Thursday, August 09, 2007

the emperor's new book

Attend a workshop at Yale yesterday on "analytic sociology." Unusual format: instead of presenting your own paper, you had 20 minutes to present someone else's paper. Not as a discussant, but rather you were supposed to present the other person's paper much as you would your own (the main differences being that you say use "[name]" or "s/he" where in your own paper you'd say "I", and you can inject much more explicit praise of someone one's paper where for your own this would be considered tacky). Afterward, the author had 10 minutes to expand or correct or otherwise comment, and then it was open to the floor for discussion.

The stated reason for this format is the idea that other people can present one's work more clearly than one can. I don't know if this is true. However, the workshop brought together papers that are supposed to be appearing in an edited volume on the topic, and having to give the paper to someone else to present on your behalf is a good motivating mechanism to make sure one has a relatively full draft to present to others. (At least, it worked for me, for 2 of the 8 papers, the author did not have a complete draft in time and so they just presented their own.)

My paper on preferences was nicely received but not fully understood. It's a tricky argument, briefly and imperfectly made. I will have to endeavor to make it clearer, although I'm only going to be able to do so much since I am already up against the word count. My presentation (of someone else's paper) went all right but was not an especially pleasant experience, as when part of the paper that I had glossed over quickly turned into a main matter for the discussion, I kept sitting there feeling like I had let her down.

BTW: Anecdote from the conference was that somebody made a reference to Sociologist A having made a "emperor has no clothes"-ish dig about the incomprehensible writings of Eminent Sociologist B in a very public forum.* What had actually happened was that A used a hypothetical example of a scholar with incomprehensible writing and somebody in the audience said "B!", and now the story has become changed to where it had been A who said "B", so he's presented as like the kid who said the emperor had no clothes when he was really like the kid who gave a hypothetical example of a naked person and some other kid said "The emperor!"

* That of B's work I have attempted to read is, in fact, mostly incomprehensible to me, and I've never known whether those say they were much influenced by the work are (1) gleaning something from it I have not, (2) gleaning something based on interactions with B or just the occasional clarity around key concepts, or (3) lying. My belief is anyone who has read B will suspect who I am talking about; the problem is more that they may have other suspects as well.

Update: If you suspect you know who Eminent Sociologist B is, but are not sure and think I'm a "tease" for not naming names -- here's the deal: go to this site, paste "joiimuh nhaphynh vidabt chzymukvc qk siau uhvl ietwedeaomgwpbcv" in the box, enter the scholar's first and last name in the "Key" box, and hit "decode." If you are correct, the resulting message will affirm it.

14 comments:

rps said...

I am quite confident I know who you're talking about. I suspect you'd prefer to give 10 points to Gryffindor without me naming him here?

Anonymous said...

jeremy - you are such a tease!

Ken Houghton said...

"for 2 of the 8 papers, the author did not have a complete draft in time and so they just presented their own."

That is, I believe, the best definition of "moral hazard" I've seen recently.

Having someone else present your paper should allow you to figure out if the paper really says what you think it does.

jeremy said...

Ken: Exactly right.

Brady said...

Argh! That cipher site's been down all morning, and the suspense is *killing* me.

Lemme guess...it's Auguste Comte, right?

Anonymous said...

got it on the first try ... in a positive light, perhaps that's some indication that the number of truly incomprehensible yet eminent sociologists is actually pretty small.

Kieran said...

My subsidiary rule on the incomprehensibility thing -- and I speak as someone with one too many anglo-empiricist-analytical bones in them -- is 'by their fruits shall ye know them,' and in the present case that's a big mitigating factor, I think.

Anonymous said...

this is driving me nuts, and making me feel like a bad junior sociologist. 3 guesses, all wrong.

Jamy said...

I got it right on the first try--I'm so pleased! I once saw the eminent sociologist in question give a talk and it made no sense at all. It confirmed my suspicion that incomprehensibility is often equated with smarts in academia.

Saw your panel this morning--very interesting. I'm wondering if my anonymity is worth it these days, but since I'll probably never write about sociology, I can live with it for now.

Anonymous said...

I've guessed five and can't get it, either. Any hints? This is driving me crazy!

jeremy said...

Anon: It's somebody you haven't read or else you would know, so I wouldn't worry about it.

Anonymous said...

It's that word "eminent" that bothers me, though. Failing to guess it saps my sociology student pride. Wait. Do sociology grad students get to have pride? Eh...

jeremy said...

You can look forward to the day you read this author and realize that now you are in the club.

Anonymous said...

got it, finally, after 17 tries