How many constructivists does it take to find the car?

No, it’s not the start of a joke. It’s the end of tonight’s Culture Workshop.

Right. So. The wacky world of academia is back in full swing. Welcome to the land of constructivist terrorism research, in which nothing means what you think it means.

Your tour guides today are Elizabeth and Weberman. The discussion? The history of the phrase “weapons of mass destruction.”

First, the group is treated to a brief overview of the paper in question. As a new project, it’s a bit more conceptual than the intended result, but there are still some good points about the strategic deployment of terminology and the possibility of backlash.

Next, the audience reaction demonstrates that if you put nine academics in a room and give them a topic, you will be left with twenty opinions on a paper, nineteen of which will have only a marginal relationship to the original text.

The audience participation portion of the lecture begins.

W: did she just say "tantric"?

E: yep. tantric globalization.

W: hmm

E: which I suppose would be globalization that meditates on the universe.
» um. short answer to that question: yes.

W: she's a good bellweather of the mainstream constructivist-y types

E: they aren't ridiculous terms. strange, meaningless, maybe, but not ridiculous.

W: incantations???

E: she's mirroring [the speaker’s] terminology with that.

W: and an old argument

E: okay, wait. I thought the point was to ignore the concept of relationship to facts?

W: that people in the US believe things that just aren't true?
» shocking.

E: yes, okay, fine. but that analogy misses the point of the discussion, doesn't it? because the point is how the use of the term changed/developed?

W: yes
» "thing"
» um…one usually doesn't admit to having zoned out…

E: presumably there's a reason for that.
» not mentioning it, I mean.

W: and now we see FTMD’s strategy in mentioning that…
» part of a schtick
» http://www.experimentaljetset.nl/archive/SMCS_stairwell.html

W: oh man
» cross-tabs
» we're approaching Truth!

E: at some point this turns into higher math, right?

W: and we'll get to wear lab coats!
» and pocket protectors!
» like real scientists!

E: I've always wanted to use SPSS.

W: ::holding my tongue::

E: this is an interesting definition of rigor.

W: this is why I hate linguistic analysis

E: discourse analysis and rhetoric have very little in common, apparently.
» repetition = emphasis? huh.

W: yes, that's something I'm going to bring up myself
» unless you'd rather?

E: I'm just bothered by the idea that it's the counting that matters, rather than the location or the effect. Because I didn't necessarily get that from the paper, although it was there. But the comments seem to be focusing on it.

W: yes
» do you want to say that?
» or save it for dinner?

E: save it for a less formal setting, I think. I suspect my actual comment would come across as a bit...um...derogatory of several other previous comments.

W: k
» I can get away with that in this forum in a way that you probably can't

[during the above exchange, the topic switched to helpful citations for further research]

» when did we change the channel?

E: think of it more as picture-in-picture.
» so we're playing "Who's read more" for a while. fun.

W: DVR recording two channels simultaneously
» everyone need a guru or two

[Priya suggests her favorite theorist.]

E: I was waiting for her to get to Potter.

W: like me "getting to" Weber

E: the discursive structure of any academic conversation would predict that, yes.

W: not just academic

E: I was trying to be polite. Or something.
» Not sure branching out is a good way to go.

W: lol

E: Seems like this is going to be plenty without talking about the global war on terror.
» or "GWAT", which I hadn't heard before.


E: yeah, okay. see, if it was a common term, spell check would've caught that.
» idiosyncratic circumstances? yikes.

W: as opposed to those non-idiosyncratic circumstances

E: yeah, that's comforting.

[an audience member suggests that we are all postmodernists]

W: oh, no, not that
» anything but that

E: this would be the point where I should run screaming from the room, right?

W: nah -- embrace the Other in his/her Otherness

E: oh, I don't know about that.
» politically sophisticated and sensitive to public opinion aren't the same things.

W: really? gee. imagine that.

E: hey, if people didn't make that assumption, I wouldn't feel compelled to point out the obvious.

W: the Duh Channel
» http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/marcuse/works/one-dimensional-man/ch04.htm
» then search the page for "NATO"

Right. So, that was the discussion part of the formal lecture.

From there, things got interesting. A subset of the original group headed for dinner at a not-so-nearby Thai restaurant. Some observations collected throughout the evening:

Observation One: It is easier to have random conversations about authorial intent and Canadian television when walking behind the main group.

Observation Two: If walking after dark through G’town, a good plan involves putting the people who know how to find the the restaurant in front.

Observation Three: Sudden shifts in group position are unnerving.

Observation Four: Name-checking conversations are a form of performance art, in which the size of the excluded audience is a finely balanced and necessary component.

a. The trading of syllabus numbers is a topic that pushes the exclusivity beyond the boundaries of sustainable conversation.

b. Any outsider observations must take place at a low enough volume to avoid conscious notice by the name-checking participants.

c. Deliberate indifference is also a performance.

d. A truly talented potential academic can steamroll any potential side discussions into the main name-checking discourse, thereby re-marginalizing the audience at every possible turn.

Observation Five: “Female constructivist” is somehow a more problematic term than “girly constructivist.” Hypothesis: All constructivists are girly.

Observation Six: Constructivists and parking garages are not a good mix.

a. Thirty minutes is an excessive amount of time for three people to be unable to locate a car.

b. The maniacal laughter of two other people is not helpful.

c. When the stairway only goes in one direction, even constructivists can be counted upon to decide quickly which direction to walk.

d. Somewhere between twenty and thirty minutes the confusion moves from annoying to highly amusing.

e. Complex systems cannot be calculated backwards without the originating conditions. Therefore, systems theory is not helpful for identifying the position of a misplaced vehicle.

f. Even if one has no idea of the proper direction, announcing firmly “It’s this way” is sufficient to change the actions of the entire group.

g. Finding the car is a meaningless accomplishment if the group is also unable to find the parking garage exit and a road that leads off-campus.

h. If the prospect of parking garage wandering exists, it is a bad idea to wear heels.

Observation Seven: Child locks are harder for adults to figure out than children.

Observation Eight: The proper time to consider whether one's snarky observations are inappropriate/problematic for one's advisor/vaguely offensive to the other participants in an event is *prior to* the end of said event.


At 1/26/2007 1:58 AM, Blogger Priya said...

Spot on!

I'll add an observation:

Academics at a Thai restaurant tend to start off dinner with a brief overview of "there was a hole in the wall [Thai/Asian--they are interchangeable apparently] restaurant at [college/home town]"

Unsurprisingly, I had nothing to contribute there either.

At 1/26/2007 10:38 AM, Anonymous serena said...

LOL interesting night out it seems...lol

lemmings also follow the lead well...LOL

At 1/26/2007 6:14 PM, Blogger Genealogy Spice said...

Darn I missed it thanks to 'the Other' if where I'm looking from counts as a perspective! Just wondering if and how a postmodern Other can be embraced :-)


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