Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Deep Play: Notes on the American Cockfight (With Apologies to Clifford Geertz)

Next week is the National Communication Association (NCA) convention and that means its time to wield my favorite footnote from Novick's classic book:

"The way in which substantive sessions were organized at meetings of the AHA [American Historical Association] was the best evidence that the ostensible purpose of the gathering was not taken seriously.

Typically there would be three tenuously connected papers, edited with
a cleaver so as to be (almost) deliverable in the alloted time. The shredded remnants were read aloud as rapidly as the speakers' lips and tongues could move, while pretending not to notice the chairperson pointing at the clock. There followed one or two "prepared" comments cobbled together at the last moment because the paper had only just arrived. Then, if time allowed, there would be a couple of usually rambling and off-the-point remarks from the floor. The conclusion was often a plea to the audience (friends and family of the speakers, those on the search committees sampling the merchandise, and a collection of incurable innocents in search of enlightenment) to exit the room as rapidly as possible because the hotel staff had to arrange it for a luncheon now overdue. If there is exaggeration in this description, it is slight; if there are exceptions, they are rare."

[Peter Novick, The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical

Profession, p. 580].

AHA/NCA... Seen one, seen 'em all.