As a student, after chatting so much daily life, I would like to return to academy in this article.
The most intuitive feeling after one semester is the difference between Chinese and foreign academic models. In the first class, our gray-haired but hale and hearty professor sat on the table and gave us a lecture; the younger teacher said: "Our mission is to lead you to discover the joy of this subject"; and also the classmates of different ages from all walks of life...
I happened to read an article, and I very much agree with its point of view and resonate very much. So I didn't plan to write something myself, I would like to translate this article as an interview transcript by Xiang Biao, a famous Chinese scholar teaching in UK, combined with a little bit of my own feelings for the semester. As a serious reflection of my semester learning.
Xiang Biao: When Writing and Publishing Become a Way of Domesticating Chinese Young Scholars
Xiang Biao, professor of anthropology at Oxford University, was invited by JCS "Chinese Journal of Sociology" to give a lecture entitled "The Future of Academic Publishing". In his lecture, Xiang Biao criticized the current problems of academic publishing, including academic publishing getting farther and farther away from knowledge sharing, the alienation of academic writing, the closed and hierarchical circle of scholars and other issues. As long as you have been in the academic circle, it is not hard to empathize with the problems pointed out by Xiang Biao.
- Academic publishing getting farther and farther away from knowledge sharing
Academic journals are naturally responsible for building an academic ecology. Xiang Biao said: "We should regard the publication of academic journals as a way of public intervention. It is not only a place for us to publish articles, but also a platform for communication. Ideally, an academic journal should promote a School, a style, to form an intellectual community.”
Xiang Biao then explained some of the paradoxes of academic publishing today.
The first paradox is that today's communication technology is unprecedentedly developed, but as a form of communication, academic publication is becoming more and more difficult, and it has become a stone that weighs on scholars.
The second paradox is that the division of labor in social science research has become more and more detailed, and it has become a field of experts, and no overall theoretical breakthrough is expected.
Xiang Biao believes that knowledge "tribes" should be easy to reach a consensus through oral communication and negotiation, but today's academic "tribes" use "labels" to evaluate a person's academic achievements, and regard SSCI as a measure . "People who can decide your academic career don't have the patience to look at your specific content, only where you publish it."
The third paradox is that there is no necessary relationship between the number of publications and academic achievement. "A person with a relatively high academic status, or a person with a relatively high academic and administrative status in the end, in fact, his number of publications is not particularly high."
Xiang Biao pointed out that publishing is actually a way of domesticating young scholars, and academics have become farther and farther away from the original intention of knowledge sharing. "Publishing has become a very enclosing academic operating system, and publishing itself has become the purpose of research, rather than a tool to advance research." He said.
- Writing and publishing: the most alienated academic labor
Xiang Biao believes that the biggest consequence of the closure of the academic system is the academic hierarchy. Hierarchy can cause a journal to change from a club to a championship.
"Clubs are an ideal model. People in a discipline share and learn from each other and form a community. But championships mean that journals become a tool for divisive scholars—who gets jobs, who gets promoted, who is the losers are all differentiated according to the academic journals." Xiang Biao said, "The relationship between the editors and authors of academic journals is no partnership, because submitting an article means being evaluated."
Xiang Biao went on to say that hierarchy triggers the imitation of the bottom to the top, which exacerbates inequality.
He cited India’s dowry system as an example, “In India, dowry was originally only norm among high-caste groups, but later more and more people of lower castes wanted to imitate the lifestyle of high-caste groups, and the dowry system became popular. But this is actually beyond the actual payment ability of many people, causing them a lot of psychological pressure, and exacerbating discrimination against women."
The consequence of the wind of "imitation" in the academic world is the monotony of the academic ecology.
Xiang Biao thinks that academia should have a rich ecosystem like other industries. Very few people have made major breakthroughs in theory. Most scholars explain a specific thing clearly and put forward hypotheses that can be used as a reference for the next research.
But now, it has become a very painful thing to come up with a framework, which makes us less able to see interesting points from our own questions and materials, and only think about how to operate with theories one by one.
"And the whole world is only communicating to people like Foucault and Habermas," Xiang Biao said. Everyone follows the political correctness and popular trends, but this will cause scholars to gradually lose the ability to see through details and find the questions.
Another problem is, "If your research has little to do with the above discourse, and you can't follow it, it seems that the research itself is meaningless." Xiang Biao questioned this phenomenon.
Xiang Biao said that writing and publishing have now become the most alienated form of labor.
"Compared to just making a screw in a factory all day long, academic research and writing should be the least alienated labor, a manifestation of the subjectivity of scholars. Academic labor was originally for sharing knowledge, but with the massive expansion of Ph.D. , and the high rationalization of academic labor and other reasons, writing has in turn become a means of dominating our thinking and working methods.”
- Should the publication assessment indicators for doctoral students during their studies be cancelled?
In Xiang Biao’s view, the publication assessment indicators for doctoral students (editor’s note: should refer to humanities and social sciences majors) during their studies should be cancelled. He believes that the doctoral period is very precious time, and he can figure out a problem without thinking about other things. However, the assessment indicators force doctors to cut the problem into several pieces and use writing skills to package it into a publishable form. In the end, young people have learned the "slicing and packaging technology", and the result is the inflation of the number of articles.
He took Oxford as an example. The evaluation system of Oxford University is completely opposite. "Oxford tutors will think that it is a bad thing for students to publish articles too early. If you publish in a hurry under the condition of insufficient accumulation, it may indicate you have not developed a way of thinking that is constantly seeking and deepening." Xiang Biao pointed out.
Like some people's criticisms, Xiang Biao also pointed out the problem of excessive quantitative research in the field of sociology, which is connected with academic inflation. "It is easy to publish quantitatively in good journals, so everyone will tend to do quantitative data." Xiang Biao listed a set of data for this. In 2017, the average number of publications per teaching assistant who just got a job in the American Department of Sociology was 4.8 , while the data in 2000 was 2.5, of which the main increase came from quantitative research.
Xiang Biao believes that the usefulness of academic papers is the most important thing. "But now it's mainly about the form, who you cite, and whose framework you use, with less emphasis on contribution and value."
At the same time, he believes that innovation does not mean that it is useful. "Many studies only clarify some misunderstandings in reality, which is already very good. If innovation is overemphasized, some new concepts are proposed, but these new concepts may not necessarily deepen our understanding."
Finally, the closed cycle of publishing is also a strange phenomenon that Xiang Biao has noticed. He said that a very strange closed loop has formed between academic presses, universities and scholars.
"Public finance supports colleges and universities to do research. Scholars have finally written research and asked commercial publishing houses to publish it for free. After publication, colleges and universities bought back the reading rights of these researches at a very high price."
Finally, to the audience's question about how colleges and universities should recruit teachers after canceling the doctoral student's publication assessment, Xiang Biao replied that it is not difficult, "You don't need to see where he publishes, it's not important, just go and talk to him, Read his works, even if the articles are rough, but good articles have a kind of life and a restless soul, which shows that this person is thinking about things and has intellectual anxiety, which means potential."
Xiang Biao is teaching in the West, and he is deeply impressed by the role that Asian scholars have played in the world structure in the past two or three decades. He also hopes that Asian scholars can reflect and introduce new rules of the game.
"We have made a big achievement in the past two decades, which is to put Asian voices on the international platform. But on the other hand, many people, including myself, are imitating the more mature writing methods in the West. We have not changed the original rules of the game, this leads to the academic grades getting longer and longer, and the cuts are getting thinner and thinner. Many doctors are unable to find jobs after graduation, and there is a problem of surplus academic labor.”
He believes that some interesting breakthroughs can be made in sociological research in the future, and a new future can be imagined no matter in terms of theme determination, essay writing methods, and distribution methods.
Some of my own feeling:
I deeply sympathize with the second point, academic hierarchy and the prevalence of imitation. When writing a thesis this semester, I encountered relatively great difficulties in the writing framework. In one of them, I borrowed the framework from one authoritative book and used some examples to demonstrate it. When I talked to the teacher in the office hour, she said that this is not my own point of view; the other essay also encountered problems when looking for the framework. The final main part of it is still patchwork, without my own logical order.
The logic af analysing question, in the written form, is the structure of the essay. Frankly speaking, I was too dissatisfied with the essays I wrote this semester. The number of words was not enough, the innovation was not enough, and even the logical framework was not particularly clearly explained at the beginning, so if the teacher think it's equivalent to fail, I would accept it. Insufficient time, incorrect time management, and inexperience in writing long English essays for the first time are of course part of the reason, but the core of the problem is the lack of awareness and ability to innovate, and insufficient experience in analyzing abstract problems.
Encouraging to put forward one's own opinions and explore cutting-edge issues is the biggest difference I feel this semester. I have to say that the accumulation of hundreds of years is real. I think many of the academic institutions here are obviously more reasonable, while some domestic mechanisms are simply imitations, which results in misallocation of resources and distortion of academic intentions.
When I was an undergraduate, I heard a teacher say: "We don't require undergraduate students for too much innovation, they can graduate as long as they can apply a mature theoretical framework to analyse problems, and make a paper that meets academic norms." This is undoubtedly solid and efficient, but at the time I felt that was boring. Domestic education pays more attention to efficiency than to speculative thinking. It may be effective for science and engineering, but I personally think that humanities and social sciences need to have some subjectivity.
Of course, some achievements are worthy of recognition. I deeply sympathize with Dr. Xiang's words of "putting the voice of Asia on the international platform". In one of my essays I studied "Asian Values" and "East Asian Democracy", and some topics resonated with me very much.
I discussed the differences between Chinese and foreign higher education with my doctoral student roommate. She also talked about some interesting points. The first one is that students are treated as cheap labor in China, especially in science and engineering. The research results of students cannot get corresponding economic returns, and the domestic "post-doctoral stations" have high exit requirements. , so that the postdoctoral job has an additional rigid requirements similar to obtaining a degree, which is another kind of squeeze in disguise.
Another point is quite interesting. She mentioned that foreign students are more like profit-making tools for the school. The humanities and social sciences I study are highly related to history, culture, language, etc. Sometimes when discussing something that needs a cultural context, some of our foreign students and teachers will maintain a tacit understanding of less communication: we are afraid of being asked questions, teachers also know that we are afraid of this. I think this is something that both parties need to find ways to improve.
All in all, I hope I can do better academically next semester. In fact, it should be a very happy thing to put forward your own thoughts and opinions, and discuss with like-minded friends. This semester means more adaptation process for me, instead of making any academic achievement. But by knowing the problems, I might be able to solve them in a targeted manner in the future.