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Monday, July 12, 2010

Why bother at all?

Giuliano acutely argued (see comment here) that working together, writing less but better essays etc., are often not a desideratum in the Academic world. This is correct, so, one might argue, why bother about doing it, although it does not enhance one's chances to get/keep a job/one's job?
  1. 1. South Asian studies are not exactly like a Lawyer office. One does not get stuck into such studies in order to get a well-paid job. If getting or keeping a good position and a wealth salary is one's priority in life, one should seriously consider choosing a different career and studying Sanskrit (or Pāli, etc.) as one's passion (if you don't like the word "hobby"). I am not sure this will necessarily imply a second-order quality in one's essays.
  2. 2. Being a satisfied (and, possibly, happy) person is one of the biggest contribution to the world's welfare we can yield. And I assume everyone is happy to seriously contribute to the field one has chosen to adhere to, rather than just writing as much as possible.
  3. 3. (connected with the above point): Working together implies learning many social skills which are never taught in any academic class, but which are often much more precious for one's happiness, one's job chances and for the benefit of one's field of study, than an additional article.

What do you think? What is your experience with the above points? And with their absence?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Elisa, I have to disagree with you on some issues:
1. surviving IS a priority for everybody… I am afraid that your conclusion would suggest that to study Indology one has necessarily to be wealthy, without needing any job at all (or to be an attorney with a part-time hobby…). You might have chosen these studies out of a deep, passionate flair for them, but if you don’t have another income you must make it your job…
2. (follows point 1) It is not easy to be a “satisfied person” when you have any sort of economical pressures (bills, debts, etc.). About “everyone is happy to seriously contribute etc.”: altruism makes one happy, but it is a blurry option when you are (metaphorically?) hungry.
3. Although I find peer-to-peer communication extremely rewarding, I admit to sympathize with all those scholars that do not bother to contact their colleagues. In a long term perspective, cooperation produces better scholars than isolation, but not so many of us can afford a long term perspective. In my opinion, having pleasant arguments on the atmāvāda is more a fortunate opportunity than an intentional choice.
There would be many other issues to raise about the academic system and its somehow unfathomable procedures to enrol lecturers, but I don’t think that this is the best place to debate them.
However, as you can see, I am eager to enjoy conversations on Indian Philosophy and cognate matters, and I encourage other scholars to join us (or to do it in separate contexts), but I refuse to condemn those that do not.
I am curious to read comments…
All my best, Giuliano

elisa freschi said...

Dear Giuliano,
I did *not* want to condemn those who do not want to communicate. I am arguing in favour of the alternative option just because there are already many arguments (as you showed) in favour of not communicating. Hence, by default, one does not communicate and one has to make conscious efforts in order for the opposite to occur.
As for your points, you are right. But I still think that to know oneself (I guess this sounds odd to an ātmavādin;-)) is a good starting point. For me, for instance, working is necessary. Even if I were wealthy enough, I would feel uneasy in just researching at home, without any immediate social significance. But I do not mind teaching whatever I can/have to, at whatever level, and I am not interested in earning more than I do. And it is a fact that to find a job in South Asian studies implies either a very long insecure period and/or un(der)paid jobs and/or to travel abroad to find one (as our cases show). If one feels bad outside the precincts of one's homeland, needs social acceptance and economical safety, a job in South Asian studies will never be a viable option.
Does this mean that I am suggesting that South Asian studies can only be chosen by people who are prepared to all the above? No. But it means that the ones who want to be *paid* as South Asian scholars must be prepared to it. I am afraid that, if they are not, they will be disappointed.

KoSa said...

Dear Elisa,

you have a ready-made definition of what it means to be satisfied, and personally, I am less than satisfied with that. Your argument seems to rest on the assumption that it is easy to assess the value of one's contributions - while on the other hand the problem seems to be precisely the opposite: there are too many contributions, public appearances, speeches, publications, most of which is far less than mediocre.

If scholars were to spend more time *alone* studying and contemplating about their fields of interest, the study of Buddhism and Indian thought would not be dominated by such widespread charlatanism.

To go back to your initial point about the sports-champions: here hardly anyone even know how to play basket.

Best,
Mattia

elisa freschi said...

Dear Mattia (by the way, do we know each other?),
I tend to write clear-cut statements when I post, in order to encourage discussion. How would YOU define personal satisfaction?
As for the main point you raise, yes, I agree that too many speeches and useless papers do not enhance Indian (including Buddhist) studies. I have argued elsewhere (e.g.: http://elisafreschi.blogspot.com/2010/05/proposal-for-coffee-break-conference.html) that conferences are often useless and personally I do only participate to the ones who offer enough time and space for discussion. BUT, I do not think that studying alone is enough to prevent "charlatanism". On the contrary, I learn a lot through criticisms (hence, thanks again to you and Giuliano) and thought-provoking discussions. They often saved me from writing, e.g., a long-prepared but stupid paper on the subject in Mīmāṃsā which would not have pondered about the distinction between knower and agent (just because there is no such distinction in Mīmāṃsā texts).
In short, I agree that discussion is not enough, that conferences are often just shows and that publishing as many papers as follows does not benefit and often harms one's field of interest. But what are possible remedies? Maybe not just closing one's windows and thinking longer about what one is going to write...
Your last comment also suggests that we should do some effort to understand/be aware/make younger scholars aware of how to play basket.
What do you think?

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