RAE 2008 again

Discussions of the RAE 2008 results for philosophy rumble on inconclusively.

One thing I’d be rather interested to know is how much the need to make a show in RAE returns (and so get promotion) constrains — an even distorts — the intellectual life of younger philosophers. Here’s a scenario. Dr A writes a superb PhD thesis on topic X, gets a junior research fellowship, and turns the thesis after a few more years into a very impressive book on X, getting a permanent job at a good department on the basis of it. Understandably, after seven years intensive work, Dr A now wants to move on to thinking about something else. “Ah, no …” say the newly appointing department, “your growing reputation is as a star thinker about X, so for the next RAE we do really need you to keep writing another few papers about that, because those papers are bound to be very well ranked. If you start working in another area, you might well not have publications as good in the needed time-frame.” And so, not entirely happily, Dr A knuckles down to grinding out the needed papers …

Just how frequently does this sort of scenario occur, I wonder? (This isn’t a fanciful question, for I do have reason to suspect that this sort of thing happens.) The ever-increasing professionalization and specialization of philosophers does seem to be deeply at odds with that kind of wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, that liking for making connections and seeing “how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term”, which gets people into philosophy in the first place.

But enough already. It is time to stop for a couple of days. Cambridge’s winter speciality is grey dank days which are bony-chillingly damp without ever quite getting round to raining. But today has been bright and clear, and the evening sky is now streaked pink. After days when town has been swarming with distracted votaries of the gods of consumerism, it was back to a pleasantly human level of bustle. So a few presents are bought, the pheasants are in the fridge, the Barolo and Brunello under the stairs …

Happy Christmas!

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