Academic scholarship is a game, and here is how it is played. There are basically two teams, “us” and “them.” Each team has players who work either independently or in groups to defend their cluster of commitments. When reading the work of some scholar, then, the first order of business is to identify what team the author belongs to. If the author in question is well known, this step need not last any longer than reading his or her name. If the author is not that well known, and if moreover the author does not indicate their allegiance in the title of his or her work, some further reading will be required. The goal, though, is to skim through the article or monograph quickly in order to identify team-membership as soon as possible.

Once the author writing the target text has been identified as either “us” or “them,” the next step is to match that commitment to one’s own and determine whether the author is on the same team or not. If he or she is (scenario 1), then the piece can now serve as further ammunition, and task now becomes to determine whether the author has done a good job of defending the cause. The worst that can happen here is that author serves the cause, but in a poor fashion. If a poor case was made for one’s prior commitments and the person is well known, the piece can either be cited in one’s subsequent work (scenario 1a1) or ignored (scenario 1a2). There is some genuine leeway here, and personal acquaintance often lets the decision tree tip to scenario 1a1.

On a scale of 1 to 4 points, scenario 1a1 earns the author cited 1 point of academic capital if the citer is not well known, and 2 points if the citer is well-known. The author citing never gets points for citing. If a poor case was made for one’s prior commitments and the person is not well known, one is to act as if the text was never written (scenario 1b). If a persuasive case for one’s prior commitments was made and the person is well known, the text should be cited in one’s work at the first opportunity (scenario 1c). Scenario 1c earns the author cited 3 points of academic capital if the citing author is well known (1c1), and 2 points if the citing author is not well known (1c2). If a persuasive case for one’s prior commitments was made and the person is not well known, the text can either be cited in one’s work whenever the circumstances are apt (scenario 1d1) or her name can be put on a shelf so that one is thereafter on the lookout to see if she ever achieves the previous status (scenario 1d2). Scenario 1d1 earns the author cited 3 points of academic capital if the citing author is not well known (scenario 1d1a), and 4 points if the citing author is well known (1d1b). If one opted for scenario 1d2 and the ally does become well known, return to scenario 1c (this has the net effect that the academically rich get richer, and the poor get poorer). The usual delay for ascent in status is roughly ten years; if the author does not achieve fame by that time, assume that something is wrong and remove her name from the lookout list.

If the person whose work is being read is arguing for the other side (scenario 2), then the task is to find where she went wrong (for, surely, given her misguided commitments, she must have gone wrong somewhere). If the opponent puts forward a convincing case and is well known, she earns herself an attack (scenario 2a). Be sure to make the attack especially polite if you are not well known (2a1), and just polite if you are well known (2a2). Again, on a scale of 1 to 4 points of academic capital, scenario 2a1 gives the author attacked 1 point and the attacker 2 points. Scenario 2a2 earns each party 2 points (this sort of transaction among equals is the most widespread form of intertextual nepotism, and earns the conversing parties academic capital with each back and forth). If the opponent puts forward a convincing case and is not well known (scenario 2b), either her name is put on a shelf and one is thereafter on the lookout to see if she ever achieves the previous status (scenario 2b1), or the opponent can be non-politely attacked (scenario 2b2). Scenario 2b2 is earns the author attacked 2 points academic capital if the attacker is not well known (2b2a), and 4 points if the attacker is well known (2b2b). Scenario 2b2 earns the attacker 1 point.

Let us therefore review the moves that earn the most points:

1d1b – 4 points: You are not well known, and you are being cited by a person on the same team who is well known.
2b2b – 4 points: You are well known, and you are being attacked by a well known person from the other team.
1d1 – 3 points: You are not well known, and you are being cited by a person on the same team who is not well known.
1c1 – 3 points: You are…

Ah, who the fuck cares.

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