This Academic Life
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As my readers know I turned in my book manuscript to my editor last week. (Thanks for the congratulations, everyone!) Yes, it's still too long, and yes, there'll be additional rounds of editing. but the important thing is that a professional milestone has been reached: the all-important First Book is well on its way to actually appearing in print (November-ish, the folks at Big University Press tell me). And just in time for my tenure process, which gets underway in September; with any luck I'll have page proofs to send up the chain of command with the rest of my file.

[I've been thinking about whether it's possible to summarize the book for those of you who don't know me personally, but do so in such a way as not to completely give away my identity. Obviously I can't give you title or publisher, but I can safely say the following three things about the book: 1) there's a chapter on Weber's concept of legitimation in which I argue that such an approach handles agency and causality better than just about any alternative I know of; 2) the empirical "meat" of the book is heavily archival, relying extensively on close readings of historical documents in order to establish that … well, something that has been overlooked or downplayed by previous scholarly accounts of the process and historical period I'm interested in … is in fact both present and important; 3) neither Henry Kissinger nor Samuel P. Huntington are likely to be pleased with the argument, and I'm kind of bummed that George Kennan died before the manuscript was completely ready, since that means that I'll never be able to ask him what he thinks of it. I'd say more, but I like to keep this blog discreet if not completely anonymous…]

After I turned in the manuscript I hosted a Very Important IR Scholar for a talk and a subsequent dinner-party, and both events were debuts of new material that he'd not performed publicly before. Got lots of kudos and compliments from high up the chain of command for that; plus, it was just a massive injection of intellectual stimulation of the sort that is sometimes hard to come by around here because of the policy-world center of gravity of the school.

So last week was a pretty good week.

This weekend I was visiting relatives -- not academics, not intellectuals -- and they were more impressed by a relatively minor side-show that happened last week too. In fact, they were more impressed by this than by almost anything else I've done in my career. A basic cable show sent a crew to my house to interview me about American foreign policy during the historical period that I have been researching; they asked questions for about forty minutes, had me do some voice-over recording for some footage of photographs, and fished for good quips and sound-bites about two minutes of which are at all likely to end up in the final cut of the show. It was pretty cool, both from a technical perspective (taping reaction shots was intriguing, as was talking to the producer/editor about how he planned to assemble the footage later) and from a participant-observer standpoint (the hierarchy between techs and on-air hosts, and the inversion of that hierarchy in all kinds of subtle ways, was fascinating: the hosts were kept out of the room until the techs were done setting up, and the very vocabulary of their speech changed when the hosts were brought in; the hosts then "directed" the action while the techs supposedly followed orders while guiding the action along the lines that they'd previously worked out among themselves, and I'd been privileged to hear that because I established myself earlier as someone with a bit of technical knowledge about filmmaking and most clearly as not a professional interview subject or media personality, so that script didn't come into play). Plus: hey, it's TV! I'm on TV! Cool.

But to listen to my relatives talk, it was like everything I've been doing for the past decade or so has been mere temporizing and preparation for this, my actual debut. Never mind the peer-reviewed journal articles, the leadership positions in professional organizations, the classroom teaching (including several university awards), the mentoring of students, etc. None of that made as much of an impact as this minor TV appearance, during which I was largely called on to give canned answers and unqualified generalizations to lend an air of "scholarly respectability" to the program. My relatives pressed me for information on when the program would air, said that they'd told all of their friends and acquaintances, and congratulated me … as though this were some kind of major professional accomplishment!

The discrepancy between the reward-structure inside and outside of academia never ceases to amaze me. I was much more happy about Very Important IR Scholar's citation of my work (three times!) during his talk than with my brief brush with basic-cable fame, and submitting a book manuscript seems to me far more a reason to celebrate than taping an interview for a television program. I can see how the TV thing might be more accessible to people outside of the academic/scholarly context, but remain somewhat baffled about how much of a big deal my relatives were making about it when they seem not to recognize any of the other, more centrally scholarly things I do. I wonder if part of it is that they work jobs while I try very hard to live in a vocation, so they don't regard professional successes as all that noteworthy. I wonder also if it's just that people who aren't academics or around academia have a very hard time picturing what it is that we academics do, so that other activities that fit better into established scripts ("television appearance") look more important and praiseworthy than others.

I certainly didn't mind appearing on the TV program, and was quite interested in the gig. But I am a little frustrated that in a week of such intellectual and professional high-points, the kudos I got from my relatives were all about such a comparatively minor spin-off.

[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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