Trouble in my Twitter Feed

While scrolling through my twitter feed this morning, I encountered, in quick succession, two tweets promoting writing projects with trouble in the title.

Troubled from the Start About peer review in academic science. Author argues that in thinking about how to reconfigure the process, we need to recognize that peer review developed in response to demands from others and that it has never been fixed, but in flux. Here troubled = a process that has been challenged and debated since its earliest forms.

Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt by Sarah Jaffe


Necessary Trouble offers readers an understanding of today’s new radicals–the troublemakers of all stripes who refuse to sit any longer on the sidelines and wait for things to improve.

On Giving Advice, One Approach

Last night, I read Ramblings of an Old Academic: Unconfident Advice for End-Times Academics by James Paul Gee. I wanted to archive it here as an example of one way to give advice. What do I think about Gee’s approach? I’m still not sure yet. I want to think about it some more. Something about it troubles me.

For now, I’ll stick to just offering up a quick summary of his essay. Here it is, in 3 parts.

Part One: Don’t ask him for advice.

Gee describes five different reasons why he’s the last person from whom you should get advice about being an academic. I especially like reason #4: he researches/writes about (too) many different things and likes now knowing (enough) more than being an Expert.

I wrote about these many different things because I always found it much easier to write about areas I did not yet know much about and much harder to say anything interesting or helpful when I knew lots about an area. So I just moved on.

I also enjoy writing about things that I don’t yet know that much about. It helps keep me interested and inspired. While I think that there are some not so healthy reasons why I eschew being an expert and resist doing work that isn’t fun and stimulating, I see my willingness to experiment with many different areas of study as one of my strengths (and as something that is necessary for a vigorous as opposed to rigorous education).

Part Two: The academic world HE inhabited no longer exists, Or maybe never did.

Gee tells a story about his lucky (privileged) experiences of becoming/being an academic. Then he describes how the academic world has dramatically changed as making money has become more important than producing knowledge.

None of this is to say that there wasn’t plenty of greed in the past, rather it is to say that we have now made greed a moral virtue and openly take pride in the fact that even in colleges and universities it is all about raising money.

Part Three: Some Advice to be taken with a massive grain of salt.

At the end of this essay, Gee offers 10 bits of advice. I especially appreciate #3:

Do not worry over much about protecting your ideas. Let them out in the world early and often so they can get tested and promiscuously mate with other people’s ideas. If someone steals one of your ideas and you were only going to have one good one anyway, then you would not have had a good career anyway—you have to have good ideas over the long haul.


About midway through the essay, Gee asks:

What do you think is worth doing for the one human life you are going to get?

I like this question. Gee poses it as the conclusion to a series of questions about whether or not you should be an academic. I see this question as bigger. There should’t be just one answer to it. It is not only about the one thing you choose to do for a job/career. And, we shouldn’t pose it to ourselves just once.

I imagine this question to be a form of guidance, that’s not advice but wisdom and an invitation to pay deep and sustained attention to what we do and why we do it.

How to ask some questions the Butler way

Ahmed, Sara. Interview with Judith Butler.

Sara Ahmed asks: What kind of questions, concerns, interests, directions would for you be the ones that would keep Queer Studies alive as a project?

Judith Butler responds: Here are some questions that I think are really important*:

  1. How do we understand those desires that we might call abiding, persistent, and that for many define their basic sense of self?
  2. How do we even understand that basic sense of self, when it exists or when it struggles to exist?
  3. How is that sense formed, and when does it take hold, if it does?
  4. Under what conditions is it dismantled or even shattered?
  5. And how do we live in ways that request that this sense of self, these abiding and obdurate desires, be recognized?
  6. How do we account for those whose experience of desire does not ‘settle’ in this way, so that either desire may contest a basic sense of self or may establish the self as changeable or alterable?
  7. How do we tell the stories about how we came upon our desires, how we came to negotiate the basic ways in which both gender and sexuality were ‘assigned’ against our will at the same time that we insist on the enduring or bedrock quality of the category that describes who we have become?
  8. How do we still value becoming without losing track of what grounds and defines us? How much of our self-definition is found and how much is made, and under what conditions do new naming practices offer us a chance to be who we wish to be?
  9. How do we think about the doubleness of the self that wants to be who it is?
  10. Is that doubleness fully overcome when we say that we have arrived and that we are now that being what we always wanted to be?
  11. What lingering disappointments or doubts follow, and are we still living when we have decided on who we are? How can a sense of living be preserved within the terms of decision, so that ‘deciding’ does not put an end to the processual quality of life?
  12. Conversely, if we never decide who we are, are we at risk of becoming dispersed in ways that make life unlivable?
  13. How do we think about those self-naming and self-defining practices that take place in concert with others in a world in which the language we use is itself in a process of change?
  14. What if we shift the question from ‘who do I want to be?’ to the question, ‘what kind of life do I want to live with others?’?
  15. It seems to me that then many of the questions you pose about happiness, but perhaps also about ‘the good life’ – very ancient yet urgent philosophical questions – take shape in a new way. If the I who wants this name or seeks to live a certain kind of life is bound up with a ‘you’ and a ‘they’ then we are already involved in a social struggle when we ask how best any of us are to live. It is of course especially difficult to ask this last question, what kind of life do I want to live with others, if the life that we are seeking to live is not regarded as a life at all?
  16. How do these philosophical desires become compromised or complicated if a life is considered a non-life under regimes of racism?
  17. How do we account for the experience of someone crossing national borders only to find that they are racialized in ways that never existed before? A sudden, unexpected interpellation.
  18. How does the issue of race divide those queer activists and writers who ally with struggles against racism, nationalism, war, and occupation from those who think that queer ought to become its own identity, its own discipline, and so differentiated from these other concerns and struggles? It seems to me that queer has to be part of the weave of a broadening struggle.
  19. Important also is to ask: Whose stories do we read, and how important might the story be in telling a history, in explaining how science changes, or in making clear how a philosophical concept works, or can work?
  20. How do we think about bringing feminism into a closer relation with queer and trans and with anti-racist struggles, without letting those who conduct transphobic diatribes monopolize the meaning of feminism, or those who continue to believe that feminists must defend themselves against the claims of cultural difference?
  21. Can we still own queer – or any of these terms – without letting them monopolize difference, allowing for a certain movement of thought that is grateful to its critics for letting us think something new, that is glad to be in the mix of emerging alliance and not the ultimate sign of its unity?


Note: Butler’s questions are not in list form in the published interview. But, because I’m into lists these days, I wanted to put them in that form. Click “continue reading” to read the text as it was published. Back to text.

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