Month: October 2011

John Protevi on Political Affect

At the Contemporary Condition here on why Ideology critique doesn’t cut it:

Why won’t “ideology” cut it? It doesn’t work because it conceives of the problem in terms of “false consciousness,” where that means “wrong ideas,” and where “ideas” are individual and personal mental states whose semantic content has an existential posit as its core, with emotional content founded on that core, so that the same object could receive different emotional content if you were in a different mood. (There are lots of ways of thinking about cognition and emotion, without even bringing in the relations of this “analytic” vocabulary with that of the Husserlian noesis/noema scheme. Still, I hope this will suffice just to get some traction on the problem.)

More on Pluralism in Philosophy

Let’s get past what the great programs are for Continental philosophy or what “pluralism” really means, or how much you may or may not hate SPEPers and various resolutions passed last week. This is a problem that we can all acknowledge (h/t Brian Leiter):

As I remarked several years ago in my series of posts aboutapplying to PhD programs in philosophy, it seems to be extremely difficult to gain admission to an elite PhD program in philosophy if you’re not from an elite undergraduate institution. Inspired by a comment on a recent post, I decided to look at this a bit more systematically.

notes that not ONE student for various Leiter ranked programs at elite institutions such as Princeton come from the two largest public university systems–Scwitzgebel is a notable philosopher who teaches at UC Riverside—namely SUNY and the UC system. Are the dominant voices in our profession only to come from expensive, Ivy League institutions? Schitgebel himself is agnostic on whether or not it’s just a short-hand method for admissions committees or just simply elitism at work, but not one from all these institutions? Surely, if we take pluralism at all seriously, it must mean something other than reifying the class structures that operate in so many other areas of American life.

And yes, I was a SUNY graduate. So obviously, you should take this all with a grain of salt given my humble beginnings at somewhere other than the Ivy league school that I got into, but could not afford. Clearly, that lack of money is a mark of my own stupidity for having the wrong parents. (Sorry for that last snark.)

More on Winnubst and Neo-Liberalism

Here is Robin James speaking to the coolness part, which for the most part I left aside in my response (not least because as soon as mention anything relating to coolness, it invariably becomes uncool):

Based on my work on hipness, I would say pretty conclusively that not everyone can be cool.  Coolness is not equal-opportunity: you can’t pull up your bootstraps, work extra-hard, and pull a come-from-behind win. There are two reasons for this: (1) Hipness is always about establishing a sort of hyper-eliteness. The point is to demonstrate one’s success above and beyond other relatively privileged, aka “successful” individuals. Hipness is only available to already-privileged groups; it seems that “coolness” is similarly rationed. (2) In order for the hipster to seem “avant-garde,” somebody has to stay “primitive.”  Hipsters appropriate “otherness” or “difference”—and even if that one specific mark of “difference” is eventually co-opted, something else has to be the next new, “different” thing. Somebody somewhere has to be “the other” who is “eaten.” So, if Urban Outfitters is shilling “Navajo” prints as the “it” look of the season, this requires actual Navajo (and Native Americans more generally) to be stuck as representatives of the primitive, the non-industrial, the natural, the hand-crafted…or whatever flavor of “different” one wants them to signify. The whole point is that when actual Navajo wear Navajo designs, this is seen as evidence of their “traditional” and “backward” ways, but when white hipsters wear Navajo designs, this is seen as evidence of their successful risk-taking and entrepreneurship. The structural inequality has to be there in order for the white hipster to think s/he is doing something “risky” or “weird.”  The Navajo can’t be “just like us neoliberals,” because then “Navajo” wouldn’t be a sign of “difference,” and an opportunity for whites to demonstrate their “coolness.”

Reply to Shannon WInnubst at SPEP

At SPEP in Philly on Friday, I had the chance to reply to Shannon Winnubst‘s incipient work on neoliberalism, biopower, and forms of subjectification, “A Bio-Politics of Cool: Neoliberalism, Difference, Ethics.” I think I introduce relatively clearly what her project is and I argue for what I find to be its great merits. I give a minor push just so that we could explore how this links to her earlier work, which she discussed well during the Q&A. In any case, I look forward to seeing the book once it’s completed. Here’s the response in .doc format.

That SPEP proposal…

At SPEP the following was passed, overwhelmingly, by the members present at the business meeting:


Proposal for Resolution for SPEP Members (Accepted, with amendments)


I  The membership of the Society of Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy supports the independent efforts of the new Pluralist’s Guide to Philosophy to:


1) provide new sources of information on areas of philosophy that remain underrepresented in most doctoral programs in the discipline and


2) provide information on the conditions for women and minorities in graduate philosophy programs.


The membership of SPEP has long championed pluralistic approaches to philosophy, as well as increased diversity in a field that continues to have the lowest representation by women and people of color compared to all other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.


II.  For the same set of reasons, the membership also supports the new APA-sponsored Guide to Graduate Study in Philosophy, which complements the Pluralist’s Guide by providing a comprehensive survey of all Ph.D. and M.A. graduate programs in the U.S. It includes concise information on women and people of color among faculty and graduate students as well as figures on average number of years to completion of the degree and placement data, while furnishing a profile of departments’ distinctive emphases.


III.  We commend those committed to providing enhanced information about doctoral programs in philosophy in the US, as well as those working to promote diversity in the profession. While we appreciate those who have engaged in constructive dialogue about both Guides and their production, we condemn the incivility that has marked some criticisms, especially ad hominem attacks on the Pluralist’s Guide’s organizers and contributors as well as on SPEP and its membership despite the latter’s independence from the construction of this Guide.  We are grateful to the authors of and contributors to both Guides for their work. Philosophy currently faces unprecedented marginalization within the academy; we support efforts to move past archaic divisions and find common ground.

The reaction on Leiter’s blog is to an earlier (and in context, quite different) proposal. Jon Cogburn writes the following:

It’s clearly a venal and idiotic resolution, in no small part because it implicates outrageous things about all of the philosophers such as Professor Kukla who worked so assiduously to get the perpetrators of the “climate for women” travesty to walk things back. Given all of the important issues concerning the climate for women in our profession, all of this does need bright light.

This being said, we should in no way tar all of SPEP with this! Bad people have every freedom in the world to put forward stupid resolutions in organizations, but the majority of SPEP members are informed people of good will who know exactly what really did go down and also how sexist and dangerous is the climate guide. Given this, I just can’t imagine even a small plurality would vote to pass such a dishonest resolution, and one in the service of something so damaging to both our field and the fight for feminist reform.

I want to say that if it actually passes, then every single one of us who defends SPEP to Brian (when he engages in what we take to be caricatures) will have been shown to be utter fools. However, that may be too strong, as I don’t know how democratic the voting mechanisms are. However, if it passes due to voting irregularity (there have been these kinds of allegations concerning the insular way candidates are proposed for elections in SPEP) I guess that too would also make those of us who defend SPEP look like idiots. . .

In any case, I am going to make a prediction. This thing will not pass.

Finally, as far as I can tell this whole issue is mostly the result of some Baby Boomers still trying to fight mostly irrelevant culture wars from thirty years ago and being intellectually poisoned to the point of incoherence by the victim mentality engendered by those wars. Even in spite of the odd gerrymandered nominating processes, the previous leaders in this same group are on the very edge of being cast aside in SPEP power dynamics by two younger generations of continental philosophers who just are not vituperatively hostile to analytic philosophy. Independent of how destructive (and libelous for that matter) the climate guide is, this generational battle inside of SPEP is as far as I can see *the* primary subtext of the whole sad affair, the older ones like dictators everywhere trying to keep the populace in line by blaming outsiders for their own incompetence. But, as we all know, the Arab Spring isn’t containing itself in North Africa.

The secondary subtext is just how wrong Tolstoy was about the morally redemptive power of oppression. Quite often instead of things that would actually improve our lot, you get crappy identity politics in the service of corrupt power structures within the ghettoized community, which ends up reinforcing the ghettoization! The transparent move of keeping three of the top ranked Leiter schools in the “bad for women” section against very strong evidence to the contrary (and the issue of Oklahoma and Oregon shows how little evidence was applied in the other cases too), is nothing more than a clear case of this.

Again though, *every single* person I know who is very supportive of a non-analytic type Leiter Reports (and who has a different definition of pluralism than does Brian) has been absolutely horrified by the climate section and more so by the embarrassing truculence, dumbness, and dictatorial demeanor displayed by some of the older SPEP bigwigs (people we cherish and learn from in other contexts) who presume to speak for the rest of us. I just can’t imagine for a second this atrocious bit of newspeak passing.

Steven Crowell, who spoke against the proposal, also notes:

Since SPEP is an institution that I’ve been pretty deeply involved with over the years, and which has been negatively characterized often over the years by Brian Leiter and others (often, in my view, unfairly), I wanted to comment on this vote. I don’t intend to comment on the Pluralist Guide itself or the debate that ensued in July and after. I spoke against the Resolution at the business meeting for two reasons: first, I don’t think that it serves SPEP’s interests to take a stand for or against this or any other ranking, or to raise charges of incivility and the like. Second, and more importantly, I believe that SPEP’s voting procedures are not appropriate for handling such Resolutions, of which this was not the only one voted on at this meeting. The voting procedures go back to when SPEP was a very small organization and had mainly to decide on a few issues having to do with an annual meeting. A simple majority of those attending the Business Meeting can carry the day. SPEP has a membership of close to 2000 people. Over 750 people attended the conference at which the Resolution was passed. Only a small fraction of those were at the Business Meeting. I cannot confirm the unofficial numbers (118 in favor, 24 opposed, 5 abstentions), but they are certainly close. And thus it is clear that the vote cannot simply be read as expressing the will of the membership, or even of those attending the conference itself. It might express that will (I personally doubt it), but the numbers themselves provide little evidence for that. I don’t think that it is simply the sort of “generational” problem that Jon Cogburn describes either — there are plenty of us older SPEP members who are not stuck fighting the culture wars, and plenty of younger ones who seem very anxious to start them again.

First off, I wonder what is really up here. First, Crowell mistakes what he said during one proposal for another. (He argued that we should not vote for support of the Occupation movements without waiting for further notification, which doesn’t apply since this proposal was before the membership well ahead of time of the meeting.) Second, I didn’t like much of the Pluralist Guide and said so (I’m writing quick en route home and will do the links later), though I think the principle of charity does mean taking the organizers of it at their word that it was a beta version that was circulated. It happens that right now, Freelance Extraordinaire is at work on a Forbes Travel website due to go public soon, but her work in the coming weeks is to manage the site’s move from private beta site to a public, when it will look very different. That seems to mean that I will wait for the actual finished guide (when will that appear?) before unleashing my worries about that site, and at such a similar time, I will unleash my holy fury at the Pluralist Guide.

But that doesn’t matter, since this proposal is so uncontroversial: members of SPEP don’t (surprise) appreciate attacks on SPEP. We also noting that we are independent of the Guide, but while we’re at it, if the Pluralist peeps and the APA want to publish more info for grad students, that’s cool with us. And if you want to add your two cents of critique of what these peeps come up with (i.e., “constructive dialogue”) this is is cool, too.

That’s what the proposal said and the Advocacy Committee purposely worded it this way–don’t add a whole slew of things to it as the reason for it, since it was worded quite carefully to be very limited. How do I know? I’m one of three members of the committee that wrote its first draft—as someone who didn’t like the beta version of the Pluralist Guide many ways. A lot of what I’ve just read online quickly can’t be true: all three of us are young scholars, not senior scholars scoring points for the old guard. Some of us may even have been seen cheering when Kelly Oliver gave a talk this weekend critiquing the misogyny of earlier incarnations of SPEP…

After a summer largely away from the intertubes and from this debate, I feel like I came in at the end of a long argument where everyone’s really really angry and maybe we should just get together and expel some of that at our ruling oligarchs, such at the Occupation Philadelphia, which I attended last week.

Can’t Something be Done about the Way Philosophers are Hired in the US?

By that question, I mean in particular the wrenching way we expect students on the market (and Ph.D.s in adjunct and similar positions) to pay the APA fees plus huge fees for hotels. I am giving a paper at the APA on Derrida’s lecture 2001-2 lecture course, so I looked up the price the APA negotiated for the hotel.

First, there’s a kind message on the APA website alerting all the fact that they have totally gummed up the way employment ads are to be done, which likely means the largest Jobs for Philosophers of the year (the November issue) will be missing many of the actual jobs out there. Really heartening for those on the market. (Obviously, for those interested, I am quite pleased in my first year here at Memorial, so that’s not why I write this here.)

Then, I bring up the PDF for the hotel registration:

Regular and nonmember single room rates are $169/night plus 14.5% tax. Double room rates are $189/night plus 14.5% tax….

Student member single room rates are $153/night plus 14.5% tax. Student double room rates are $173/night plus 14.5% tax.

Great negotiating there! (In the past, I’ve often been able to book the APA hotel through a cheaper price on Expedia, as long as I do it well in advance.) How cheap could it be if the price is offered to non-members? (I.e., anyone with a web browser to look this up.) Thus, for all of us, that tops out at about $200 a night for a single room, which for three nights is about half a liberal arts college travel budget, without air fare.

Now, it’s an advance that they actually negotiated a cheaper rate for students this year. But when I did a full market search in my first year with a Ph.D., I had interviews on all three days of the APA, which meant staying three days, plus airfare, plus registration.

Of course, the APA does offer a cheaper rate on registration for students, but how does knocking 30% off that bill really compare to the many hundreds that must be spent because the APA can’t find cheaper accommodations? Is there no other way? Imagine booking all of this and finding out, as many do, that they don’t get an interview. (For non-philosophers: it’s true, many have to book early to get plane deals and the hotel rate, but departments often don’t call right up to the Christmas holiday to schedule a time for a job interview.) I understand if the APA can’t find, say, dorm accommodations for students at local universities given the time of year, so the sooner we just move to skype for the first round of interviewing (for all the problems it has), the better.