@billcaraher reflects on what counts in academia and what counting means. Picking up on that reflection, I need to point out that the people who decide what counts in academia are we who sit on the committees that hire Assistant Professors, give out grants, award tenure, promotion, and merit pay,  and those of us who sit on University Senates and in Dean’s and Provost’s chairs.  We don’t need to look any further. It is entirely up to us to convince our community to count contributions that are clearly valuable but that do not fit into the narrow category of peer-reviewed article in a traditional journal.

It is completely up to us to convince our peers to take on the labour of evaluating those contributions, absent the conveniently accountable but needlessly restrictive and often arbitrary imprimatur of the traditional journal, and the easily ranked, precise but inaccurate metric of impact factor. It is up to us to change what we require to be submitted (the term is eloquent) in support of applications for all these professional milestone markers. It is up to us to make the workload manageable by asking, for example, for three or five or seven contributions from each candidate instead of asking for a traditional CV. It is up to us to make it clear that we welcome submission of any contribution the candidate sees as significant, no matter what its form. So much for the demand side of the problem.

On the supply side, we can make non-traditional contributions that cannot be ignored by the traditional minded, and we can invest whatever academic capital we have accumulated into supporting them and making them visible. We can dare our equally privileged colleagues to ignore them. We can then point to other, equivalent non-traditional contributions by young, emerging, or marginalized scholars and make them count. We can do this until the non-traditional is traditional.

But I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I think that what counts in academia, especially in archaeology, is a crucial problem for the species. What counts in academia is a professional problem in academia, related mainly to career and job advancement in academia.

As Caraher points out, what matters about archaeology does not depend on what counts in academia. Putting papers in traditional refereed journals is a singularly poor strategy for achieving the things that matter in archaeology. What matters in the end is whether a county-level administrator fondly remembers a college lecture on prehistory and decides to allocate more funds to that mitigation project at the site of that new shopping mall, or whether a voter has reflected on lessons of the past before casting a ballot. What matters about archaeology is that a journalist  has the reflex to consult with a variety of stake holders before writing a high profile article on a land-claims controversy, or that an HR manager is equipped to question the claims they read on that website last week about how the evolution of sex differences plays out in the workplace. What matters is that a police officer walking their beat has given some minimal thought to the emergence of structural inequality in urbanized contexts. Very little of that has to do with what counts in academia.

Understandably,  because the way we are situated, academics tend to be hypnotized by the central importance and unassailability of the problem of what counts in academia. Perhaps by de-dramatizing it and putting it in context, we can make it more tractable and we can start changing our practices to address it. The entire discipline will benefit. More importantly, we will be better equipped to achieve the things that matter in archaeology, and the whole community will benefit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s