(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)
Over the last week we’ve had an excellent post by Cynthia Weber on queer theory and the forms of academic disciplining and bullying that take place on the website Political Science Rumors, as well as a interesting (and surprisingly convincing) piece by Steve Saidman on why he participates on the website. At first thought, the question of whether to participate on PLSI rumors or not seems pretty simple to me. In fact, a better question might be, ‘why would anyone bother with such a largely negative shit-storm, make-you-feel-bad-about-humanity and the field zone?’ However, on second thought, there are a few specific reasons why I avoid the site:
1. I think I know who the average ‘user’ is, and I don’t think I have much to learn from them. With the exception of Steve Saidman and a few other visitors- who have a genuine intention of a positive exchange with others in the field- based on the types of comments I have read, I assume (like others) that the average poster on this site is an unemployed/underemployed graduate student from an elite university who is pissed off that people like me (with my ‘terrible pedigree’ and my poor choice of feminism as a ‘specialization’) have jobs and a voice in the field (cue the trash comments). Why would I want to listen to this cohort speculate on job candidates, or my work (or anything else)?
2. It sets low career goals. I know not everyone in political science dreams of contributing to world peace (more on this in a forthcoming post), but surely there is more to our careers than journal rankings and how we ‘rate’ against others? In the comments sections to Weber’s recent post, there is discussion about the damage we might do to students if we are not honest about their career prospects if they choose ‘sub-fields’ like queer theory. Obviously, most PhD students don’t want to end up unemployed, and providing realistic information about the job market is essential- but individuals should be encouraged to choose their research topics because they are interested in answering questions they deem important, or that will make some sort of contribution (the fact that it sounds corny to want to contribute positively to society/our field is depressing).
3. It is not an effective source of information. If you want to know who has been short listed for a job, where to publish an article, which university to go to for particular specializations etc THIS IS NOT THE BEST PLACE TO GET THE INFO.
Our field not that big. For questions about jobs, most of us know someone who knows someone at particular department that can give accurate information about a job (within ethical limitations). Similarly, if you wanted to know the best journal to place an article it would make more sense to ask mentors, someone in that area, ANYONE other than a bunch of random website visitors and trolls.
4. It’s all about gossip. This seems obvious, but- to me- basing an entire website on rumors means that the content is largely gossip, speculation, and back-stabbing. Sure, we all like to hear a juicy piece of information shared in hushed tones, behind closed doors; however, for the most part gossip is an inherently negative activity. We rarely share rumors or gossip that is complimentary towards others or aimed at saving the world- it is mostly dirt, information that someone doesn’t want shared for a reason. I understand that the website includes threads with ‘neutral’ information- like how to write a cv; but let’s be honest, when I’ve scanned through in the past, most of the content seemed to be slagging current job candidates, speculating on why individuals left jobs, and shitting on particular schools/individuals/conferences/fields of study. Why participate on a site geared entirely around this activity?
5. Ranking. I know our field (and others) is obsessed with rankings, but seriously how many threads can be dedicated to inane debates about the ordering of ‘top’ IR journals. Yes, there are journals that are consistently seen as ‘top’ journals for our field. We get it. BUT, there has been widespread discussion of the ‘fuzzy’/nepotistic review processes at some top journals. In addition, many non-A*** journals are consistently excellent, well-read, and a better place for non-mainstream articles. So get over it. Furthermore, the constant ranking of candidates and universities sends consistent and explicit messages to readers: some places, sub-fields, people matter and some don’t. We’ve see this play out with the comments surrounding Cynthia Weber’s ‘Why is there no Queer IR Theory‘ EJIR article as well as her post here at the Duck. As Pablo K indicated, these types of disciplining comments end up looking uninformed, out of touch, and like sour grapes- the truth is that ‘non-mainstream’ ‘sub-fields’ like feminism and queer theory DO and HAVE mattered for a long time. Those who do this work GET JOBS, publish (some of us even publish in mainstream ‘holy grail’ venues like Foreign Affairs), attract and inspire grad students, and generate research that matters to those inside and outside of the field. So get over it.
6. It is a forum for anonymous and cowardly sexist and racist comments. I hate anonymity. I think PLSI job rumors should use software to trace every comment and post and make it all public so individuals would be accountable for their comments. Anonymous comments seem to provide a release valve for those who need a place to let out the types of discriminatory comments they wouldn’t dare express publicly.
7. It is US Obsessed. I understand that most of the people using the site are Americans, but even the threads focused on IR and IR jobs consistently dismiss or discount international jobs, journals, job candidates. There’s whole world of political science and IR out there and not everyone cares about which Chicago student is edging out which MIT student for a Harvard post-doc.