Philosophy Needs Better Marketing


The plans for growing and diversifying philosophy can’t be a shotgun approach. We need to find places every year where we can advocate and promote philosophical growth with precision because of our limited resources. We can do this through a robust development and advocacy process along with PR and advertising campaigns. There are lots of ways to grow and diversify philosophy—philosophers just have to make it a priority. If we don’t, we know the outcome will be less access to philosophy for everyone. Most of all it will mean that philosophy remains at primarily elite institutions only available to the most privileged in society. That would be a tragedy for all.

That’s Christopher Pynes (Western Illinois), guest-blogging at Leiter Reports. He suggests that the American Philosophical Association (APA) employ professional lobbyists, engage in more aggressive public relations, and that philosophers reach out to others at their university, especially undergraduate academic advisors in other departments. I agree, and I have said some of the same things myself.

Pynes gives a shout out to the Daily Nous Value of Philosophy Pages. I have not been able to update those in a while. If you are interested in helping to do that, please send me an email.

Also, I’m on the APA’s Committee for Public Philosophy, whose Op-Ed Contest gets a mention from Pynes. If you have other ideas you’d like the committee to pursue, feel free to mention them in the comments here, or email them to committee chair Lynne Tirrell (UMass Boston).

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Eric
Eric
5 years ago

I’m a bit leery of an all out push involving lobbyists and advertising. I’m all in favor of some push back against the widespread public misunderstanding of philosophy, and what philosophers do. As yet few of the many, many first rate philosophers of science have responded publicly to the claim that philosophy of science is dead or useless, or that philosophers don’t know anything about physics–most of them know almost as much as the physicists themselves and more on certain issues they study, but no one knows this! In an interesting anecdote, it took one student of mine at a public university two years to convince her parents she could major in philosophy, since they regarded it as a waste of tuition money. No other department I know of has to overcome that kind of burden of proof that the subject is even worth studying! OK, maybe a few others, but still this is the kind of thing we need to change.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

If we want people to become interested in philosophy, we need to produce philosophy to be read by people who don’t already have a background in philosophy. There is no reason to take a philosophy course if you have no idea of what philosophy has to offer. Just engaging in such outreach should increase demographic balance, but to further increase the representation of underrepresented groups, we can pay particular attention to publishing work that is particularly likely to be read by people from underrepresented groups, whether because of the topics covered or the venues of publication.Report

Ajey Pandey
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

School of Life has a really interesting series of videos for exactly that purpose: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwxNMb28XmpfEr2zNKQfU97eyEs70krSbReport

DF
DF
5 years ago

As the commenter above notes, many people don’t even know what philosophy is. We could change that by promoting the teaching and study of philosophy before students get to college.

Pynes’ post here is very informative: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2015/10/growing-improving-and-diversifying-philosophy-part-1.html

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Henri Perron
Henri Perron
5 years ago

I don’t think we need to “market” ourselves to the general public. Lobbying I see as having only one real use: pushing for legislation to include philosophy in the public education curriculum.

Rather than feeding people sales pitches, perhaps we should become more active in our communities in ways that put what we do on display. This entails climbing out of our offices and doing things in the community such as reading groups, free lectures, and public debates. Instead of trying to sell people on why philosophy is important, let them experience it firsthand. Give the public live activities in which they can be a part of, and they’ll develop a much deeper appreciation for what we do.

A big concern immediately comes to mind:
In an academic world defined by “Publish or Perish” who has time for that? Publishing demands are absurd and a whole other can of worms that needs to be addressed.Report

Thomas
Thomas
Reply to  Henri Perron
5 years ago

Maybe it`s necessary to get rid of the proposition, that the online kind of worthwile philosophical literarature is the kind that is being published in the top 10 journals. Coming from Europe, there have always been
at least two kinds of philosophy professors: those, who specialize on a narrow/technical topic and aim for top publications in academic journals and those who strive to be “public intellectuals”. The latter usually
tends to write books for a larger audience or publishes essays in newspapers. Needless to say, there is always some tension between the two camps. Maybe Universities in the US should be more rewarding to good public-philosophy when it comes down to tenure evaluations. Report

harry b
5 years ago

I’ve probably said this before here, but the new Common Core State Standards are a gift for Philosophy — high schools are supposed to start teaching children to read, think about, and write, serious non-fiction. The APA might want to commission a small group to produce some curricular resources for high school teachers, and to find ways of disseminating them into the schools. Also, the lock that schools of ed have had on teacher licensing is being broken, meaning that students with philosophy BAs can find their way into high school teaching (social studies, English, etc). Report

Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

I completely agree that we need better PR. Unfortunately at the moment the APA is dominated by people who are making careers out of constantly denouncing philosophy as a field entirely compromised by sexism and racism. These people have appointed a professional feminist activist without even an undergrad philosophy degree as executive director of the APA. And they are using these extremely selective social justice issues to make what Prof. Leiter calls “Party-Line Continental” philosophy more widely accepted in the profession. In short, the current APA leadership has its priorities all wrong, is deleterious to philosophy, and is out of step with the values and commitments of most members. But the climate of intimidation of dissenting voices makes it hard for people to come forward and try to steer the APA towards a more sensible course.Report

Grad Sockpuppet
Grad Sockpuppet
Reply to  Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

Do you remember the APA before Amy Ferrer was at the helm? Because I do, and it was a real horrowshow (and not in the Clockwork Orange sense, either). It has made significant improvements under Ferrer’s leadership.Report

P2
P2
Reply to  Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

Nonsense, Diogenes. And nonsense on all counts. The APA isn’t dominated by people who are making their careers out of “constantly denouncing philosophy.” Amy Ferrer isn’t a “professional feminist activist” (and what would be wrong if she was?). The APA isn’t abusing the (legitimate) social justice issues it’s addressing, much less doing so in order to “make what Prof. Leiter calls “‘Party-Line Continental philosophy’ more widely accepted in the profession.” And there is no “climate of intimation” (as your post clearly shows). In short, your attacks on your perceived opponents are rhetorical nonsense on a level comparable to those of Donald Trump. Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  P2
5 years ago

Putting aside Diogenes’ analysis of the APA leadership, if there is no culture of intimidation, why are we all using pseudonyms here? I use one because I’m scared of professional reprisals for expressing the wrong opinions.Report

P2
P2
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Hi Nonny Mouse — It seems to me there are many diverse reasons for using pseudonyms. For example, I use them because I don’t want an inbox full of hostile email (and I have received this). But fear of professional reprisals more generally strikes me as good reason also. And no doubt, others use pseudonyms for other reasons. That said, at least at first glance, I’m not seeing any broad conclusions that can be drawn from the practice, much less one regarding the existence of a culture of (targeted) intimidation against some opinions in particular.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  P2
5 years ago

Hi P2. Yeah, I’m not offering an argument in favor of Diogenes specific conclusions. I’m just saying that there is a culture of intimidation in professional philosophy. The fact that you use a pseudonym so as to not get “an inbox full of hostile email”, something you have received in the past, is evidence of a culture of intimidation. People were trying to shut you up with the tacit threat of further hostile emails. Further, as you agree, fear of professional reprisals is a good reason to use a pseudonym, which is also evidence of a culture of intimidation.Report

P2
P2
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Agreed, Nonny Mouse. There’s a culture of intimidation in professional philosophy. Report

P2
P2
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

… which I hope we can all agree is very unfortunate. Report

Justin Marshall
5 years ago

I agree with the above comments that public philosophy needs to be written in a way that non-academics can understand and appreciate, and that we need to do a better job of making a case for its use in our communities. After studying philosophy in graduate school I studied digital marketing because it seemed like an oddly logical next step (because of my concern for, and wide definition of, education). These days all of us have equal ability to run paid advertising campaigns on youtube, facebook, instagram, twitter, google, pinterest, etc. at relatively reasonable costs; which opens a lot of potentialities. Could we find funding for graduate students to do online content publishing + brand building projects in addition to dissertations? I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch a children’s philosophy cartoon put out by a top-tier philosophy department?Report

Justin Marshall
Reply to  Justin Marshall
5 years ago

Shameless plug to myself trying to do this very thing: http://www.thepragmaticturn.com. I’ll undoubtedly get some criticism from my academic friends for oversimplifying things, but non-academics are reading it and giving me positive feedback. Can’t cover all your bases in four paragraph blog entries, but you can pique people’s interest (and they might read your whole piece)
.

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Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Justin Marshall
5 years ago

Plug away Justin! I like what you are doing! Regarding grad students, though, I’m afraid that it is these very philosophers, who may have the best ability to relate to young adults, who can least afford to spent time publishing material for people outside the profession to read. I desperately want to see grad students engaged in public philosophy, but I could never suggest to a grad student that they do so. The word “publish” in the expression “publish or perish” doesn’t refer to publishing things for non-professionals to read.Report

Samuel Douglas
5 years ago

(Warning, Australian context ahead.) In order to keep a roof over my head while finishing my PhD in philosophy, I worked for our faculty of Engineering & Built Environment as an administrative officer/degree advisor. By chance, this role landed me on the faculty marketing & community relations committee for a number of years. Their schedule of activities aimed at community engagement was very thorough – relentless even. Every school week (and I mean that almost literally), someone from the faculty was out at a primary or secondary school with a robot, or some other exciting (but portable) thing to kick off discussion. Competitions, industry awards/partnerships, and anything else that could lead to positive media coverage were all considered for faculty support. It wasn’t cynical PR, it was mainly hard work! Importantly, the time and effort of the academic staff in marketing activities was acknowledged as counting towards their workloads. It hard to say how things would have been had the faculty approach to marketing been different. It was certainly still the case that the demand for B Engineering and B Architecture places fluctuated due to external and economic factors. But it would strike me as implausible to suggest that these efforts had no positive effect.

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