sets up a blog for grad students. The results are not pretty at all. One example: Our discussion group was no longer a safe place. ...
"Alan Mendelsohn" has a pretty funny first-person account in the Chronicle of Higher Education about what happens when a literature department at "a major research university on the West Coast" sets up a blog for grad students. The results are not pretty at all. One example:
“Alan Mendelsohn” has a pretty funny first-person account in the Chronicle of Higher Education about what happens when a literature department at “a major research university on the West Coast” sets up a blog for grad students. The results are not pretty at all. One example:
Our discussion group was no longer a safe place. That nascent fear was borne out in full a year later, when our department was interviewing candidates in two areas, Renaissance literature and 20th-century literature by minority authors. Marsha urged everyone to attend the job talks and voice an opinion about the hiring process. “You can have an influence on the hiring process, even if it’s not your field,” she wrote. She feared that a reactionary candidate would be hired for the Renaissance job, and warned us that the department’s conservative professors might hijack the other search by hiring the “Clarence Thomas of Minority Lit.” Within 10 minutes of her message, Dave had pounced. It was hard enough being a specialist in minority literature, he wrote. “We don’t need to be condescended to as well.” He angrily questioned why a minority hire must always be associated with tokenism and incompetence. He was galled by Marsha’s “unconscious (dare I say) racism.” Here we go again, I thought: We won’t see the last of this for several hours. I was wrong. It would be days. In a bizarre performance, Brian vaulted into the discussion to announce that Dave was “the boy who cried racism.” Neither Dave nor Marsha wanted a reactionary hire, so what were they arguing about? “We are all on the same fuckin’ side,” Brian announced: “Diversity is good, hegemony is bad,” and if Dave or his supporters felt like protesting, Brian admonished, “bite your tongue.” Now that’s public consensus with a vengeance. (And a tire iron.) Students’ network connections had been sparking, but the toss of that oil drum led to an all-out conflagration, bringing out people’s worst sides. Postings from what seemed like half the students in the department alternately demanded that Dave or Brian apologize, and those postings were themselves attacked as “bad faith.” A South Asian woman told a Jewish man that he could have no conception of what racism was. The debate began to develop “threads” that had little to do with the original Clarence Thomas figure of speech: One student emphasized that no charge of racism had ever, in fact, been made — Dave had attacked the way in which Marsha’s rhetoric had been “interpellated” by racist discursive formations, not Marsha herself. It was during the follow-up responses that the term “postmodern wanker” was first used, to be deployed by both factions in various ways over the next week.
Ah, the academy — almost everyone on the same side of the ideological fence, and nary an agreement in sight. “Mendelsohn” concludes that maybe the Internet is not the nirvana of Habermasian discourse, but the academic version of crack:
Where online environments are concerned, we may not kill each other, but we’ll probably end up suing. You can spend so much time drafting a criticism of a theoretical trend that you’re bored with the essay by the time it appears in a peer-reviewed journal, but at least you’ve produced something more lasting than a blog-delivered, “You think you’re so sympathetic to the oppressed, Dr. New Historicist, but when it comes to labor activism in the community, you’re a no-show.” Wherever these new technologies take us, I’ve certainly started living by my own set of rules — e.g., no postings unless it’s for a summer sublet. Spending time on the Internet may well be an academic’s version of watching too much of the boob tube, and I’m going to limit myself to one hour a day.
“Alan Mendelsohn”, by the way, is a pseudonym — and I can’t say I blame him. But I will always be grateful to him for the introduction of “postmodern wanker” into my lexicon.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.