Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Lone scholarship

For the last few years I’ve taken a cycling holiday to mark the end of summer, thus returning with those start of Autumn / new year feelings that surely affect all those on an academic calendar. This year it was a week or two earlier (Sustrans Route 8 across Wales) but Autumn seems to be arriving earlier to compensate. And so thoughts of pubs with dark ale and warm fires begin to occur.

It’s also a year since I began to act as the director of the philosophy section here at Uclan. My colleagues have been warmly welcoming (I arrived from a different part of the University) and impressively assiduous in sharing the workload. But there has been an inevitable rise in my administrative duties and meetings and corresponding collapse in research time (I’ve written just one article this year). This reinforces a feature of (my attitude, at least, to) research in philosophy by contrast with a natural science.

There’s no obvious corresponding research advantage to being a head of section in philosophy. Were I head of a science department, it would be culturally much more normal to guide the direction of the research undertaken. Thus my own research aims would be advanced by the labour of others. But, within philosophy, if I were to ask a phenomenologist colleague to give up that area and work on Wittgenstein on nonsense instead I would be rightly told where to go. (It would not be the best use of others’ skills.)

There is an analogous role to that of the head of a science department. If one wins a sufficiently large research grant one can set up a mini-department from scratch with minions to do one’s bidding (an aim for the coming year!). Even so, I wonder whether there’s still a cultural norm specific to philosophy and the humanities: research is personally owned. Even a team working on, say, the understanding of delusions, would ultimately comprise a group of lone scholars, discussing their views over coffee and beer no doubt, but writing philosophy in their studies. One would only feel fully responsible for one’s own work.

In other news: a paper written for the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice has been accepted after corrections in response to some very helpful reviewers. They made me realise that I had somehow misunderstood what I was going about doing. Perhaps more simply, there was simply a better way of thinking what the subsidiary arguments I had put forward showed.

I’ve been delightfully invited to a conference (which had better remain anonymous) with the final incentive (not that it was needed): “Even if you don't really fancy the conference, just think of it as three or four days of as much free booze as you can drink.” Not something one reads often in modern streamlined academia.

Finally, I’ve been invited to write a paper for the journal: Current Alzheimer Research and the invitation contains rather a specific title and a dozen or so texts in a suggested bibliography. I am simultaneously impressed by the detail of the editors’ vision and faintly affronted at the same time. (Of course, I’ll try to do it.) Now if only I were the head of a science department I could simply hand it over to a minion and bask in the subsequent credit.