Quote of the Week on Mandatory Membership

I don’t like that only paying members have the opportunity to speak, and to represent. This is what causes and perpetuates elitism, and marginalization.

Barbara Jane Reyes

I spend a lot of time on this blog highlighting conferences and events in academe. One of the things I try to push to the foreground is those groups/events that offer free attendance, child care, or otherwise offer access to conference information without added cost. My point has always been that while academia was expanding its ranks until the recent recession, it was not expanding its definition of “scholar” to include those who come from poor schools (ie no funding) or working class backgrounds for whom the cost of travel, stay, and attendance are not covered by the uni or their own savings but from loans or family sacrifice. Nor have we reached a point where “open to the community” translates to community members having the same right to speak as established academics since membership fees are still a requirement. Whether we are asking for fees from current academics with no funding, from independent scholars with formal credentials, or activists and other community members with no ties to academe it seems clear from those critiquing the system that the majority of these people will be excluded in favor of well established and well funded scholars. And how does one become established as a Junior in academe? Conferencing and publishing, and while it takes a recognized article to get attention if you don’t/can’t conference, it only takes a collegial demeanor at conferences (and not giving a horrible paper) to make connections that can get you employed later. So the system is broken in terms of inclusivity of all scholars regardless of relationship to the uni and new scholars trying to thrive in this environment.

Reyes’ quote reminds that for many people bringing important alternative perspectives to academic conferences the cost is not only prohibited but also the assumption of the cost as normative excludes many of the people whose perspectives have been traditionally marginalized in academe.  While I understand that we need those dues more than ever to pull off conferences and keep national organizations thriving each year, I wonder about why there are so many conferences doing it differently at the local and regional level while so many of us stay stuck in the same basic model of leisure-scholar?

I once had this conversation about the work for fees plan that allows those without funds to go to the conference for 1 day for full day of service they give the conference. For non-local people, that day of service is the equivalent of an extra day of hotel costs and for both local and non-local scholars that day is the equivalent of lost conferencing time.  There are ways to schedule one’s service to minimize both of these costs but those options are left to the scholars and community members themselves and not part of the aid process. Nor does either wave the required membership fees.

The funding thing is my issue. There is a whole lot to think about in Reyes’ quick post, beyond just the funding issue. In particular, she muses about the meaning of representation and what it means to be the go-to-gal.  I urge you to follow the link at the top to her entire post and think about the changes that you can help make in any of the conferences you will be involved in at the end of this academic year or the upcoming one.

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