Sometimes you can simply sense
when a storm is brewing. Something about how the air smells, or the way that the light comes through the clouds…something subtle, but tangible. A sign that a certain amount of chaos is about to erupt. And if it's a bad storm, the possibility emerges that things will be swept away in the violence.
This semester has been a rough one for the Ph.D. program, as tensions and divisions that had been suppressed and unacknowledged have begun to manifest themselves. Whether in dissertation proposal defenses, or in the seminar in which advanced students present their works in progress, or in general conversations in the hallways, people have begun to acknowledge that there are serious divisions between the faculty about what makes for good social science methodology. After witnessing several painful sessions where students were critiqued on neopositivist grounds and were unable to defend themselves, I sent off a carefully worded message to certain key parties, setting in motion a chain of events that, suffice to say, looks an awful lot like the rumbling of thunderheads. Maybe we're finally going to have a frank discussion about this.
I admit to some trepidation, on several grounds:
- I don't have tenure yet. Big concern -- what if this goes horribly wrong?
- I have seen departments ripped apart by fights over methodology, and know of others that fared even worse. Not quite sure how precisely to prevent that from happening here.
- Combat takes time. And time is not something I have in abundance.
In general I maintain that having the fight is better than not having it, especially when issues like the direction of the Ph.D. program are at stake. I do not imagine that we will achieve a complete consensus about how the program should be arranged, but I do think that the possibility exists for a rough consensus about what we do and what we don't really do. I think that we need to prepare students to defend their methodological choices on valid philosophical grounds, and
that we need to provide them with feasible options that both cover the range of available options in the discipline and are appropriate for their projects. But even doing that, it remains the case that our program leans in one direction rather than another, and we need to stop trying to force people into a mold where they and their projects don't so much fit…if we can achieve rough consensus about that
, and take certain criticisms and attacks off the table as options for people to use in public fora, I'll feel that a victory has been won.
A storm seems to be coming. Hopefully it will bring changes…hopefully we'll all survive the experience, and even prosper from it.[Posted with ecto]