The other day I found myself amused to discover that a friend who had attended a conference heard grad students remark that I have a privileged Ivory Tower existence and a plush academic position as an established scholar. Few things could be further from the truth. You see, I teach at a junior or community college, have five courses a semester, and generally have 150 students a semester. In addition to this, I only teach intro level courses and there is no major in philosophy. There is no tenure here, but rather we work on contract. For the first three years we have yearly contracts, then after three years you jump up to three year contracts. Those contracts stipulate that your position can be terminated at any time, with or without reason. We are all expected to do a significant amount of college service, so over the years I have racked up quite a bit of committee work. We have a fairly generous travel stipend, especially for a community college, though that is likely to disappear as a result of education cuts our State Senate and Governor are currently pursuing.
Such is the reality of my existence. Don’t get me wrong. Collin is an extraordinary institution, especially for a community college. We have talented, accomplished, and smart faculty. We have wonderful students. The administration is supportive of academic research and conceives of itself as a two year university (the first community college in the United States to define itself in those terms). I earn a fairly decent wage, my job is, for the moment, stable, and I like Dallas and my colleagues. Nonetheless, I am exhausted. I am exhausted by a combination of teaching, my insane research commitments, and all of my speaking commitments. At some point, I suspect, something will have to change. Perhaps I will give up research, writing, and just live and work. After all, why do I kill myself in this way? My research contributes, in no way, to my job here. I wear myself out doing it. I often take on debt as a result of attending conferences. And I get rewarded with snarky hecklers that suggest either that I’m just a careerist, that I hate human beings, and a number of other ugly things. My generation seems to believe that mean-spirited snark is the height of wit and charm and that there’s some sort of virtue in dehumanizing others and cutting them down when they’ve scarcely ever done anything to you.
So why, if I have done all these things, am I in these circumstances? Certainly I would love a position elsewhere that granted tenure, where I taught fewer courses and had fewer students, where I could work with grad students, and so on. I’d move anywhere in the United States, Europe, Australia, or New Zealand for such a position. I’d be delighted if it were a philosophy position, but would be equally delighted if such a position were in lit, digital humanities, media studies, social and political thought, rhetoric, science and technology studies, or communications. I see all of these things as things that I do and all of these things as things that I could do well and that I would enjoy doing. Indeed, I conceive of myself more as a social theorist than a philosopher.
The reason I find myself in these circumstances is, in part, due to the situation of philosophy departments in the United States, and, in part, the nature of my own research. Philosophy departments in the United States are overwhelmingly Anglo-American in orientation. There are literally around half a dozen Continental graduate programs in the US, while there are only a handful of four year schools that are sympathetic to Continental thought. The four year schools are looking for people who are experts in classical Continental thought (primarily phenomenology, but also figures like Nietzsche, the German idealists, and so on), yet my work, especially coming out of graduate school, was on Deleuze. In both the graduate programs and liberal arts schools, there just isn’t a burning desire to hire Deleuzians. This is why you’ll find most of the major Deleuze scholars in English and Modern Language programs, not philosophy programs.
Additionally, my work is idiosyncratic. There is not only my work in object-oriented ontology (a school of thought relatively unknown in philosophy circles), but I’ve done significant amounts of work on Lacan (a psychoanalyst), Luhmann (a sociologist), Latour (another sociologist), Zizek (barely recognized as a philosopher), Badiou (relatively unknown in philosophy circles), the developmental systems theorists (biological theorists), cybernetics (who the hell knows what they’re up to?), autopoietic theorists (more biologists), semiotics and structural linguistics (that’s not philosophy, it’s lit!), and so on. The philosophers, I suspect, look at me and say “you’re not a philosopher, we don’t know what you are!” Ergo I don’t look like I can fill a research and teaching nitch in philosophy programs. When I apply for positions in fields like media studies, rhetoric, science and technology studies, communications, etc., these folks look at me and say “you’re not x! you’re a philosopher!”
So it goes. I find that I have no place precisely because I couldn’t resist being multidisciplinary. Would I have done things differently if I could go back to graduate school? Would I have written a dissertation on, say, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, or Levinas? No, I suppose I wouldn’t. It had to be this way. I had to pursue these interests. I had to be free to explore. Nonetheless, it’s damned depressing and exhausting trying to do all these things under such circumstances.