Some Dimensions over which the Return to Networking is not Uniform

By my count four bloggers (see Saideman, Drezner, Voeten, and Nexon) and one person in my FB feed (Braumoeller) have displayed a depressingly tone deaf awareness to the variance in a number of dimensions that impact a political scientist’s demand for, and return to (I argue that these are correlated), “networking.”

Bear Braumoeller  August 15 near Columbus, OH

Returned to FB tonight to discover that political scientists are in a tizzy about various opinions re: how to network at APSA. My two cents: In case you haven’t figured it out, you’re in a profession full of geeks. We don’t really care about networking. If you want to be noticed, go to panels you care about and say smart things. Read papers that interest you and send smart comments to the authors. Full stop. That’s the secret. Now, go do it.

To be clear, I am not arguing that these posts contain no useful content.  Rather, much like the Rathbun post that all of these folks roundly criticize for having a horrible “wrapper,” the valuable content in the message is drowned out by their unwitting assumption that their experience is universal. Sigh.  Really?  Yeah, really.

So, to help these fellas out, I am going to offer a partial list of dimensions I can immediately think of over which both the demand for, and return to, networking at professional meetings varies.  To be clear, my conceptual unit of observation is a randomly drawn political scientist from among the untenured political scientists registered at said meeting.  I assume the posts from Rathbun forward were working with that unit as well.  I am further assuming that this randomly drawn political scientist wants to maximize the following mutli-dimensional good: impact of ideas, prestige, income, and tenure.

Naturally, I have no data: this is a purely theoretical exercise, and it reveals my beliefs.  I invite Professors Saideman, Drezner, Voeten, and Braumoeller to make arguments about why a belief that (1) the distribution over these things is uniform, or (2) that the value is unlikely correlated across supply and demand is superior to my belief that they are varied.  I have often found, upon reflection, that my beliefs are poor, and will do my best to update, provided compelling reasons to so.  And I invite readers to help me out in the comments below and point out dimensions I miss.

First, we need a couple of further clarifications [with due apology to those who actually study networks, and thus undoubtedly have an established vocabulary, which I am sure I am slaughtering, as I have not studied networks].  Network is a difficult English word as it is both a noun and a verb.  The discussion thus far has primarily been using the verb, but a useful discussion, in my opinion, requires one to use both forms.  To that end, let’s define the “value” of someone’s network as the product of a person’s ties times the “prestige” value of that tie.  Imagine using something like citation count as a proxy for prestige, and let a tie by any of the following links: (a) attended graduate school together, (b) work(ed) together in a department, (c) co-authored work with, (d) served alongside on a professional committee, (e) has had coffee / meals / drinks with multiple times at professional meetings.  The list is not exhaustive, but should be serviceable for this exercise.

OK, what dimensions come to mind?  I begin with an easy one: where one went to grad school.

Value of major professor’s network

Value of the sum of the other committee member’s networks

I fear that I am getting pedantic here, but in an effort to make sure I am not leaving bits of my claim “in my head,” the two distributions formed by repeatedly selecting, at random, from among the untenured political scientists at the meeting are not uniform.  My personal belief is that the lognormal or power lognormal would be serviceable if someone really wanted to model this, but my claim is that neither the value of the network itself, nor the potential return from a given unit of networking activity, are uniform.

OK, let’s move beyond the value of one’s network as produced by where one went to school (i.e., hold that constant).   What else do we have?  I offer 10 possibilities.  The questions are: (a) is the value of the network of the randomly drawn, untenured political scientist at the meeting uniform across these dimensions? and, similarly, (b) is the value to networking for the randomly drawn, untenured political scientist at the meeting also  uniform across these dimensions?

Race

Gender

Parents’ socioeconomic status

Sexual identity

Sexual preference

Enjoyment of alcohol

Enjoyment of controlled substances

Enjoyment of gambling

Enjoyment of conversations that feature one-upsmanship

Interest in watching and discussing team sports

Interest in playing team sports

Like I said, this is off the top of my head.  I suspect it is a pretty lame list.  But I think (hope!) it makes my point.

In closing, here’s the deal, guys.  I value each of you as colleagues and even friends.  But, as I wrote in frustration in a FB post this afternoon, your posts disappointed and even angered me.  You all get that Rathbun’s post is offensive.  But you each failed to recognize that your posts are guilty, at a very high level of generality, of the same thing as Rathbun: (implicitly) believing that advice drawn from your experience is universally valuable.

Rathbun makes so many sexist moves in his original post that a colleague and I had sufficient difficulty enumerating a list that we stopped.  But, at a high level of generality, he assumes that his self understanding and experiences are universal.  Had he noted that his post was for folks who enjoyed Chester the Molester (a cartoon from Hustler Magazine), were ignorant of, indifferent to, or rejected the slut shaming discussion, etc., many of us would have wondered why The Duck would want an author writing such posts, but it at least would have been clear to us that he was writing to a narrow audience of which we were not members.  The problem, of course, is that Rathbun fails to recognize that the audience for his humor is  narrow: he implicitly assumes uniformity where there is variance.  This is the same problem the rodeo clown and MC made recently in Missouri.  As the lady at the quoted at the end of the article explains, there is an audience for that racist humor:

“Honey,” Brock said, “if you had been in some of our counties down here, this was mild.”

And as sure as the sun will rise, at the next meeting he attends Rathbun will be greeted, by hushed encouragement, by those who view him as a victim of “the PC police.”  Similarly, folks with similar values to yourself along the dimensions mentioned above will find your posts unobjectionable as they will focus on the bits that are valuable.  But there are a number of folks out here who do not have similar values to the four white, tenured males holding PhDs from highly ranked political science departments who felt that it was worth their time to explain to others that though Rathbun’s post was offensive, there was something valuable in there.  Here I will snark: can you mansplain that to me, because I surely won’t be able to figure that out on my own.  Yeah, you fuktup.

What seems to me lost in the emotional goings on following these types of dust-ups is that the author who offends has (implicitly) assumed a uniform distribution that is patently varied to others, and [this is the really crucial point] those others unexpectedly find themselves on the outside, looking in, at a community in which they had previously believed they were members.  With due apology for being a bearer of bad news, each of your posts induced that feeling in myself, and I am personally aware of others who had similar, and in some cases I strongly suspect, even more visceral, responses.

I do not, of course, know that my take on this will resonate widely among those offended by your posts, but since I called you out, albeit obliquely, on social media, I figure I at minimum owe you an explanation.  I hope it makes sense, and please feel free to light me up, in the comments below, or in your own blog space.  I look forward to seeing you at APSA, or at whatever conference we next cross paths.

@WilHMoo

PS: If anyone is looking for suggestions on how to network effectively, I have seen, but not read (and therefore cannot endorse) the links here and here.  You may want to check them out.

Correction Sun 18 Aug: In the initial post I failed to include the second link to a post on networking in the PS, and I have now added that link.

Correction Tue 20 Aug: In the initial post I misspelled “mansplain” (mainsplain).  I have now corrected that.

About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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6 Responses to Some Dimensions over which the Return to Networking is not Uniform

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