This afternoon I came across an Atlantic article entitled “Why Do So Many Graduate Students Quit?” The first hypothesis, offered as the “standard rationale” (!), suggested mental illness, but then pointed out that this research is debatable. The article concludes, instead, that it is the “culture” of graduate programs that leads so many graduate students to quit:
The culture of Ph.D. programs can make some students snap, according to Karen Kelsky, a former tenured professor and academic career coach. In fact, she said in an email, “it isn’t usually a snap so much as a gradual disintegration.” Ph.D. programs are extremely lonely and based on a culture of critique rather than support in which professors and peers constantly look for weaknesses in the doctoral student’s arguments, she said.
During Kelsky’s 15 years as a tenured professor and advisor, she witnessed many students toil in solitude on their dissertations while sacrificing their outside interests. “You become overly fixated on what your professors think of you,” she said. “Paranoia is quite rampant in Ph.D. programs because Ph.D. students can get so isolated and so fixated on whether or not the people in authority [committee members] approve of what they’re doing since they have total authority to grant the degree.”
While this is often true of the culture of graduate programs, what is remarkable in this explanation is the absence of any discussion of the political dimension of graduate degrees. Nowhere does the article discuss the tremendous poverty graduate students live in, the massive debt they often accrue over the course of their education, and the extreme paucity of jobs for students once they graduate. All of this unfolds for the graduate student while they witness their peers begin their lives, getting jobs, starting families, and all the rest.
Yet this dimension– this dimension of political economy –of why so many don’t complete their programs is entirely absent from the article. Instead we are told that drop out rates are attributed either to mental illness (!) or what can, at best, be called a dysfunctional “micro-politics” of graduate departments. The malady is divorced, abstracted, from the broader field or context in which and out of which it emerges. It seems that this is often the case with our discussions of various maladies. We treat them abstractly, divorcing them from what Deleuze called a “problematic field of individuation”, separating them from the broader socio-political field. Depression, it is said, is merely an issue of brain chemistry, or, at best, the family or workplace situation, rather than being expressive of an entire onto-cartography, an entire material, socio-political field. The relations to a broader field that generate the phenomenon are themselves severed or ignored. And, of course, this is very convenient for those who stand to lose from these discussions, for if we examined the broader material, social, and political field through which these phenomena are individuated or come to be, we would get a very different praxis or response to these issues. Discussions about graduate drop out rates wouldn’t simply be about dysfunctional departments– though that is necessary as well –but would be about justice, debt, economics, inflated administrative salaries, unjust labor practices like erasing tenure track job lines and replacing those classes with adjuncts, and so on. It wouldn’t be a question of modifying the behavior of professors serving in mentorship roles or helping graduate students to “become more resilient”, but of addressing an unjust social and political field.
The minimal unit of being is not the object or the individual, nor even the machine, but is rather the pleat or fold. Being is inherently dyadic, a fold, a between-two, and not a unit. Individuals, objects, are not units, but are pleats of being, expressive of the broader world or field of folds out of which they emerge. They are vortices, drawing on a broader field, folding that field into themselves to both become what they are and continue being what they are. The object-oriented philosopher might content that this is a way of undermining objects or individuals; but in point of fact every vortex or pleat has its own singularity, its unique way of folding being, as well as its own interiority or manner in which it enfolds the broader world in constituting itself as that being, event, or phenomenon, while unfolding itself as the being or the singular pleat that it is. It was this that Onto-Cartography sought to think, though in and through a very different conceptual technology. And if it is the case that every being is a fold or a pleat expressive of the cosmos, then it also follows that no being can adequately be thought in abstraction. As dyads, beings must always be thought in terms of the field they express and creatively unfold within themselves.