Conference notes, part the second

For Veterans Day I was going to give you a poem, but instead of Rupert Brooke, here’s some conference snark, complete with typos from trying to write while balancing the computer on one knee. Enjoy.


In general:

Dear academic-type-people,

Please don’t spend fifteen minutes telling us “what this paper argues.” Just make the argument. Don’t apologize for what you’ve left out of your presentation. Everyone leaves stuff out; 30 pages of text contain more information than a panel slot can hold. Don’t explain how long a discussion about your paper should really take. Just make the argument, tell the story, demand that we think about your topic, say we’re all wrong because we aren’t looking at it right.

And please, please, for the love of little green apples, stop stating all the subheadings in your outline. Think of it as performance, and your paper is the script. “Exuent, pursued by bear” is the part you don’t let the audience hear. Stop it. It’s annoying, and it takes time away from the actual “isn’t this awesome, my research is so kewl” point of the exercise.

Also, it’s a good idea to lift your gaze from the page to look at the people in the audience. You don’t have to do it all the time, but an acknowledgement that there are other people in the room is a nice touch. Just a thought.

Thanks. Can’t wait till next year,



The specifics:

IR Theory is, apparently, about Hegel and feminism. Or something. Not that Hegel was a feminist, just that the papers were about one or the other.

And not that there were any women on the actual panel. Or very many in the audience. But still, I suppose it’s the thought that counts.

Random quotes:

“Hegel the economist we like, Hegel the racist not so much.”

“The UK is not really the happy fun time for feminists that they think they are.”

In response to a challenge for work that connects statements about Hegel’s influence to some sort of documentation of said influence: “It’s a good book, I like that book, but [colleague] and I aren’t going to write that book.”

And my knee-jerk (as in scribbled in shorthand in the margins of the program) reaction to a subset of the discussion: by making assumptions that in referencing Derrida we speak a language the public can’t understand, we make two mistakes. First, we vastly underestimate the public and the capacity it has to process what we’re saying and how we say it. And second, if that’s really what we think, then perhaps the responsibility to understand how to communicate with the public is ours, and any effort to engage with public intellectuals should be placed in that context. Basically, I’m not sure whether the critical approach is all that useful in this particular conversation.


The Regional Conference version of the Friar’s Club Roast only works if people are willing to really critique the work they’re talking about. Having a room full of people afraid to speak up is worse than having a heated discussion of a work that’s good, but has some flaws. I find it hard to believe that a book in progress really had no flaws that the discussants could tease out to start the audience talking.

Also, I’m not sure that call and response is the best model for this sort of thing. Maybe the audience ought to be allowed to talk to each other? I think it’s an idea worth considering.


Academics at a conference reception are like college kids at the dorkiest kegger ever.

I’m not saying it isn’t fun. I’m just saying that the conversations I caught were pretty good evidence that the discipline is made up largely of those of us who spent a lot of high school stuffed in a gym locker, and now drink to try and blot out the memories.

Seriously, there’s a reason we have our own little conferences at which the policy folks and the public are not welcome. It’s because we don’t want people we don’t know to point and laugh.

I enjoy standing on the edges and laughing. It’s not polite to point, but I bet that’s fun, too.


Last night at the bar we finally found (after wandering around following Theory Guy, of all people) a bar with okay food—not great food, but not horrid—cheap beer, and a band. Named the Bumpin’ Uglies. (No, really. It’s the second-best band name ever.) Who sang the traditional bar band cover songs, but added a halfway decent version of “Brian Wilson” that made me happy.

Some people refuse to get into the proper spirit of these things. Who doesn’t love a bunch of guys who probably hang out in someone’s basement practicing for a weekly gig? (Of course, it’ll probably turn out that they’re some famous-for-Boston group that was out slumming for the tourists.)

Still, it was fun. No mingling with people from other places (I know, I’m a bad grad student who sucks at networking) but a good couple of hours to decompress a little and just relax that tension that floats through the air at the conference proper.


This morning’s panel (the first one I managed to drag myself out of bed for) started out with an AU person handing out papers and buttons (buttons!) to the audience. The rest of the panel wasn’t quite sure what to do with him. The political campaign mode of expression makes academics twitchy.

But it’s fun to watch.


The only public health panel in the conference was the last day, in the last room at the end of a hallway, literally as far from the center of activities as possible. Scheduled against one of the few development panels. There were four people in the audience and seven on the panel.

I find this seriously depressing, but don’t know what to do about it.

So I’m shoehorning my public health stuff into panels that people do attend—like ones on popular culture, or identity construction, or security. I’m like subliminal messaging with spiky hair and a leather coat.

I really wish I had a better idea.


The State of the Discipline? From the sounds of it, we’re all fucked, but we can still laugh at ourselves. I have a shiny new academic crush, on a guy who did a groundhog impression while presenting at a roundtable. Apologized for committing social science, and said he was like Timothy Leary and would try neo-behavioralism.

“I thought if we could count it, they would have done it at Michigan long ago. But I was wrong.”

Lucky for me he’s a world systems theorist, so I can embrace his approach to the discipline with very little cognitive dissonance. So, yay.

The discussant dropped the bomb of Hegelian dialectic on the disciplinary angst.


Fine, it’s an imagined analytical community. And we’re all sitting around, working in a much larger vacuum than we like to admit.

So let’s change it. Let’s hook the word processors up to the fucking internet and talk to each other. If high school girls can beta read, why can’t academics?

Come on, people. Stop whining and start writing. Eventually *somebody* has to get published.


And finally, if I never hear the word hegemony again it’ll be too soon. Really, can’t we please talk about something else? Anything else?


At 11/12/2006 2:24 AM, Blogger Priya said...

Heh. Good stuff. Considering I went to two panels (both mine) and part of another (both full of peoplewhoarealwaysnamed), I don't think I will write about the conference.

Oh, and the apt--fantastic. I think I have a non-academic crush. Can one crush on an apt? :-P

I want to move to Boston.

At 11/13/2006 9:35 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Me too. On the Boston thing.

At 11/14/2006 5:54 PM, Anonymous Jenny said...

I went to my panel, and one immediately following that one. The rest of them, not so much.

At 11/15/2006 2:16 PM, Anonymous serena said...


Ok enough of my gushing...

At 11/21/2006 12:14 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

There were good panels. Just not the ones I thought would be good. Turns out it's fairly easy to talk about actual stuff when you start from television / film / music and work towards theory.


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