[Marxism] The cult mentality of academia
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue May 14 00:07:49 MDT 2013
RA (Ryan Anderson, Savage Mind blog owner): Looking back, is there
anything you would change about your experiences in graduate school?
Anything that you think should be done differently about how we train
and teach graduate students?
SK (Sarah Kendzior): Graduate students live in constant fear. Some of
this fear is justified, like the fear of not finding a job. But the fear
of unemployment leads to a host of other fears, and you end up with a
climate of conformity, timidity, and sycophantic emulation. Intellectual
inquiry is suppressed as “unmarketable”, interdisciplinary research is
marked as disloyal, public engagement is decried as “unserious”, and
critical views are written anonymously lest a search committee find
them. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by the Academic
The cult mentality of academia not only curtails intellectual freedom,
but hurts graduate students in a personal way. They internalize systemic
failure as individual failure, in part because they have sacrificed
their own beliefs and ideas to placate market values. The irony is that
an academic market this corrupt and over-saturated has no values. Do not
sacrifice your integrity to a lottery — even if you are among the few
who can afford to buy tickets until you win.
Anthropology PhDs tend to wind up as contingent workers because they
believe they have no other options. This is not true – anthropologists
have many skills and could do many things – but there are two main
reasons they think so. First, they are conditioned to see working
outside of academia as failure. Second, their graduate training is not
oriented not toward intellectual exploration, but to shoring up a dying
Gillian Tett famously said that anthropology has committed intellectual
suicide. Graduate students are taught to worship at its grave. The
aversion to interdisciplinary work, to public engagement, to new
subjects, to innovation in general, is wrapped up in the desire to
affirm anthropology’s special relevance. Ironically, this is exactly
what makes anthropology irrelevant to the larger world. No one outside
the discipline cares about your jargon, your endless parenthetical
citations, your paywalled portfolio, your quiet compliance. They care
whether you have ideas and can communicate them. Anthropologists have so
much to offer, but they hide it away.
I got a lot of bad advice in graduate school, but the most depressing
was from a professor who said: “Don’t use up all your ideas before
you’re on the tenure track.” I was assumed to have a finite number of
ideas, and my job as a scholar was to withhold them, revealing them only
when it benefited me professionally. The life of the mind was a life of
I ignored this along with other advice – don’t get pregnant, don’t get
pregnant (again), don’t study the internet, don’t study an authoritarian
regime – and I am glad I did. Graduate students need to be their own
mentors. They should worry less about pleasing people who disrespect
them and more about doing good work.
Because in the end, that is what you are left with – your work. The more
you own that, the better off you will be. In the immortal words of
Whitney Houston: “No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away
my dignity.” And in the equally immortal words of Whitney Houston: “Kiss
my ass.” Both sentiments are helpful for navigating graduate school.
Academic training does not need to change so much as academic careerism.
There is little sense in embracing careerism when hardly anyone has a
career. But graduate school can still have value. Take advantage of your
time in school to do something meaningful, and then share it with the world.
More information about the Marxism