This Academic Life
  Professional socialization
Professional socializationI'm a little dissatisfied with what I posted earlier, so I'm taking another crack at it even though I have loads of end-of-semester grading to do. As a colleague said to me yesterday, there's nothing like a looming deadline to focus the mind on other things :-)

The conventional distinction between MA and PH.D. education is the practice/theory distinction: MA degrees are supposed to be "applied" degrees involving the use of skills to solve problems, while Ph.D. degrees are supposed to be "theoretical" degrees involving the production of the knowledge that MAs and other practitioners can go out into the field and apply. While I think that there is something to this distinction, I also think that it is inaccurate to characterize a Ph.D. degree as purely "theoretical" and an MA degree as purely "practical." Both of these educational pathways involve modes of practice, and are supposed to bring students along into those modes of practice; both are also "theoretical" inasmuch as they involve a way of seeing (which is the rood of the word "theory," after all) that is something other than mere description (as if such a thing were possible).

Hence, both MA and Ph.D. tracks have a "professional" aspect, in that there is a profession into which the student is being socialized, and a "content" aspect, in that there is particular material with which the student has to contend in the course of her or his education. I reject the use of the word "theory" to describe the content of either of these tracks. In typical social-science fashion (and parenthetically, this whole discussion may only apply to the social sciences), here's a 2x2 table that hopefully clarifies more than it obscures:

MApractitionercraft practices

The MA track is about training people to be practitioners. The profession into which MA students are being socialized is the world of practical (in our case, political) activity, which is why it is good to have experienced practitioners as instructors. Experienced practitioners can facilitate socialization both by simply telling students what the world of practice is like, and by connecting students with aspects of that world through internships, jobs, consulting opportunities, and the like. experienced practitioners can also transmit their knowledge of the craft practices that make the world of practical activity go around, both through exemplary story (sometimes called the analysis of "best practices") and through apprenticeship opportunities. [I have several colleagues who secure consulting contracts for their classes and then walk them through the process of researching, preparing, and presenting reports to NGOs, government agencies, firms, and the like; the faculty member serves as the expert guide, giving feedback at every stage of the process.]

The Ph.D. track is about training people to be scholars. By "scholar" here I do not necessarily mean "university faculty member," although that is clearly one of the place where scholars ply their trade; there are also think-tanks and research institutes where scholars can thrive and prosper. To be an scholar largely means to be interested in ideas and abstract debate, as well as in the conditions of validity of the knowledge-claims implicated in those debates. This does not mean that scholars don't have "real-world" concerns, but that they approach them in very different ways, and with more of a heightened sense of the philosophical implications of their stances. There is clearly a "profession" here, involving publishing, attending conferences, and in many cases classroom teaching (especially for university faculty members), but it is a different profession than that targeted by the MA track. And the content is different, even if the same texts are read in both tracks. Ph.D. education is concerned -- obsessed, perhaps -- with methodological questions, which I would define as bringing philosophical issues (ontology and epistemology) together with the more technical questions of research design and execution.

The corruption of the Ph.D. track occurs when educational organizations, and the faculty members within them, ignore or suppress the distinction in favor of a focus on the MA track. What this does -- again, speaking ideal-typically here -- is to exercise a gravitational pull on the Ph.D. track away from scholarship and methodology and towards the world of practitioners and craft practices. Thus researchers become "consultants" and think-tank members become hired guns for political parties and NGOs -- and the Weberian distinction between "Wissenschaft" and "Politik" falls completely apart.

Hence, my problem: I'm a scholar in an MA-dominated university program, where many of our Ph.D. students are not being socialized as scholars and are not really as focused on methodology as I think that they should be. And I would like to change this, but
  • I am not sure that many of my colleagues are with me; and
  • I am not sure precisely how much room to maneuver I have, given the financial logic of the situation.

    Meanwhile, back to grading the final papers for my methodology course, which also drove home this distinction to me inasmuch as I have some MA students who are really doing Ph.D. work and also some Ph.D. students who are really doing MA work.

    Do I really have anything useful to teach MA students?

    [Posted with ecto]
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    "Academia als Beruf," or, an occasional record of the various aspects of my life as an academic. Written by "21stCWeber," an arrogant handle I know…but I must confess that I do want to be Weber when and if I grow up :-)



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