I recently went a conference where I had a chance to meet Nikolas Rose recently. I’m always interested to meet Famous Professors to see how they do it — what unique combination of personality traits got them, well frankly, tenure. Isn’t that something every academic should start keeping track of?
I’m pleased to say that Rose’s success –as far as I can tell — is due to his genuine pleasantness and keen desire to keep his nose down in the weeds and keep producing substantive ethnographic/historical work. Its always a pleasure to meet someone who has managed to become a success without turning into an bad person or cutting themselves loose from the lived reality we are supposed to be studying.
One thing I learned about Rose, rather than from him, came from an excellent interview with him in Public Culture. It was about his early career in the 1970s. This is what he said:
Everybody was running little magazines in those days. That infrastructure was actually rather crucial to us. Our journal was completely self- produced, and we all contributed time to a cooperative that distributed it to bookshops across the country. And we mailed it out across the world. We actually had a very wide circulation and gained many subscribers: we ran readers’ meetings, where there was intense discussion. It was a hopeful time — we believed that how you thought made a difference to what you would and could do.
Having read many of these seventies journals, I know exactly the sort he is talking about. They were insightful, brimming with life, and produced (through their own production) scholars like Rose who would go on to do great things. Why? They were produced by a small group of committed people, run on enthusiasm, and guided by a communal vision. What didn’t they have? Professional copyediting, scrupulous metadata, redundant backups, and a large nonacademic secretarial staff.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for professional copyediting and the rest of it. But in these days, when publishing is so easy, I’m afraid that anthropologists have drunk a little too much of librarians’ kool aid. Fears about appearing ‘unprofessional’ or having ‘low standards’ can have a chilling effect on academic’s decision to Just Get On With It and publish their ruthless critique of everything existing. We should indulge our urge to make exciting ideas and share them with the world, even when doing so makes work for librarians and gives grammar nazis headaches.
After all, it worked for Nikolas Rose.