I’m a serious philosopher who also used to be a professional philosopher. And I study and write about X-ian philosophy. But all too often, professional X-ian philosophy made and still makes me feel like a whale jumping out of a toilet through a tiny hoop held by a dominatrix in a frog suit, like one of the installations in Banksy’s new seaside “amusement” park, Dismaland–
Let me explain.
We’re all philosophers, right? And as such, we’re reasonable, fair-minded people, right? Especially those who work in X-ian philosophy, given X-ian ethical theory, right?
What follows is a set of complaints and worries I have, that are of necessity centered on my own personal experience. But they generalize over all, or virtually all, other areas of contemporary professional academic philosophy, so not just X-ian philosophy, but A-ian philosophy, B-ian philosophy, C-ian philosophy, … N-ian philosophy. That’s why talking out about them is important.
The implicit politics in X-ian scholarship is nasty, very nasty (my friend AB, who has abandoned ship, aptly calls it “The X Industry”; he now works mainly in epistemology).
Like our larger society, X-ian philosophy has its big shots at the top universities (the haves), and its little shots at the lesser institutions (the have nots).
Importantly, the big shot X-ians include wanna-be-big-shots, who write in a certain style to conform to what is expected from them or in order to impress (ideally with lots of formal logic, which I’m sure is not really that impressive — my former colleague CD, who is a logician and dabbling in X-ian philosophy, in any case wasn’t impressed by it; average X-ians can’t read it, and logicians think it’s crap), so as to get the nod from the big shots.
These wanna-be-big-shots make sure that only their buddies get published in the top journals, but since the peer review system for journals is still often double blind, there is still a chance of getting published, as a little shot, in a top journal — although of course, if I do not conform to a certain standard of writing or don’t write about a certain topic in a certain standardly accepted way (i.e., according to a certain perception of rigor), my paper will be flagged for rejection, which is a way of keeping the network closed (also, buddies make sure that their papers are widely read before submission, so that everyone knows who’s who, when you get to review a certain paper, while pretending to keep the blind peer review intact).
Also, these wanna-be-big-shots will only cite work from among their own, so as to make sure that no one else gets recognition, even if that someone else has made a similar point before, and so should by the standards of scholarship get some recognition. This is often not something that is done on purpose, intentionally, but is a nasty effect of the politics of being a professional philosopher, who needs to work the system.
But I think it’s still a sign of professional cowardice, if one, even if implicitly, as an atomized non-reflexive subject in a totally administered academic community, values the system more than proper and honest scholarship. One should be aware of this and try to avoid it. Especially as a philosopher, whose business it is to be self-reflexive!
But for book publishing, the situation is even worse, given that the reviewing is only single blind—which immediately invites bias!: if I don’t belong to the big-shots or the wanna-be-big-shots with top-university-affiliations or from top-PhD-programs (and I don’t, as a matter of fact, although I do have a PhD from University U, which in Country C belongs to the top programs), I won’t get published by the publishers that these wanna-be-bigshots make sure won’t publish my work, just because I’m not a big-shot or a wanna-be-big-shot with a top-university-affiliation (I’m talking about Cambridge and Oxford UPs). So if you ARE not a big-shot or a wanna-be-big-shot, you should also not BECOME one, since you don’t have a right to. The elite book publishing business for philosophy (i.e. Cambridge and Oxford UPs) is fundamentally biased against you, simply because you don’t belong to the elite.
And it’s very easy to do this, by just writing in one’s report for the Press that the work submitted is not suited for Cambridge or Oxford — which is what actually happened to me; the reviewers didn’t write this in the report itself of course, but mentioned this to the publisher in the cover note that of course I didn’t get to see, which adds to the conspiratorial atmosphere, IMO; either these two reviewers, in my case, were incompetent to judge my work (and one of them clearly was, and was even philosophically incompetent), or they were politically motivated in their decisions, or both of course. One reviewer, to be fair, had some valuable comments and criticisms and actually thought the project was a good one and worth pursuing, but then I find it hard to understand why he/she should recommend that it not be published by Cambridge (as the publisher toldme). This can only be politically motivated.
The criteria for making these decisions are very poor, less than transparent, arbitrary, and purely political. In my opinion, the whole publishing business for philosophy (esp. for X-ian scholarship) is just a form of racketeering by a clique.
With all the politically motivated talk of boycotting this and that in philosophy (remember the equally ridiculous and stomach-turning episode about the Danish philosopher who got lambasted for posting a picture with girls in uniform on his website?), nobody would ever consider boycotting Cambridge and Oxford UPs, because too much is at stake.
Everyone wants to get published by Cambridge and Oxford (myself included, of course), but I think it’s sick to the bone, given the above-sketched problems. We should boycott them, unless either a double blind or open review system is readily adopted—the latter option is probably a fantasy, as it will immediately nix the privileges of the wanna-be-big-shot network.
More generally, professional X-ian philosophy is a Dismaland whose stark contrast with the substance and ideals of real X-ian philosophy itself, is enough to make any serious philosopher, like Banksy’s tortured, twisted Little Mermaid–
want to slide back into the philosophical ocean, and disappear.