“Stephen, you just don’t get it” – a personal reflection on coming to use social media

I have been greatly influenced by a colleague who was once, moons ago, a student of mine and who has now well surpassed my achievements–Deborah Lupton [@DALupton]. She said to me, very nicely, when I said I liked the internet but could not see the point of Twitter, “Stephen, you just don’t get it”. Absolutely right. I didn’t but she rapidly opened my eyes. Now I do. Thank you again, Deborah.

So, like all late converts, I have since been proselyting my erstwhile colleagues—I used to be a sociology prof but now I run my own consultancy company, which includes things like facilitating some large planning sessions or conferences at Universities…

Well, I have to tell you, as a rough rule of thumb, over about 55 not only do my friends not get it, they don’t want to get it. This is embedded in a wider mind-set. They are locked into a sorts of 1970s model of the academic enterprise, with a focus on ‘refereed publications’ in ‘high status journals’. Etc. Pressed, they blame this on education bureaucrats for insisting on these things as ‘measures’ of academic impact/performance, a view that seems widely held but is rather disingenuous (well it is if you are over 60 like me). They choose to forget that when the bean counters came to the door and chose these methods for measurement, they did so because they were so well established in academia. In sociology, I recall, in the mid ’70s, being given a friendly lecture by my then Chair about how a paper in ASR or AJS was worth about 5 published in a list of more minor journals, how two such papers were worth a book, unless it was a very high status imprint like CUP, etc. Publish or perish thrived, selfish colleagues who shut their door, ignored students and typed furiously prospered and promotion/tenure committees loved them.

If you are fixated on this way of doing things, you have a really hard time taking a blog seriously, you don’t and won’t get social media generally (though you can manage email) and you are wont to pontificate on how the existing model is the only one that can deliver quality. Nonsense: history is littered with technologies for this…

Meanwhile, I hear quite literally, senior professors (one only last week who I won’t name cos he is a nice guy) insisting that he will retire rather than get on Twitter and (possibly inadvertently) exemplifying Kuhn’s argument that paradigm shift is based on the old generation dying out.

Back in the late ‘60s, when sit-ins were all the rage, there is a famous photo of a group of (baby boomer) students marching on the LSE waving a banner “Beware the pedagogic gerontocracy!!”. Sadly the baby boomers now ARE the pedagogic gerontocracy.

Stephen Mugford can be found on Twitter here

Categories: Higher Education


2 replies »

  1. “Sadly the baby boomers now ARE the pedagogic gerontocracy.” Nope: it is called History. Berger and Luckmann got that right. Why “sadly”?

  2. Sorry, I meant: of course baby boomers are becoming the new order. That’s how it goes, not sadly how it goes.

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