Wed Dec 29, 2004

A Sociologist Amongst Philosophers

Not only is it MLA Season, it’s also time for the meetings of the American Philosophical Association’s Eastern Division. The APA meetings are scheduled at this time of the year because, as is well known, philosophers hate Christmas—even if a good number of its senior wranglers do their best to look like Santa. So here I am in Boston. This year I even have a professional excuse to be here, because I’m doing some work on the relationship between specialization and status amongst philosophy departments.

Unlike most academic associations, the APA doesn’t have a proper national meeting, just regional ones. But the Eastern APA is the biggest, partly because there’s a high concentration of philosophers on the East Coast,[1] but mostly because the job market happens at it. Like the MLA, Philosophy departments interview their shortlist of 10 to 15 candidates at the meetings, with a view to whittling them down to three or four for campus visits. Personally, I don’t believe this stage adds any useful information to the recruitment process, unless you are interested in whether a candidate can sit comfortably in a cramped hotel suite.

I nearly got an interview at the APA myself a few years ago, when I accidentally sat at the wrong table in an empty conference room, put my feet up and started reading some book or other. After about half an hour some people started filing in to the room, but I wasn’t paying attention. Then two guys (one with a Santa beard-in-training) sat down at my table. “Mr Robertson? We’re from East Jesus State University,”[2] said one of them, “Shall we begin?” I should have said yes, but of course instead I was a coward and mumbled something about not being Mr Robertson. Pity: I’ve become quite good at bluffing my way amongst philosophers, and I might have gotten a fly-out.

fn1. Every single Mets fan, for instance.

fn2. Not its real name.