Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Foundational, Pathbreaking, Seminal, Cutting Edge, etc. Articles

Every sociologist will read Marx, Weber, and Durkheim a few times before graduating from college, and then a few more times before graduating from graduate school, and ad nauseum when s/he starts teaching Soc 1.

Everyone doing constitutional structure whether in political science or law will read/assign Federalist 51 and 10 dozens of time over.

I do not want to get into the "foundational" articles of CRT, which are in some contention--but there is a book called The Key Writings that Formed the Movement, and I've read them at least 3-4 times each, and this was all between 2002-2005.

The point is, there's a few articles I keep reading over and over and over again, but since the first reading may not click since there is no "big picture," and the second time I might not be as careful, I'm generally okay with this. But it does get repetitive and around the third or fourth time, really tiresome. I get less excited about talking about it in class. It may be different teaching the work, to be sure. I'll get novelty by proxy, and new students always bring something new to the table. But me? It's like going to the same party over and over again.

For instance, I cannot tell you how many times I have read Vicki Schultz's "The Sanitized Workplace"---at least three, once in Employment Discrimination in law school, once again in the Sociology of Law, and now again in Empirical Perspectives on Gender Discrimination. This is not counting the time I read it for fun before all of this, or the time I read it to prep myself for a talk. It is a wonderful article and one of my favorites, and she is my idol. But come on, now. Surely there are other articles that maybe empirically demonstrate how symbolic regulations of sex in the workplace as the only vehicle of enforcing sexual harassment discrimination obscure other types of gender discrimination, excessively policing the workplace for sex and ignoring structural inequality? Dudes, I am just reciting this off of the top of my head, even after not having read the article for all of six months.

I still like the article a lot. It is not as incendiary on the fifth reading as it was the first, and I have a richer, fuller perspective after so much book learnin'. But dude, one more class discussing this particular article? Groan.

There needs to be new foundational, pathbreaking, seminal articles on ____ written every year. That may negate the foundationalness, but really--pathbreaking articles can't be the same ones year after year. Then the path is broken. Not only is it broken, it is well-trod. I am not arguing that there can be another holy trinity along the lines of Marx, Weber, or Durkheim. Nor am I saying that we should stop reading Federalist 51 and 10. But for "cutting edge" articles, there has to be a constant refreshing. This can't be the only article arguing its particular thesis, and there must be other ways of making similar arguments in novel, interesting ways. Maybe I will write it!

The question is, readers: what articles have you read over and over and over and over in your field that you are kind of getting sick of, such that you wish that your field was more innovative and had more frequent "refreshing" of ideas and scholarship? When does the cutting edge of scholarship get dull? How many times after reading an article does it go from "awesome!" to "blah blah blah blah"?


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