Posts filed under: blog

The August 31st issue of Rhetsy marks the beginning of a new school year for me, and in recognition of that fact, I sent out a call for lists of 5 a couple of weeks ago, inviting subscribers to submit lists of 5. If you’re not subscribed, you can find it in the Issue Archive available to anybody who clicks on the Rhetsy link above.

I thought I’d add a few lists here, lest I be accused of completely taking the easy way out on this week’s issue:

5 Most recent Amazon purchases (academic):

  1. Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
  2. Laurent Pernot, Epideictic Rhetoric
  3. Richard Nisbett, Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking
  4. Alex Galloway, Laruelle: Against the Digital
  5. Cesar Hidalgo, Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies

5 Farewells:

  1. Jon Stewart
  2. The Fraction/Aja run on Hawkeye
  3. Hannibal
  4. Leonard Nimoy
  5. Summer

5 Terms increasingly likely to find their way into my writing this year:

  1. Emblem
  2. Ecology of Attention
  3. Friction
  4. Amplification
  5. Epidemocracy

5 Smells that remind me of fall

  1. Dry-Erase markers
  2. Burning leaves
  3. Spice Cake candles from Pier 1
  4. Chai lattes
  5. Nutmeg

5 Trips to the well taken too often

  1. Star-making reality programming
  2. “austerity” measures
  3. 1970s/80s Saturday morning television
  4. Marvel comics
  5. listicles



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The orientation day for our graduate program is Monday, and I’ve been tapped to speak briefly about a topic related to the overall theme of navigating the currents of the program and the discipline. So this post is the handout that I’ll be distributing, and it’s also the first of what will probably end up being five lists of five for the August 31st issue of Rhetsy. So I thought I’d also share it here, since it may be of interest to others. Strictly speaking, this isn’t advice that applies solely to graduate students; these are things that I use myself.

Five Habits/Tools for the New School Year

Over the summer, I got around to reading Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (Amazon), less from an interest in individuality than his focus on attention and design. While the book is not without its flaws, much of what Crawford has to say about attention fits with other work that I’m doing. In his introduction he identifies one of the persistent themes of his book:

The paradox is that the ideal of autonomy seems to work against the development and flourishing of any rich ecology of attention–the sort in which minds may become powerful and achieve genuine independence….our environment constitutes the self, rather than compromises it (25).

When I reflect back on the ecology of attention that I cultivated in graduate school, I’m actually pretty pleased with how the …

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Jon Stewart’s final episode as host of The Daily Show aired this past Thursday, and I spent a bit of my browse time this week reading all of the thinkpieces that heralded and/or accompanied his final appearance. I discovered that he had changed American politics forever, that he hadn’t changed it enough, that he’d variously used his powers for good, for evil, for opiate, and for naught. He was too much of a tool for the White House; he was not enough of a tool for the White House. He was incisive, provocative, palliative, smug, and so on, and so on.

The one thing I noticed, though, was that most of these pieces focused on the effect that Stewart’s version of TDS had either on the political landscape in this country, or on the media coverage of such. I thought I’d take a different tack, and suggest that his retirement (as well as Stephen Colbert’s late last year) leaves a large hole that Larry Wilmore and John Oliver don’t appear to be filling. Whether Trevor Noah will do so remains to be seen. Let me describe this hole in the form of a list:

Paul Farmer. Toni Morrison. Steven Johnson. Jill Lepore. Michael Lewis. William Deresiewicz. Naomi Klein. Randall Munroe. Doris Kearns Goodwin. Steven Wise. Ta-Nehisi Coates. Thomas Piketty. Edward O. Wilson. Jane Goodall. Nate Silver. David McCullough. Sarah Vowell. Reza Aslan. Fareed Zakaria. Tavis Smiley. Jon Ronson. Cass Sunstein. Steven Brill. (pulled from the Daily Show Booklist and the

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Today marks the half-year anniversary of Rhetsy, and while half a year doesn’t sound like much to me as I write it out, it means that, for the past six months, I’ve been collecting links on a daily basis and synthesizing them weekly for general consumption. On the one hand, it’s not a lot of work, but on the other, when I multiply by six months the time I’ve spent on it, Rhetsy begins to occupy just a bit more of my scholarly identity. So congratulations to me, I guess.

The feedback I’ve received on Rhetsy has been universally positive, which makes sense, considering that a single (unsubscribable) email per week is a pretty small price to pay for its potential benefit. If there’s one question that people ask me about it, it’s about the process. When I was at the RSA Institute a few weeks ago, the question came up again in a couple of contexts, and so I thought I’d write a little bit about my process, and share it for this issue as a way of marking the milestone.

When I started up Rhetsy, I had in mind a handful of inspirational/aspirational newsletters (which I’ve written about before), and the name itself, which was a mashup of rhetoric and Etsy. With the decline in (my own) blogging, my feeling was that part of what I’d lost was the benefit of link blogs, trusted voices who would point my attention to interesting resources and essays. …

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I haven’t been here a whole lot lately. In part, it’s just a matter of devoting my social media attention elsewhere.

Some of that attention, though, has been spent on an email newsletter that I started up at the turn of the year: Rhetsy. I just realized that my TinyLetter site only archives a certain number of posts, and I wanted to preserve, semi-publicly, the very first post, which explains the point behind Rhetsy. So I’m reproducing it here, and adding a link to my page:

Hello, and welcome to Rhetsy.

Rhetsy is an experiment in scholarly/social media. It’s no secret that weblogs have waned in importance, replaced by corporate/clickbait content farms at one end and services like Facebook and Twitter at the other. For me, that change brought with it a shift in the way I read online. I used to spend perhaps an hour a day on Google Reader, often over breakfast, perusing a self-curated set of feeds for interesting stories, sites, and resources. I can sometimes approximate that experience through social media feeds, but it requires much more time (and personal sorting).

Over the past few months, though, I’ve realized that part of what I miss is link blogging. Interestingly enough, this genre has made something of a comeback, in the form of email newsletters. Sites like Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, Alexis Madrigal’s 5IT, and Robin Sloan’s Primes are slowly beginning to occupy the space once reserved for RSS aggregators, curation services that don’t …

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It’s time for one of those posts where a few different ideas have coalesced into something for me. It’s been a while since I’ve written here–I’d originally intended to post an angry rejoinder to Steven Pinker’s infotisement in the Chronicle, but in the process of writing it, I managed to get him out of my system. There’s still some material there that I want to post, but it’s not what I’ve been thinking about lately.

The first thread I want to collect comes from several weeks back, an essay that I happened across, probably on Facebook. Dorothy Kim, over at Model View Culture, has a great piece about the ethics of social media research, particularly (but not exclusively) when it comes to questions of race. Kim draws provocative connections between recent research and “[t]he scientific and academic history of disregarding rights and ethics in relation to the bodies of minorities and especially women of color,” connections that cannot simply be waved away with recourse to the assumption that “Twitter is public.” I strongly recommend Kim’s essay–to be honest, I began reading it defensively, because as someone who doesn’t do a lot of qualitative or experimental research, my understanding of the public nature of Twitter was pretty uninformed. I’m not going to summarize her essay fully here, because I want to connect it to a couple of other things here, but Kim persuaded me to take another look at my assumptions.

Kim’s argument relies on what I still find …

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bluebookSo I’ve got a question, but it’ll take me a while to get to it.

A few years back, here at Syracuse, we overhauled our graduate curriculum, paying particular attention to the core curriculum and comprehensive examinations. When I arrived at Syracuse, our comps process was a fairly traditional major-minor-minor set up. The exams themselves were varied, in a well-intentioned attempt to account for a variety of writing processes, but the idea of generating 3 lists, writing, and being examined over the results is fairly standard practice. There are virtues to this model, not the least of which is that it gives students experience assembling bibliographies, time to read, and ideally, a more focused mastery over the field than perhaps can be achieved in coursework.

Nevertheless, there were problems. The written examination is a genre that only bears tangential resemblance to the writing that we do in our careers. If anything, it intensifies the event model of writing that seminar papers habituate in us (read, read, read, read, then write in a very short burst of eventfulness), rather than moving students towards a more integrated process of research/writing. We also found that, as an unfamiliar genre, the exams themselves produced no small amount of anxiety, and often took up more time than they perhaps deserved in a program where funding was limited. Finally, those kinds of exams are difficult to articulate with coursework–what exactly is being “tested” if the lists are student-generated and potentially have little to do with their …

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FilesWinter is coming, and around the country, a host of applicants are diligently applying their talents to the assembly of materials that they hope will demonstrate their suitability for what few tenure-track positions are available. That means that anxiety is on the rise, as are the blog posts that castigate the academy for its inconsistencies, its capriciousness, and above all, its indifference.

The problem: partly because of their relative rarity, partly because of the varied institutional expectations, and partly because they are conducted by volunteers who themselves have other full-time positions, academic job searches are often more complicated than they need to be. To be honest, I think the single most relevant reason for this, however, is not cruelty but inexperience. Every year, I’d guess that there are a lot of programs (and search committee chairs) who basically find themselves reinventing the wheel. They rely upon their own (often limited) experience, local history, and whatever advice they’re able to track down. And the result is that it can seem like every single job ad comes with slightly different expectations, particularly at the dossier stage, from every other one.

Each of us doubtless has a story about that weird 1-2 page document that we had to write for one school, answering a question that no one else in the country was asking. And because the other applications we have to assemble all blur together, we remember the outliers, and tend to think of them as representative of a broken system. And …

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On FB a couple of weeks ago, I posted a link to a fabulous blog post from Aimée Morrison, which looked at the differences between the standard conference presentation and the “keynote;” I noted that in many cases, what passes for the “job talk” is effectively a keynote presentation. Given how many people shared and liked the post, I thought I’d take it a step further here. We’re currently revising our materials for people on the job market, and so I thought I’d try my hand at providing a more comprehensive account of just what the job talk entails. While some of this advice may be specific to my own field (particularly with respect to job market timing, e.g.), most of it is probably general enough to apply more widely. But of course, ymmv.

Please feel free to add, question, complicate in the comments, and I’ll credit as I edit.



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  • my new writing set-up

my new writing set-upI would describe myself as a deep writer, not in the sense that what I have to say is any more profound than anyone else’s thoughts, but in the “deep sleeper” sense. That is, when I write and it’s going well, I’m pretty able to shut the rest of the world out and focus on little else. For most of my life, this has included my body itself. I haven’t had to think about posture, arm angle, or things like that, unless they happen to impinge upon my ability to focus.

That changed with my back surgery last fall. I’ve discovered, to my dismay, that there are certain seats in my house that are worse for my back than others, and chief among the offenders is my desk chair, or maybe my desk more broadly, since I’ve tried multiple arrangements and chairs there. Among other things, I’ve learned that when I focus to write, I have the bad habit of wrapping my ankle around a table leg, or wedging my left arm a certain way, and when I do that for more than about 15 minutes, I pay the price in the form of hours, if not days, of subsequent pain. And woe betide me if I find myself in a position where I have no choice but to push through and do desk work despite that pain. I spent most of RSA using a cane to recover from the time I had to spend putting the online program together.…

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