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CARE Now and Grievance Studies

The final demand of the CARE Now Petition is “the establishment of enrollment options and teaching fellowships in Native Studies, Trans Studies, Disability Studies, and Fat Studies.” Their reasoning goes as follows:

These fields have historically been underrepresented and are absent from intellectual discourse at Williams and beyond. The current political climate on campus attests to student demand for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies challenging the hegemony of traditional systems of knowledge. The Interdisciplinary Studies program at Williams must provide greater tangible support for courses and faculty research that fall outside the backing of departmental programs. The creation of new enrollment options and teaching fellowships in Native, Trans, Disability, and Fat Studies comprises a crucial step toward legitimizing scholars participating in marginalized fields of inquiry and creating experimental epistemologies, as well as providing perspectives benefitting the subjects of those disciplines.

A year ago, a group of three professors dubbed these identity studies “grievance studies” after they famously got a number of bogus papers published in highly regarded journals in social sciences, gender studies, and sexuality studies. One of these papers posited that dog humping at a Portland dog park was evidence of rape culture. Another rewrote a portion of Mein Kampf in the language of intersectionality. The YouTube video series chronicling this hoax is very entertaining; I encourage all to watch.

These three professors sought to show these fields are politically rather than intellectually charged. Beginning from premises such as “whiteness is evil,” it becomes easy to reach absolutely absurd conclusions, and any number of arguments can be encoded in the elite language of these areas of study. The question then arises, If these fields cannot distinguish real scholarship from bullshit, what is their value?

Interestingly, the crux of CARE Now’s demand for teaching fellowships in these departments is not that they have any established intellectual value or success. At best these are “experimental” fields of inquiry, a phrase which could describe just about any discipline ever conceived. Rather, they claim the reason the college should embrace these fields is simply because there is a “student demand” for them. While this is not altogether a bad argument, it does redefine the purpose of the university: Rather than a place of genuine scholarship, under these demands, Williams College merely exists to cater to the interests of its student body.

I would argue that there must exist some external criterion of scholarship that must be met for a field to be recognized by the college. Perhaps one could be, Can genuine scholarship be distinguished from bogus scholarship in this field? Or rather, are the ends of a given field to pursue a real line of inquiry, or to reinforce a preconceived political philosophy?

Of course, subjects can be valuable for other reasons (namely, vocational)–music and business come to mind as examples. And if the proposed subjects truly are experimental epistemologies sincerely interested in unbiased inquiry, then I welcome them. I merely suggest that the premises of these fields be addressed with greater scrutiny. Ultimately, however, the demand for enrollment options in native studies, trans studies, fat studies, and disability studies is unrealistic at this time for Williams. There are already greater demands for more enrollment options in pre-established fields of study on campus–for example, the expansion of the computer science department or revitalization of the linguistics department. Currently, CARE Now’s demand is not in the best interest of the student body or the college’s legacy, and if administration appeases this group (which is doubtful), it will create a dangerous precedent for how college resources are allocated.

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22 Comments To "CARE Now and Grievance Studies"

#1 Comment By abl On April 27, 2019 @ 4:51 pm

Caleb,

I’m not sure exactly what you’re arguing. If your primary point is that Williams’ course and professor selection should not be exclusively based on student demand, I agree. I imagine that there is some persistent demand for certain pre-professional-type courses that I think Williams, given its nature as a liberal arts college, should resist. (I picked that example in the hopes of avoiding anything too ideologically loaded.) Student interest should obviously drive course offerings to some extent–the recent CS expansion is a good example of this–but Williams has a responsibility to offer classes that are academically rigorous and otherwise consistent with its mission.

If you’re arguing that Native Studies is not academically rigorous because a politically motivated attack against mostly lower-ranked journals in an entirely different field revealed problems with journal selection to the general public in that field (problems that are mostly well-known within the field itself), I disagree. But it’s difficult to address this point without understanding even what you think “Native Studies” is, let alone why you think it is not an academically rigorous field.

#2 Comment By PTC On April 27, 2019 @ 10:40 pm

Hey just so you know, JD and others has deleted me on several threads.

Not that is matters, because this is what now- censorship blog?

hahaha.

#3 Comment By fendertweed On April 28, 2019 @ 8:55 am

Shocked that Our Hero’s fragile state cannot withstand any questions or doubt.

#4 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On April 28, 2019 @ 9:18 am

How many times do I have to repeat this?

1) EphBlog authors own their threads. They can delete whatever they want there, or not allow any comments. Don’t like it? Don’t leave comments in their threads.

2) PTC: You are an author! Got something to say? Start a new post. (By the way, would love some photos of construction!)

3) Fendertweed: Some of your comments are not high quality. I think (can’t recall) that I may have deleted some of them in my own threads. But you could be an author too! Just let us know.

Also, JCD always allows my (many!) doubt-expressing comments, including one yesterday. Maybe you comments are not as good as mine? Try being more thoughtful and polite.

#5 Comment By Williams Alum On April 28, 2019 @ 11:14 am

Or maybe JCD, like all of us, is not perfectly rational, and so has personal opinions about commenters and that influences what he deletes.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

#6 Comment By freespeech On April 28, 2019 @ 1:35 pm

“Maybe you comments are not as good as mine?”

Yeah, that be it must be. Not agenda, but you good quality word usage person.

DDK and JCD: Private Williams College is baaaaaaaaad if it does not allow all speakers a platform at all times.

DDK and JCD: My post my rules. Deletedeletedelete.

Hypocritical Irony Mater: Smoke … fire .. splosion … broken.

#7 Comment By Caleb On April 28, 2019 @ 7:13 pm

abl,

Thanks for the more thoughtful comment–not used to receiving those.

I am arguing that Williams should not offer courses strictly according to student demand. But that necessarily raises the question, On what basis should Williams choose to offer courses? I tried to answer that by considering other criteria.

I was under the impression that the journals were higher tier. I think the Sokal Squared authors claimed this themselves. But maybe you have some knowledge about the quality of the journals that published them that I don’t.

The studies demanded by CARE Now are not entirely different from the “grievance studies.” They share in being identity studies. I felt that it was shown identity studies often have preconceived conclusions and are not always interested in genuine inquiry. Though I would not call these studies “not academically rigorous,” I believe that for this reason these fields might not be in line with the college’s mission.

I hope this is clarifying. I don’t think I said anything about native studies that was incorrect. I don’t have much knowledge about this field and I didn’t claim to. Let me know if I have a misunderstanding of what native studies (or the rest) actually is.

#8 Comment By freespeech On April 28, 2019 @ 8:26 pm

“Studies” courses in some way should be seen not as opposing but as embodying the liberal arts ideal. They take multi-disciplinary approaches to topics in order to explore larger questions. If those questions make some people uncomfortable, so be it.

And do they start from preconceived notions? Sure. So what? Should Jewish Studies really be neutral about the Holocaust? Should African Studies really be neutral about colonialism? Should African American Studies really be neutral about slavery or Jim Crow? Should women’s studies really be neutral about spousal rape not being illegal? Many might prefer to reincorporate “studies” programs to the disciplines, but the reasons these programs emerged is in no small part BECAUSE the disciplined refused to incorporate them.

Someone cherry-picked some journal articles and drew conclusions they wanted to draw about those articles. That is pretty underwhelming,even if they WERE “top-tier” journals.

As for “grievance studies,” well, labeling something as a clear ad hominem and then insisting that what you are labeling is that thing is quite the little rhetorical tool, but that doesn’t make it anything but what it is: name-calling under another guise.

#9 Comment By anon On April 29, 2019 @ 6:54 am

“Someone cherry-picked some journal articles and drew conclusions they wanted to draw about those articles. That is pretty underwhelming, even if they WERE “top-tier” journals.”

That is not what was done.

What the academics did was write twenty bogus (read absurd) articles- seven of which were published by major cultural studies academic journals. For example, one about how dogs having sex in dog parks exemplified rape culture, and another an edited version of Mein Kampf as a feminist manifesto.

That is not underwhelming.

#10 Comment By anon On April 29, 2019 @ 6:56 am

One of the papers, “Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice,” was written under the alias Maria Gonzalez, PhD, who claimed to be based out of the fictitious Feminist Activist Collective for Truth (FACT).

Sound familiar? ha.

According to the real-life authors, “The last two-thirds of this paper is based upon a rewriting of roughly 3,600 words of Chapter 12 of Volume 1 of ‘Mein Kampf,’ by Adolf Hitler, though it diverges significantly from the original. This chapter is the one in which Hitler lays out in a multi-point plan which we partially reproduced why the Nazi party is needed and what it requires of its members.”

#11 Comment By fendertweed On April 29, 2019 @ 9:26 am

I’ll survive such a flaying. My comments track the perceived merit (or lack of it) in what I read and reply to.

The content from certain predictable corners doesn’t inspire … If certain pseudo-intellectual braying weren’t so prominent, perhaps it might attract other contributions.

#12 Comment By freespeech On April 29, 2019 @ 10:08 am

Mae Culpa. I did not know that. That is absurd.

At the same time, it’s also a bit pathetic on both sides — people wrote articles that had to pass enough muster to sound legitimate, which likely required as much work as proper articles, the vast majority did NOT get accepted, and all of them are, by the way, examples of bad faith and could easily be considered fraud.

#13 Comment By anon On April 29, 2019 @ 4:06 pm

I think it is important to acknowledge that cultural studies is not a scientific model. It is a model based on experience, perception, and opinion. That does not mean that it is not a valid area to study- but it should not be treated like political science. It gives a historical perspective as well, but it is a perspective- opinions- not facts, that is the focus of cultural studies.

There is a degree of cultural communism on display. Since the left has (for now) lost the debate about economy, and totalitarianism as it relates to Marxism, cultural studies is too centered on a “correct” opinion rather than the study of the opinions themselves. That makes the discipline problematic.

There is nothing wrong with a study of various underrepresented opinions about bias, race, economy, nationalism, etc., but that does not mean such opinions should be taken as fact. They are “fact for some” which is what makes it interesting, even worthwhile. Where the discipline runs into trouble is when there is a lack of discipline in the validity of some opinions- which leads to articles about awkward reactions to dogs having sex in dog parks meaning “something” more than, well, awkward reactions to dogs have sex in dog parks.

#14 Comment By abl On April 29, 2019 @ 4:58 pm

@ Caleb:

First, the journals in question have mostly sub-1 impact factors, which is … not high. The Journal of Poetry Therapy, for example, has an impact factor of 0.25. It may be possible that these are top journals in some narrowly defined sub-sub-specialty areas (there may be few better journals of poetry therapy!), but they are unequivocally not top “grievance studies” journals. It is worth noting that the primary group of people who characterize these journals as “top” or “leading” or “major” are not academics in any “grievance studies” fields, let alone in these specific sub-specialties, and are plainly politically motivated in their characterization.

Second, even just looking to the journals and narrow sub-specialties in question, this hoax does not actually undermine the fields in the way that most people perceive. The journal selection process is conditioned on author good will — editors and peer reviewers largely take authors on their word regarding the novelty of claims, the validity of their data, etc. When authors act in bad faith, the whole system falls apart. This is a widely understood problem that is not unique to “grievance studies.” The assumption is that such bad faith and fraud will be sussed out by study non-replicability and through devastating credibility losses when bad-faith authors are discovered (and not, for the most part, by peer reviewers or journal editors). System failures related to author bad faith are not, therefore, a reflection of journal failures (and are certainly not a reflection of field failures) — but are instead a facet of the current publication system used across disciplines. For a good and concise description of this, read Carl Bergstrom, partway down the page: https://www.chronicle.com/article/What-the-Grievance/244753.

This is not to say that “fat studies” is a field characterized by a significant amount of strong scholarship or that many “fat studies” academics are not ideologically motivated (although it’s unclear if ideological motivations of this nature would render a field illegitimate — probably theology and philosophy both fail this test, for example). Instead, this is to say that the hoax in question doesn’t really say much either way about “fat studies” — and it says nothing at all about the entirely distinct field of Native American studies.

This final point is also important: as any expert in “Fat Studies” would tell you, “Fat Studies” is a very distinct field from Native American studies, which is a very distinct field from Africana Studies, etc. There are obviously some similarities in methodologies and approaches (insofar as these fields primarily exist within social sciences and the humanities more generally). But grouping all [x] studies together fundamentally misunderstands the nature of [x] studies — which are to study [x]. One of the biggest problems with grouping all of these subjects together under a single header, like “identity studies” or “grievance studies” is what it falsely implies about these subject areas. “Native Studies” probably has less in common with “Fat Studies” than a “French Studies” department has with an “English Literature” department, for example.

As is the case with so many things today, it’s really unfortunate how polarized things have become — on both sides of the aisle. I think that if you and I could get drinks and discuss, for instance, the relevancy of having a department that studies Native Americans through a lens that does not take for granted the superiority of white European culture, we’d actually mostly agree. (I’m also not sure we’d mostly disagree if we spent a couple of months together considering the rigor of applicants for a Native Studies fellowship at Williams.) But because most people today get their information from distinct sources, people mostly talk/yell past each other and we’re mostly stuck as a society in an increasingly frustrating position of mutual ignorance.

#15 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On April 29, 2019 @ 6:09 pm

Caleb: I strongly agree with 95% of what abl writes above.

But this is, uh, problematic:

I think that if you and I could get drinks and discuss, for instance, the relevancy of having a department that studies Native Americans through a lens that does not take for granted the superiority of white European culture, we’d actually mostly agree.

What sort of absurd strawperson is this?

1) I am in favor of drinks, of course!

2) Do you think that a college of Williams size should have a “department” of Native American studies? Surely not! There is not nearly enough student interest to justify this. (The same might also be true of some of the other areas . . .)

3) Is there a single faculty member at Williams who employs “a lens” that takes “for granted the superiority of white European culture?” No! That is absurd. In fact, I bet you can’t find a single Ph.D in NESCAC, maybe in all the US, who agrees with that lens. So, why frame the discussion in that way?

4) The real debate — which abl may very well understand but which he has failed to explain here — is within larger departments at Williams, places like history. They can either hire someone who does Native American hsitory or they can hire someone who does military history.

(Similar debates arise in economics, political science, English and so on.)

This is the core of the issue. For me, it is absurd that Williams no longer employs a military historian, both because this topic is (objectively!?!) important and, more important, because there is huge student demand for such courses.

#16 Comment By abl On April 29, 2019 @ 6:31 pm

David — yes, I probably overstated things by saying “department” when I should have written “fellowship” or “faculty member.” I suspect that you’re correct that there isn’t sufficient demand at a college like Williams for an entire Native Studies department.

That said, I don’t know enough about Williams’ current faculty or course offerings, but my suspicion is that there are probably fewer professors (zero? one?) who focus on Native Americans than there should be, given the importance of the subject and student demand. Also, does Williams employ a single Native American professor?

In any event, David is correct to recognize that there are tradeoffs and opportunity costs to these sorts of shifts, although my understanding is that CARE Now’s request for fellowships rather than tenure-stream positions mostly obviates such problems. Regardless, although I think it’s valuable to recognize the opportunity cost of this sort of hiring–and although I also agree that Williams would ideally have a historian with expertise in military history–casting the decision re Native Studies at Williams in terms of Native Studies vs military history is not particularly helpful because that is almost certainly not a trade-off that will be made.

My honest guess is that Williams hires with subject-area preferences, but that neither Native Studies nor military history are sufficiently widespread preferences to lead to any hirings in those areas. There is plenty of room at Williams for both of those things to change, especially since if Williams is going to beef up its hiring in the area of Native Studies (even with just one hire), History is just one of many possible locations for such a hire (Art, Art History, American Studies, Religion, Sociology, Political Science, and English immediately also come to mind).

#17 Comment By Caleb Smith On April 29, 2019 @ 8:07 pm

abl-

I don’t think we disagree all that much. Thanks for the insight about the journals. It is definitely true that this hoax alone does not undermine the studies. Other academics have correctly criticized the project because it did not really demonstrate anything that is not true for other fields. I do think it would be interesting to consider the question of if genuine scholarship can be distinguished from absurd scholarship as a sort of litmus test, but I probably wouldn’t adopt any policy using that as a criterion.

I think what the Sokal Squared authors did best was show that some identity studies lack a level of discipline compared to other studies in what they accept as valid conclusions. I do think I have some bias toward the scientific model, and, as @anon points out, studies that do not follow a strictly scientific method can still be valuable. These studies, however, still need to maintain a level of logical discipline (what good is a logical system where everything is proven true?), and perhaps this discipline could come from reevaluating their political biases. Williams should keep this in mind when deciding who to hire.

In a couple years I’d love to join you and DDF for drinks. For now I’ll take a Coke.

#18 Comment By Future Williams Dad On April 29, 2019 @ 8:10 pm

Caleb,

My two-year old fiscally conservative son, who has wanted to go to Williams his entire life, just smashed our computer screen after reading CARE Now’s list of demands. He came into my room crying and asked “Why do Williams students want to have fat studies, when they should be having fact studies: the study of the fact that identity politics have no place in an elite academic institution?”

I have no idea how to respond. I’m shaking.

#19 Comment By freespeech On April 29, 2019 @ 10:02 pm

If your son actually did that he is as much of a self-absorbed drama queen (and purveyor of wooden dialogue) as anyone he is critiquing.

#20 Comment By Tikhon On April 29, 2019 @ 10:20 pm

“This is the core of the issue. For me, it is absurd that Williams no longer employs a military historian, both because this topic is (objectively!?!) important and, more important, because there is huge student demand for such courses.”

Where to begin? For starters, where is your evidence that such a demand even exists? I know people who teach and take courses in the History department, and this is the first time I’ve heard even a peep about what you are claiming to be a fact. Williams is not a military academy like West Point, Annapolis, or the General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. Why should it have a faculty line dedicated to a highly specialized sub-field, aspects of which are being taught in courses that already exist?

#21 Comment By freespeech On April 29, 2019 @ 11:48 pm

Oh, man.

FutureWilliamsDad’s joke

My head.

I’m an idiot.

As you were.

#22 Comment By fendertweed On April 30, 2019 @ 8:20 am

What @Tikhon said … a military history chair ( in effect) is critical for Williams?

Someone has been eating the wrong mushrooms in Hopkins Forest. That’s absurd. Maybe you can drive a bit and audit a course at West Point.