Saturday, May 29, 2010

Networking or Substance?

A comment, which I urge you to read, to my last post inspired this one.

I am not sure how to create a Venn diagram on this blog but I'll describe it. One is the universe of all law professors who are big on networking. They are at every conferences, give lots of talks (typically the same one), email and call others usually to make known what they have doneunder the guise of complimenting the person they are calling. At the extreme they are relentless name droppers.

The other big circle is of those law teachers who produce articles, books, think hard about things, and let their work largely speak for itself. They also spend time preparing for class.

These groups are far from mutually exclusive and so there is what I think is called the intersection. The circles overlap -- networkers can be substantively productive but many are not. Instead they, well, network and it becomes in the eyes of others a substitute for production.

For example, when I first took one of the jobs I held I was told all about the person I had replaced. He did this! He did that! and so on. After hearing this for weeks I did a literature search and discovered almost nothing. But somehow he had taken the small amount he had done and made a mountain of a molehill.

The internet has now made networking even easier and that's good because networking is not per se a bad thing. When it substitutes for substance is it. Or when it becomes exclusively self-promotional it is. One thing that seems pervasive about networkers in certain areas is that they cite each other. In fact, there is seems to be reciprocal citing. Little and big cliques arise that tend to retard rather than advance the scholarship in that area. Why? Because if you network enough, no one will criticize because to so so would be to lose a reciprocal cite.


Anonymous said...

Yes, The issue here is not networking perse but its place and use relative to other factors. Networking in a useful sense is collaborating with people to gain insight share resources and do anything that results in a more productive outcome. However the problem arises when networking surpasses functional things in importance. When you connections are more important than your work or ideas or your advertising is more important than product your are selling then there is a problem. In a sense it is an odd commentary of sorts on the level of rationality our society possesses. As much as we like to consider ourselves products of the enlightenment we really are sort of primitive if not mystical about many of our decisions. Of course instead of the sun god we worship "the market" brand loyalty and the ivy league.


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Anonymous said...

"Little and big cliques arise that tend to retard rather than advance the scholarship in that area."

One of the oddest pieces of advice I received from a law professor on trying to break into the academy was to approvingly cite influential scholars and follow up with them to create a "citation orgy."

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Anonymous, can you provide a cite for those remarks. Very interesting and very true.