Friday, April 04, 2008

What's On Your Wish List?

Content Analysis does a content analysis of prominent sociologists' public wishlists, finding, soberly:

From the first Wish Lists or two, I thought I might stumble onto some fascinating insight into the intellectual interests of prominent sociologists. I imagined, for example, that I’d discover that sociologists all had a hidden love for the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski or dove into a bit of Sylvia Plath at the end of a long day of multiple imputation.

Alas, the truth was so much more mundane, human, and sobering. By far, the most common category of books were self-help books of all types. Like anybody else, sociologists had listed books about repairing broken marriages, recovering from cancer, fixing bad finances, overcoming social anxiety, and becoming better at their jobs.

The awesome Jeremy Freese (who is awesome no matter what is on his wishlist) has this to say:

I wonder if as academics come to realize that Wish Lists are not only not private but might actually be something strangers are interested in looking at, suddenly their intellectual-to-other-stuff ratio will rise. Somebody quick, go out there and record the content of a bunch of sociologists’ wish lists and then wait a couple years and do it again.

The Best Friend looked mine up while I was visiting her over spring break. "You really want this?," she kept asking.

"NO!!," I would protest each time, wondering why I didn't add some random over-hyped contemporary lit fic book to some "books I might want to read if they are on sale in the bargain bin," and things I used to want but now have, like Silpat baking sheets.

I should really update my list, which I haven't changed since the year I was bored and broke and living at home. Be careful what you wish for when you are in between schools, and a bored Glorified Unpaid Nanny. I just seem like a parrot of whatever was suggested to me by any of the five newspapers I read on a daily basis.

I should update it with books I want/need for my research so that I don't have to engage in a mobius strip game of recalling books back and forth with some other dude on campus. I don't want to over-intellectualize my list for signaling purposes--but I am but a poor unfunded graduate student, and I don't have the same resources as a faculty person with a job. My list will be much geekier than Jeremy's. But not necessarily so. I should update the cook/bakeware I want, add some fancy yarn, update the lists of graphic novels and comic books I want, and stop reading the NYT book reviews. And I should add DVDs to my wishlist, because I'd rather watch The Wire than read yet another crappy contemporary lit fic book.

I haven't updated it, because I haven't thought to do it. I created the wishlist just for myself, never circulated it, and forgot that I had one--much less that it was public. The whole "too proud to beg" thing that anyone who actually grew up poor suffers from. I am kind of over that now. I can get any novel at the library, but there are some pricey academic texts that are always out of circulation at the library. And who doesn't want mini bundt pans?

The problem is what publicly available wish lists say about you. It is almost worse than someone judging the books you already have, because there might be any reason for having them (gifts, work, cheap sales...). What books do you want? Aspiration is everything. I don't want to over-intellectualize my list, but I do need research books more than anything. Also, it's hard admitting that some days, all I want to do is bake, knit, and re-read Calvin and Hobbes. Kind of doesn't go with the whole "take me seriously, I am a scholar, and I work 24/7" ethos I am trying to cultivate. This is partly why I hardly talk about my domestic hobbies and personal relationship on this blog. But because my work is on work/life balance, I have allowed myself to obliquely refer to the "life" part a little, and not merely in detached analyses of books and movies.

That's the problem with identifying yourself as a feminist scholar and doing work on gender discrimination and stereotypes. Sometimes your hobbies fit too well in those gender stereotypes, and while they shouldn't, people will think you hypocritical. Of course, I see nothing wrong or cognitively dissonant with being a baking feminist.


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