This is the second post in a sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.
Oh god, more title clickbait. I’m going to lose this guest blog gig if I’m not careful. But please, allow me a moment. Like the “campaign” slogan that I’m riffing on, I’m sure this title makes you wonder things like, wait, what exactly do you mean by “great?” And when exactly was the C.V. ever “great?” We should probably be answering those before we get to this “again” nonsense. And, like supporters of the referred-to campaign slogan, you’d probably be hard-pressed to come to any sort of consensus about when and why and where were the salad days of the CV. For many of us, I suspect, the CV is one of those taken for granted bits of technology, that more or less unreflexively (except when we’re being hounded by the furies of the career center or harassed by the specter of The Professor is In) gives a sense of who we are academically. And if we’re to follow Rex’s thematic, it probably always sucked in one way or another. Moreover it’s the thing that presumably allows a hiring committee to make a snap judgment about whether any particular person will get more than a fleeting review before joining the party in the trash can.
So, against this natural- and normal-ness I’d like to suggest that the CV as it currently works allows for two things that are anathema to open scholarship: a privileging of authority and seniority; as well as a credentialed elitism. I’ll also suggest a “Short-form C.V.” that should mitigate some of this. And again, yes, the C.V. is a bit player given the larger structural problems of the academy: the over production of Ph.D.s and the conversion of the academy into a majority non-tenure-track work place to name two. But the C.V. is the place at which we tell the professional story about ourselves which we think our colleagues should know. Perhaps for this reason, the not-so-humble C.V. deserves at least a blog post.
I recently had the occasion to go through the C.V. of one of my mentors. This mentor is a very senior professor whom I quite like, with whom I enjoy working, and whose scholarship I’ve read a lot of and respect. This mentor also happens to have a 16 page C.V. To take one indicative section, “Professional Presentations,” it runs for three single-spaced pages and has North of 60 entries. What are we to make of this? Were we on a hiring committee or granting committee I don’t believe we would read all of these presentations. I doubt we even could get a hold of them without asking my mentor to dig through old files. But there they are, marching back into the past, one after the other, after another.
Let’s take another section, “Articles.” “Articles” runs for more than 2 1/2 single spaced pages and contains North of 40 entries. Academic, peer-reviewed articles are supposed to speak to our scholastic abilities. They’re written for an audience of scholars and have endured the blind scrutiny of our peers. And yet, can we conceive of a situation in which any review board would systematically read 40 articles and book chapters? We haven’t even gotten to whole books, lectures, and so on.
With both “Professional Presentations” and “Articles” we’re not so much faced with a list that allows for substantive review, but rather we’re faced with an argument by accumulation or enumeration. A review of ideas or scholarship would entail careful reading, logical analysis, and some form of criticism. Enumeration simply demands a respect for the judgment of others and the accumulated weight of symbolic capital. It also allows a backdoor to a number of inequities. Enumeration begets more enumeration–presentations rely on the resources to travel to conferences; granting agencies like that you’ve received other grants, and so on. Even a successful string of peer-reviewed articles suggests that you’ve found a place within a larger disciplinary conversation that will vouch for your work (and that is not threatened or confused by your ideas). Argument by enumeration, particularly in a C.V., takes all of these advantages and amplifies them. It also allows people to evaluate academics without ever actually engaging with their work. It is almost as though, from this point of view, we value tokens of seniority over intellectual vitality (not that they’re necessarily exclusive).
In the past year, I heard an excellent lecture by a relatively junior scholar who is well on their way. I was curious about what else this scholar had published, so I went to their University profile. At the profile I found a link to a C.V. Take heart, this one only ran five pages. Unlike the senior scholar above, this anthropologist is only at the beginning of what should be a long career. It should be apparent by this point that C.V.s are formulaic. They all have sections on education, jobs, publishing, disciplinary participation, etc. They also tend to talk about grants. This junior scholar is one who seems to have won all the grants–external and internal; university, foundation, and government. And as I looked through this list I came across something I had never seen before: declined grants. In addition to the long list of of money accepted to fund research, were several multi-year fellowships declined.
This is a curious artifact. Listing grants won is already weird as they suggest that you’re good at convincing people to give you money for research you plan to do. Keep in mind, because it is a grant, you haven’t done the research yet. Most simply, you’ve convinced a committee of mid- to senior-scholars (or administrators, or bureaucrats) that you will eventually do some good research. Put another way, winning grants, shows your symbolic capital, shows you can flex, as it points to how gatekeepers think about your career future. Declined grants emphasize this habit of thought. So many people think I’m going to be great, that I can’t even accept all of their money.
Enumeration of grants and other credentials introduces another curious oversight of the C.V. In anthropology in particular, we recognize that we cannot account for what we will discover across the vagaries of our research endeavors. At least in social and cultural anthropology, very often, the experience of doing long-term research makes any given proposal into a well-crafted lie. Perhaps more charitably, Robert Merton and Elinor Barber (2004) note that serendipity and chance discovery are often that which leads to intellectual breakthrough. You very often don’t know what exactly you are looking for when you’re doing research. Taken together, this contradicts the implicit narrative of granting agencies–proposal equals merit, then funding, and then discovery. It also suggests that, perhaps counter-intuitively, we ought to be more impressed with people who do good research without the consecration of grant money.
Biases towards seniority and elitism in the writing and reading of C.V.s gets at a more general issue in academia–overproduction. Publishing for the sake of having lots of publications. Applying to too many grants. Spangle a C.V. with anything that smells like merit. In turn, all this leads to a lurid embrace of audit culture, that is making ourselves legible to people who are incompetent in our particular are of scholarship. One might imagine a dean muttering, “I can’t evaluate the merit of these ten articles but I sure can count ’em!”
And so I offer the “Short-form C.V.” as a small, partial antidote to these tendencies. Here is what I think it should look like:
The Short-form C.V.
Reading the papers themselves! What a quaint idea! How medieval! I remember when I first heard from Jochen Shulte-Sasse that at the University in Bochum, West Germany, when a candidate for a job was under consideration the whole department would read all the candidate’s writings and then debate them. No wonder European universities have not kept pace with their American rivals! [Waters 2004:20]
The point of the Short-form C.V. is to strip away the accretions of elitism and enumeration as virtues in and of themselves and offer a reasonable way to evaluate the competency of an individual for an academic position. I hasten to add that, strictly speaking, I don’t even think this is necessary. Just about anyone with a Ph.D. in a relevant discipline could have a successful career, build a department, and collect any number of accolades. Many of my mentors did just that (I’m not even sure if their Ph.D.s were done when they started working). One in fact told me that at the start of his career in the late 60s, his adviser told him not to, “clutter up the journals.” Did someone order salad days?
Please attach a cover page with your name and contact information. Please, do not put your name or contact information on the C.V. document itself, or on any page aside from the cover page. We want to review you and your work blind.
Please list the degrees that you have earned as well as your major or area of concentration (for example M.A. Cultural Anthropology). Please do not list your school(s), your adviser(s), or your name.
Please list the titles of no more than two representative pieces of scholarship, preferably written in the last ten years. These need not have been published and can be of any length. One may be your dissertation, or representative chapters therefrom. Please also attach electronic versions of these pieces of scholarship. If your scholarship has been published, please attach plain versions, that list neither journal nor publisher. Also, please list your
name on a separate cover sheet so that we might read your scholarship blind.
Please list the title and a brief explanation of 2 classes you are ready to teach or have taught. If possible please select a general interest course as well as a course in your specialty. Please also attach their syllabi, with your name on a separate cover page.
Please list and briefly explain (no more than 2-3 sentences) two examples of service, either to your university or your community.
Please take this opportunity to list and briefly describe two or three things that may help you do the job to which you are applying (e.g. any relevant languages you might speak). Note, there is no need to complete this section.
NB: Should we receive more C.V.s than we can evaluate for the current position, we will select at random the maximum number of applications that we can review and proceed accordingly. If, after this first draw we have not selected anyone, we will repeat this process.
Again, the C.V. is a minor, though ever present, part of the academic universe. I have singled it out because I feel that it is a site that is both within our own control, and through which we can strive to be the types of scholars we would like to be. I also feel that, particularly for junior scholars and graduate students, the drive to accumulate lines on a C.V., in emulation of senior scholars, often motivates a careerism that eclipses the scholarship we wish to produce. If junior scholars could be assured that inane grants, or hypertrophied over-publishing will not be rewarded in the academic hiring process, perhaps we might feel a bit better about the actual research we do, and feel we have the time to develop it.
Merton, Robert K. and Elinor Barber. 2004. The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Waters, Lindsay. 2004. Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, And the Exlipse of Scholarship. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm