A Charmed Circle

A Charmed Circle


The profession runs on reputation — basically the shared perception that you’re a smart guy. But how do you get reputation? Not by having a chair at a major school; that helps your visibility, but doesn’t protect you from being perceived as none too bright…. Nor does having the support of a powerful person do very much; you can be the favorite student of the top person in your subfield, but that won’t do more than get your foot in the door. 

Instead, reputation comes out of clever papers and snappy seminar presentations. There are problems with that, which I’ll get to. But the point for now is that while it may seem like a vague concept, within each subfield everyone knows who the top guns are, and there’s a very steep slope downward from the few people at the very pinnacle and the next level.

Having sufficient reputation gets you into a charmed circle; as I wrote in that old essay, “In the modern academic world there tends, in any given field — whether it is international finance, Jane Austen studies, or some branch of endocrinology — to be a ‘circuit’, the people who get invited to speak at academic conferences, who form a sort of de facto nomenklatura. I used to refer to the circuit in international economics as the ‘floating crap game’. It’s hard to get onto the circuit — it takes at least two really good papers, one to get noticed and a second to show that the first wasn’t a fluke — but once you are in, the constant round of conferences and invited papers makes it easy to stay in.”

…It’s hierarchical; it can be very frustrating to people who haven’t managed to get in on the floating crap game.

That’s Paul Krugman, writing about academic prestige and its perks in his column in The New York Times. He focuses, naturally, on economics, but I would imagine that some readers see a “charmed circle” in philosophy, too, even if its entry criteria differ from economics. (via Mark Alfano)

(art: photo of Dance by Henri Matisse with patron at The Hermitage, via Kevin Winston, altered)

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