Academia as an Honour/Shame society

It’s blindingly obvious that Academia runs as a microcosmic honour/shame society because the one thing that ranks just below actual scholarship in scholars’ concern is prestige or honour as accorded them by their peers.

This is what drives almost all academic endeavours (beyond the actual desire to study): conference papers, journal and monograph publishing, etc..

Every act of publishing is an attempt to gain the symbolic capital of prestige among academic peers, via an act of heroism, which is the public display of scholarly prowess.

In conference format, this is open to ‘counter-claims’, where others offer criticism, questions, push-back which can provide the initiator with further opportunities to demonstrate prowess and thus increase their prestige. Alternatively, failure to respond well to interaction will render their attempt to gain honour into a shameful dismantling of their scholarly prowess, and so a loss of honour, with some corresponding gain in prestige to the interlocutor.

In journal format, the initiator likewise places forth a piece of scholarship in order to gain social prestige from their peers. The more prestigious the journal, the more honour accumulates to the scholar.

The monograph likewise, though on a greater scale. The monograph, however, invites more extended interaction in the form of reviews, etc., which provide the opportunity for counter-claims and rebuttals. However the sheer prestige-gain of a monograph usually outweighs the risk of publishing (prestige wise, not economically/monetarily).

Understanding academia in this respect also helps make sense of why academics trade off their intellectual labours to publishing houses that sell their works in closed access formats for ridiculous sums: academics trade their capital for social prestige from their peers, with a socially calculated disdain for market economics. Publishers trade on that disdain to fund their business model.

One should also remember that prestige and quality are not synonymous. Prestige operates as a short-hand calculator for quality: i.e. scarcity economics means that in theory the best material ends up in the best journals, presses, etc., but in reality the system is rigged to social-networks that promote internally correlated scholars and scholarship, so that quality and prestige may actually be divorced from each other. A top-quality scholar who is not socially connected lacks the pre-requisite social capital to gain the prestige that their work ‘deserves’.

6 responses

  1. Exactly. And many times the most ‘connected’ scholars (those with the highest public visibility) are least competent in terms of actual scholarship.