The Philadelphia Shuffle

[UPDATED: an mp3 of my remarks on the panel is now available at www.kittenboo.com.]

One of the interesting things about only having classes on Thursday and Friday this semester is that although the semester formally started on Monday, I have yet to actually appear in a classroom this Fall. That changes today.

However, it changes not at the scheduled time for my sci-fi class; it changes this evening at the scheduled time for my IR theory/philosophy class. Why, you ask? because today I am driving up to Philadelphia, meeting some colleagues, having lunch with an editor, presenting a paper on a panel about "methodological diversity," and then getting back into the car and driving back down here in time for my evening class. Call it "the Philadelphia Shuffle."

The occasion for this craziness is the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. This is the annual gathering of my professional tribe, ostensibly to present research and debate weighty issues, in reality to meet up with friends and colleagues and get the latest gossip on who got tenure, who didn't, what jobs are open at which institutions, and the like. Academic conferences are their own peculiar little worlds, and the first rule of conferencing is that the content of panels and roundtables is rarely the point; the point is to network, to see and be seen, to make a splash or an impact or to otherwise get oneself involved with the people who are having a particular set of conversations. Call it a socially embedded process of knowledge-production (not that there's such a thing as a process of knowledge-production that isn't socially embedded, but so designating it calls attention to what is most important about the event).

APSA is an enormous conference, full of relatively independent subgroups called "sections" that organize their own panels and basically do their own thing over the four days that the meeting takes place. I am going up to Philly because I was invited to participate on a panel on a subject close to my heart, "multiple methodologies" -- a notion that I think is largely nonsensical, and I intend to spend my 10-15 minutes of presentation time saying so. The panel is sponsored by the Qualitative Methods section of APSA, one of the few sections whose panels I generally like; much of APSA is dominated by various sub-sub-categories of the study of American Politics, and that's not what I do. APSA really isn't "my" conference, but I'm going this year because I was invited and because it's (barely) possible for me to make it there and back in one day, and thus not have to pay for a hotel.

This does mean that I miss the first meeting of the sci-fi class, but my assistant can handle that for me, and I'll be back for the other class tonight. Still, six hours of driving for four hours of conference is a somewhat tenuous exchange. I do not intend to make a habit of this.

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