Conflict Theory In Practice

(Cross-posted from The Free Speech Zone)

Below is what I submitted to my Graduate School class in the “sharing notes” as an assignment.

I can’t stop starting shit 🙂

Conflict Theory In Practice

In this critical review I will evaluate the state of academia currently at SUNY Stony Brook as I, and many other anonymous colleagues, see it.  I sat down to write down a critical review of the curriculum dictated to me to read and I couldn’t.  Not that I don’t have the intellectual capacity to tackle such topics, I feel that all of us in class and a good amount of non-academics could, but rather my mind refused to cooperate in trying to write one.  It could not ignore the fact that it was being forced to evaluate only a small fraction of a specific topic as written and declared by the authors of the articles instead of possibly coming to great conclusions if allowed to only refer to such texts as a reference while covering topics that were only interesting to myself at first but may be interesting (and possibly even enlightening) to others.  

Now, this is not to say that the authors articles for class are not valid or enlightening to some degree, but it is more the fact that we as graduate students are being herded into a specific frame of thought in the process of review and instead of doing what I believed we would be doing which is sharing ideas on topics with each other and eventually coming to conclusions together as a class that attempt to fix current problems as well as cover future problems society may face in terms of the subject of economic sociology, we have been given book reports.  I’m saying that we can simply come to a conclusion on a topic but resolve it together, instead of ending our class with “well, it’s something to think about”. The argument could be made that such articles we are forced to read help serve as a great reference that can deter us from getting hung up on issues in our research that were already clarified by authors in the past and thats why we are being given the articles to read.

This may be true…but so what?  

Google, Wikipedia, and the articles/books we have stored on our computers allow us to more quickly research topics using basic reference of thought, accessing these tools for reference, and then use them to help catapult our thought further at the very least and I believe that given the vast amount of readily available information that we can access so quickly we have yet to test out what we can do if just told to “run with it” toward a goal of concluding or solving problems. Why is it that we can’t have class be run in a fashion that asks of us all to pursue our intellectual curiosity on a specific subject in economic sociology but using current problems in the subject as the “goal” so to speak in which we must find a solution in our own way, using the readings as merely a guide of reference list of sorts for us to use in our own search, and the professor be an expert that can help us with any questions we may have along the way?  

To ignore the generational differences where one side has been raised with technology that automates many processes such as information collection or data retrieval and the other has not, is to ignore the enormous gains we have made in the areas of technology that have brought our society as far as it has gotten as well as ignore what a motivated young generation can do with such new technologies at our disposal seeing how we’ve had, at minimum, a formal training or overview by using it growing up.  While older generations only knew of physical books that one had to search and find in order to use for thesis and dissertations, the Millennial Generation can store them all on their hard drive for reference later when they get stuck and this is mostly what I had hoped to show by making reading materials into a searchable PDF.  No more looking in the index or playing the “is it REALLY free from the library or do I have to pay for access to it?” (i.e. JSTOR) when we are researching.  Instead, we come to a problem, remember that a piece of reference material covered it, go to the material on our computers or the Internet, and search keywords related to what we’re trying to find out easily within the digital document we have or on the vast data available on the Internet.  It is faster than taking a book out, searching the index of the book for your topic, and praying that the index wasn’t being obtuse in it’s location.  

However, instead of this being in the thoughts of the ones who hold the positions to steer our curriculum (although I must note that adding or changing the curriculum IS an option that is very flexible of a process and I thank the professors for that) we are instead given the old ways of being told to read and memorize what we read as if we didn’t have the ability to store all of it and bring it up from our hard drives that do exactly that for us, memorize it.  It is true that  a good memorizing of key or core concepts (such as like in Math with knowing how to perform various mathematical functions like addition, multiplication, etc.) are needed, but the other details can certainly be left out for the time being and that data retrieved from our hard drives when we need it to reference.

I can only imagine how many hours or even YEARS of research was hindered because of this practice being the written law and dogma in the past. Not having full access to academic journals, books, and Internet databases of all kinds at our fingertips.

What i’m saying is that it doesn’t have to be this way anymore.  We could, instead of memorizing all of the past, we can  memorize just some of the key and core functions/philosophies/concepts of a subject and everything else can be retrieved when we need it not from our minds, but from our hard drive’s memory.  This then allows us to learn more of the basic concepts of various subjects which then allow us, if we so choose, to go and expand our knowledge using the information that is at the ready due to technology storing it.  

Academic Reform

Now at the Graduate-level I see the same dogmatic teaching practices of the rote system of learning  I experienced in high school that led I and others in my culture to dropout where ancient texts from the 1700’s and 1800’s are held in the same light as religious books with the same sense of righteous proclamation, and professors backed by such precious tomes from Marx and others to fuel the pulpy conflagrations, I feel is a dangerous trend.  Things inside these texts such as ignoring gender and referring to “men” only in the text, one begins to wonder if there are many other things these “Fathers of Thought” might of overlooked in their analysis of our society.  Perhaps if they consulted with other non-academics, and dare I say women, in their time they may have come to different conclusions in many areas of their thoughts.

It seems that the problem with group collaboration at the graduate level in the eyes of a university or college is that educational institutions demand performance from the individual student in order to show that they can perform or offer a special set of skills that will allow for breakthrough research from the student FOR the university for publication under its name. Individualizing research limits the amount of input and only tests one mind that still must cite and refer to others thoughts anyway in their articles proving that one needs others thoughts in order to produce anything of their own.  Notoriety through academic publications adds to an institutions prestige and quality which then allows for an intellectual marketing of sorts where people wish to attend the institution based on such notoriety.  Of course the purpose in the end is for the school to make more money through the tuition that kind of marketing brings. Feelings on that are at your own discretion.

In most cases, if a student gives their input of at least a third of a dissertation or article they are entitled to be put on the by-line.  Institutions allow for this at the Master’s level for the most part but to obtain a PhD one is to produce an article and/or research solely by themselves.  This is believed to be necessary in the eyes of institutions in order to show that a student is worth the concessions (monetary or otherwise) it gives to allow a student to perform within it’s walls.  

All the above being considered, I now bring you to a fear that is haunting academia in this digital age and that’s the fear of an institution not being allowed to be the approval entity of what can be considered “academic” or “valid” enough to be publish in an academic journal that by it’s transitive properties infers that the piece is to be taken seriously due to the approval (peer-review) process.  Academic articles are being scanned and leaked while these academic journal publishers scramble to figure out what to do to prevent it.  They feel that the “integrity” of academic articles and what can be considered academic will be lost if this is allowed to continue and people can simply copy and/or re-create existing articles to manipulate them.  The truth is that there’s nothing they can do to stop this and the longer they spend trying to stop it or protect these articles, the more time and money they’ll spend almost literally chasing ghosts.  In the Digital Age it is impossible to stop copying, the moment a file becomes digital it can be replicated and transferred faster than a single authority can stop it.  There is no hierarchy, no center, and there’s more file sharers than there are Internet Police (“Caaaan yoooou dig itttt?!”- The Warriors) so I wish academia luck in trying to stop it.

However, there is a fear they have not yet thought of that may be their downfall if they don’t accept this fact.  Backlash by those who feel that these articles should be made public without having to pay for access will come in the form of a legal and quite possibly damning offensive.  We all know about Turnitin.com and how professors use it to see if we plagiarized our work.  Our papers are put through the program and checked against a huge database that shows what is possibly plagiarized.  The issue surrounding this practice are numerous but the most popular is that we as students are being seen as guilty until proven innocent.  So before I continue, let it be know, they drew first blood:

Viper: http://www.scanmyessay.com/tur…

While the Turnitin.com application you have to actually pay for, this Viper program is a free alternative that is nearly identical.  Many of those holding high positions in academia wrote articles before such software applications like these existed and didn’t have to undergo such scrutiny of their articles.  So I suppose it wouldn’t hurt if we looked up their first writings to further their professional career and ran it through such a program to see if they may have plagiarized their articles.  In fact, maybe ALL of their articles they published before this application existed should be run through Viper.  I will personally being doing research like this and will publish the results as soon as I have it.

We can avoid these types of cutthroat confrontations if works weren’t so heavily scrutinized and forced upon us to be published as individuals.  Articles with numerous collaborators should be the norm and individual research frowned upon if not given to others to discuss and expand upon after research has been conducted.  Numerous other institutions with perceived “higher prestige” have adopted this way of thinking and have seen the rewards come back to them ten fold (i.e. M.I.T., NYU, etc.).  Group PhD awarding may be the next step where each individual documents their part of the research but it is submitted and rewarded to as a whole.  This runs along the lines of a theory of something called “cognitive surplus”.

Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus:

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/…

“The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…



Tuition and Other Barriers Of Entry Into Higher Education

The idea of the “expert” depends on what can be produced by those at a certain level of credentials.  Be it a Masters student, a Doctoral candidate, or any variation of those two it is believed that only the proven experts truly have the capacity to cover a specific subject or topic and we can only call somebody an expert if they have “credentials”.  To gain such credentials in our society one has to be accepted into an institution and for the poor that get straight A’s they are given a part or full scholarship to allow them to gain these credentials in some cases while those who can simply just afford to pay only have to provide the bare minimum in terms of their academic prowess in order to get acceptance and then pay their bill.  As for loans, well, that’s another story and I will spare that lengthy argument for now.

This scrutiny and barrier to entering institutions of higher learning do not allow only the “best and brightest” but rather those that can afford the tuition.  This brings into question the entire integrity of the for-profit institution.  Are these people “special” or just lucky winners in a interactive lottery within the walls of our colleges?  This brings about other thoughts such as what of the rest of the population?  Are the people not in attendance at our schools not capable of achieving the same intellectual gains the rest of us as students that have overcome the obstacles to getting into these institutions have achieved during the course of our academic careers?  I say no.  So why not allow undergrads to write dissertations with us?  Why not allow ANY person to come into our schools and share a certain aspect of knowledge they may have with us in order to better our understanding of society or the various other arts and sciences?  This is why I call for reform of our institutions as well as the way we approach our professional positions and titles we may hold.  While I can only speak for myself, after completing my 4 year degree I can tell you that I had a feeling of “that was it?”.  I feel anyone and everyone has the intellectual capacity to understand anything being taught at our schools and to deny them that right demeans us and degrades the integrity of the academic institutions in our country as well as other countries around the world.  

I call not only for reform of the barrier of entrance in terms of affording tuition but also reform in the process in which we are professionally evaluated along with the process in which we all must go through in order to secure our professional careers.  

Collaboration With The Other Disciplines

In the Digital Age I and others around the world consider it a MUST that the social sciences work hand-in-hand with the Computer Science Department as well as the Medical and Engineering Departments at Stony Brook University as well as in other institutions.  I have personally seen the benefits of someone with computer and Internet culture expertise work with those in the social sciences and the future for both if this was mandated priority number one is bright for SUNY Stony Brook as well as other institutions who might not be pro-active in implementing such a policy.  

The insight into technologies and their software applications that allow for the automation of many processes leads to greater and faster insight into what one may be looking to research.  We need to integrate all the other disciplines into essentially ONE discipline that wishes to try and find out rather than observe and report on phenomena in our society.



“Undergraduate, Graduate, Who Gives A Shit?”

Pardon the language, but this is a quote from an undergrad that I talked to about the divide between us and is a twist on a line in the movie “Happy Gilmore” that I found not only comical but perfect in explaining the basic thought of a good portion of undergraduate students who see their 4 years of undergrad as only a burden and a seemingly unnecessary Quadrathlon in the view of undergrads that they most overcome in order to get into Graduate School where they’ll finally be allowed the freedom to pursue their intellectual curiosities for research.  I informed the student who gave me this quote that they will still be forced to endure the same types of syllabus they’ve seen in undergrad with rare instances where they will be asked to research what they wish to research.  

Oddly enough, this same disdain is shared by graduate students as well.

What I propose is that the schools of graduate and undergraduate students stay the same, but informally.  If an undergraduate student wishes to work on specific research, the graduate school should be open to take them on and advise them towards whatever thoughts or research they wish to pursue.  Diploma as a ticket to entry into our graduate strata should be seen as a formality for formal acceptance into the school but not limit the access of those that lack the per-requisites to enter our school.  

To think that these students of various ages, and especially the younger students who have had even more exposure to information accessible via the internet and nearly endless data they can access according to their intellectual curiosity, can’t possibly have ideas for research and possible dissertation or Masters Thesis quality thoughts is to ignore the advances we have made in our society with respect to Information Technology.  

Conclusion

The way in which our curriculum is structured at the Graduate and Undergraduate levels, along with barriers of entry (monetary and other), they severely hinder our ability as students as well as our society that looks to such educational institutions for great ideas to go beyond what we currently know about our world and may possibly even retard progress that can be made faster given the technological tools and advanced forms of communication at our disposal to come to answers quicker than we ever could before.  By standing on the shoulders of the giants of great thought we have already documented in the past, we can launch from that point forward and look back for reference to see if answers to obstacles have already been found before so we can continue to move forward.  To stand in place in the classroom, review, reflect, and force memorization of information from the past that we already have stored on virtual memory on our technological devices such as computers is to play into the common belief that academics sit in armchairs thinking all the time and only using their education to prove their intellect to others outside of th institution and within.  We will continue to talk about the issues, only among ourselves, fill our conclusions on any thoughts with jargon to justify our “expert” statuses, and only further ourselves from members in our society we wish to enlighten within the discipline of sociology.

We need to have classes at all levels that are goal oriented in which we take up a problem and bounce ideas off one another on as to how to approach it and COLLECTIVELY solve these problems in whatever way we find may produce a solution to the problem proposed.  We need to forget about our professional pursuits and challenge those that make individual thought the only way one can achieve a higher position within academia.  Yes we need to eat and pay bills so we have to play by the rules currently in place at our institutions, but at the expense of creating a cutthroat academic culture where everyone is looking to get ahead of the person next to them?  I don’t think that’s a culture where great thought, ideas, or innovation can come about.  

Abolition of tuition and barriers of entry such as closed-minded standardized testing that is either culturally biased or seeks to show to an institution that it is somehow indicative of a student’s performance has been abandoned by other institutions and I propose it be abandoned at all institutions as well as at Stony Brook.  Instead I propose that tuition at all public universities be paid for by the state seeing how it is immoral and afront to members in our society and our local communities to bar entry based on inability to pay.  Even further, the attempt of public universities that are for-profit to become for-profit private institutions is a sign of what educational institutions really are and revokes any and all integrity the institution had or has.

We also need to get rid of the formality of separation of Undergraduate and Graduate schools to allow for equal collaboration and opportunity to research according to one’s intellectual curiosity and validity of their thoughts rather than their credentials obtained in the process of a lengthy and costly academic pursuit.  To strive for a free and open public institution of higher education is a fundamental human right is something that no professional academic has denied as being the right thing in private talks even if they feel there is a futility that they express publicly in trying to create such an environment.  

I propose that all Graduate students currently in the process of writing a dissertation or thesis license it under Creative Commons so that the for-profit institution cannot monopolize the thoughts and culture of the academic community that wishes to make these thoughts known to all for reference or inspiration in pursuit of other’s intellectual curiosity in the subject, who may or may not be an academic or formally enrolled as a student in an academic institution, that each graduate student wishes to cover and help enlighten others through their research.



*Disclaimer



All thoughts expressed in this paper are hereby allowed for free distribution, revision, and copying by all and the author asks that the original be cited and your name added to any revised version of this article.

1 comment

  1. I dunno, you tell me!

Comments have been disabled.