Monday, March 03, 2014

The Sociology of Law Professors 2: Mobbing

You may remember old movies, primarily westerns, in which the outlaw is held in a jail and the townspeople want to "string him up."  They just want to get at that sucker and hang him from the nearest knotty pine. And, in those movies, very often the outlaw innocent.

I think there probably were mobs like that back then and in more recent times clearly actions by gangs of people in the South mobbed together for "low tech" lynchings.

Law professors are way too sophisticated (at least I hope) to string anyone up and if they do I am sure the victim is strung up by his khakis from the nearest latte machine. Nevertheless, according to Ken Westhues,   academic mobbing does take place. The noose in this case, takes the form of shunning, gossip, ridicule, and bureaucratic hassles. Among the  factors likely to lead to being mobbed are: whistle blowing, not adhering to politically correct positions,  belonging to a discipline in which standards are imprecise and subjective, opposing a candidate who ends up being chair of the department [I would add to this opposing anyone for tenure who then does get tenure.] Being different in terms of  class also makes one more vulnerable according to Westhues. He also includes being different in terms of race, gender, sexual preferences but I think he veers way off course on these factors. No doubt those factors have played a role in the past and may still in a variety of ways, but in the law school context they are more likely to make you mob-proof because of the fear of being labeled racist, sexist or homophobic. In fact, those labels are often used by the mobbers.  On the other hand, being a classist is actually a very popular.

I am pretty sure I have seen mobbing efforts although not any that made much of a difference. When I have seen it, it's like a bandwagon effect. A critical mass of people begin to act like a mob but they do not constitute a mob until they are joined by follower-types who would never lead anything but are always looking for a group that will include them. After all, if you do not join the mob, you set yourself up to be mobbed. 

The one problem with the mobbing theory is that the subject of the mobbing has to care. If not, unless the mob can convince someone in authority that steps must be taken and they are taken, it is not of consequence. Of course, the failure of the mobbee to respond just riles mobbers even more. 

I think, rather than have all this stress, Law School faculty should up the level of  sophistication and engage in more dueling. 


Fred said...

From the articles posted in this blog it seems like you would satisfy a number of the Westhues factors. As such, would you say that you have experienced the mobbing you describe?

If the answer is no, then either (1) Westhues is wrong (2) the mob knows you would not care.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Not caring does not keep them from trying. There is an upside to mobbing. Sometimes it means you got their attention. As for me. I do not know. A couple of things have happened that could be signs of mobbing but I have also seen it in a full blown version applied to others.

Eric Rasmusen said...

"The one problem with the mobbing theory is that the subject of the mobbing has to care."

Unfortunately, we all do care, but what's possible is to treat caring as a minor annoyance, a cost of doing business. Also, I think not caring enough to cave in to mobbing *does* reduce one's probability of being mobbed. Mobbing does have some costs, especially if the victim fights back (e.g. spreads stories that make the mobbers look bad). Some mobs are organized, and a sophisticated campus politician is going to realize that it demoralizes the troops if he leads them into failure, hurts his own position of influence, and, in some cases, emboldens other potential victims.
Thus, it's very important if you are in a touchy situation to contact the enemy leader and make him realize that war would be bad for both sides.
In some cases, this may lead him to divert his mob to go after someone else who is wimpier. This can be good, too, by providing an example of the dangers of being a wimp.