Posted by: Clive | July 4, 2008

The time of the year

This is the time of the year when academics move into classrooms in droves for the ‘annual conference’. There are hundreds of these conferences all over. For some it’s the opportunity to be seen ‘presenting a paper’ (i.e. teaching something), for others a time to listen after teaching a lot, and for many it’s a lull before the storm of spending the summer with the family. Mostly though it’s a time to ‘hang out’ with people doing similar jobs with similar ‘hang-ups’. I know that because I haven’t been to a conference yet where the positive feedback hasn’t included ‘I really enjoyed networking with colleagues’.

Now we’re mostly sociable folk who are either thrust in front of student audiences or hidden in scholarly cells, and so we grab at the chance to hang-out in any kind of playground. The curious thing though is why we call it networking … what on earth is networking? And why would we want to substitute a cold, hollow metaphor derived from a blend of net (that’s what fish and butterflies are caught up in) and work (the opposite of play) for a rich, warm and playful experience such as ‘hanging-out’ (which reminds me of Mogli singing “I’m the King of the Swingers …’)?

Language: we use it at our peril. Ten days ago a man who critiqued language and the behaviours we build from and on it died at the age of 71. I first heard George Carlin, a comedian from New York, in the 70s on a record my brother had. An irreverent maverick, Carlin spent 40 years satirising the excesses of American culture and pointing up the absurdities and power in language (ab)use. Look him up. Watch him on YouTube (I’ve included a well-known clip on ‘soft language’ here). Laugh and learn.

I wonder what he would have said about ‘networking’?


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