Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why Social Science Academia is rather Disengenuous...

Many new grad students when they first come to academia are starry-eyed and excited for the intellectual journey that is socialization into the academy. I, for one, definitely fell into that category. As I have progressed on this long and arduous journey, the ugly crevices  and backdoors of the academy have come into much clearer focus.

1) Graduate School is Socialization into the academy: It means that you must gain acceptance into this group by 'drinking the koolaid' or obeying group norms. Ironic, that social scientists rarely analyze the biases or norms that exist in their own 'little' society.

2) The Social Sciences try to look 'Smart': 'Physics envy' is the prevalent. Math, math, more math solves all social problems, even the one's that are blatantly obvious to everyone else. Grotesquely large words to explain simple, vague topics are thrown around like 'social capital'. Professor, professor what does that mean? 

3) Experience is not valued: Let me describe one of my conference experiences. It was a conference session on the effect of parental incarceration on adolescents. All the speakers as well as almost all participants were wealthy old white professors from elite universities. I could not help but wonder how the lack of personal experience on the topic biased their results. As all of us know, there are no right answers in the social sciences. Data analysis is an art, so is survey research and ethnographic work. Our biases seep in quickly and that was quite clear to me almost immediately. One professor discussed how 'surprisingly' incarnated parents 'really' do care about their children. It was condescending to say the least. Personal experience is invaluable to understanding the root causes of problems. Academia should value experience - there are some aspects of culture or experience that can never be taught. It is just as important to understanding 'why' x or y happens, as statistical models of incomplete data.

4) Social Science Fails to Address the Social Problems in it's own ranks:
  a) The Adjunct Crisis - some 70% of the professoriate is in low wage, non-permanent positions which lack health care with little hope of ever becoming a tenure track professor. Full professors rarely think about or discuss the adjunct crisis, nor are they straightforward about it with their students.
b) The lack of diversity - the lack of diversity in the social sciences is striking. There are so few minority professors at top schools, much lower than percentage in the population. As discussed before, this biases research both in the questions asked and their results. In addition the age structure is skewed up. Most professors were hired during the 1960s  and 1970s. They are out-of-touch with the world as it currently is and for the social sciences understanding current trends are important. Academia is often one of the last institutions to change.

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