Thursday, April 20, 2006

More Late Night Thoughts On Duncan Kennedy and Blogging

A quick note to commenters on the pseudonymous blogging post: thanks so much for dropping by (especially o exalted law prawfs, one of whom I owe an email) and leaving your kind and encouraging words. You are friends of this blog.

Which is yet again, tonight's subject matter. Or rather, this early morning's. Blogs have become really important to me--especially since I moved home and found myself growing more dull by the minute, in both intellect and verve. This is what happens when you sing the theme songs from pre-school cartoons all day instead of reading about ERISA preemption. The only way I stay connected to my field sometimes is through blogs--by reading them, and by writing them.

I know I complain about taking care of the kids a lot on this blog, but it's not so much complaining (I will miss all of this in July) as much it is a plea for people to recognize the important work of child care--whether it is done by your infinitely patient spouse, your kind-hearted and hopefully over-paid nanny/day care provider, or your totally unpaid and very sweet younger sister/mother. Sometimes, it is fun to talk to your friends from law school. Oftentimes, it's not when you tell them the biggest thing you accomplished today was getting the kid to poop in the toilet and they're making $135K. Yet I think I am happier than they are. A little more intellectually isolated, 'tis true--but the blogosphere and its denizens has stepped in to fill the void. Every morning, along with the bran flakes and the cup of sweet milk tea, is the following ritual:

1) Check the NY Times, Washington Post, Slate and The New Republic digitial edition. Avoid excessively partisan news sources that inhibit the ability to think for oneself. Don't call me Hillary--I wasn't on the board of directors for Wal-Mart--but I generally like the illusion of objectivity and non-partisanship in journalism. I wouldn't read the Weekly Standard, much less the flip side of it.

2) Check the RSS feeds from 10+ law/political blogs (from the general-interest ones like Concurring Opinions, PrawfsBlawg, Balkinization, U Chicago, Volokh, Legal Theory Blog, and SCOTUS Blog, to "specialty blogs" like Workplace Prof Blog, Immigration Prof Blog, Feminist Law Profs, and Empirical Legal Studies, plus a few other left-leaning but generally not too partisan political blogs--hint, I don't read Daily Kos) and 5 "academic" blogs (Acephalous, Ancrene Wiseass, The Debate Link, Blog Meridan, Crooked Timber). This is what one would call a blog adiction. Blogimia, if you will. (inapt metaphor, where do I purge?)

3) Try to read everything and give up about an hour later.

4. Check sitemeter stats and feel more important than I did say 4 months ago, but wayyy less important than many others.

Usually, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, e.g. the guaranteed non-kid days when they're over at their other grandparents, I have the day to myself. On these days I read for a few hours, try to write a page that I don't end up throwing out at 2 am later that night, and watch an episode of Star Trek during my lunch and dinner breaks (yes I am geek enough to time it). Last week was spring break for some of the kids. This week, I just learned Monday night, is spring break for another set of kids (there are eight total from 3 different families). So you know, fun for me, the primary caregiver now that my parents are too old and arthritic to do any lifting of heavy babies. So I feed the kids, bathe them, make sure they have one hour each of extra schoolwork and physical play in addition to hours more of other drawing/story time. I try to limit the TV to maybe an hour or two a day. I live for nap time. I could leave it to my parents (who don't speak English), but then the kids would spend they day sitting in front of the TV. Not a chance with this caregiver. I am the Super Nanny! So I got relieved of duty at about 9 pm (having started at 8:30 am), relaxed a bit, read (but didn't write) for a couple of hours, and finally, here I am, blogging.

So despite the fact that tomorrow I have to get up early, pick up a 11 year old and take him to Barnes and Noble, Ice Age 2 (a movie I've already seen with a different set of kids two weeks ago), and IN-N-OUT, here I am, blogging about Duncan Kennedy. Maybe I'll sneak in some law review articles in my big purse I use to smuggle in cans of coke and candy.

I've already posted my own thoughts about Duncan Kennedy, but there have been a few posts in the blawgosphere about this new article by Frank Snyder:

"Late Night Thoughts on Blogging While Reading Duncan Kennedy's Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy in an Arkansas Motel Room."

It is not so much that I disagree with some of Kennedy’s points (though I do), or that the writing is not engaging (it is). No, what starts to wear me down is the apparent conviction that that his own experiences and feelings are true and universal, and that mine, to the extent they differ from his, are either the result of bad faith or denial. Perhaps Kennedy really was emotionally maimed by his own "fear of the teacher's disapproval," his "own status as a non-person" in the classroom, or his "revulsion" at the Socratic method. If so, I suspect this has more to do with Kennedy and his parents than it does with legal education. But that does not stop him from casting it as some kind of universal reaction, at least among thinking people.

For a while, it is kind of amusing being told that I am probably part of the class that
cannot relate to "working class people" or "outsiders" by a guy who has the same privileged class status and education as George W. Bush. Or learning that, as someone who liked law school, liked law practice, and like teaching, I must be one of the "mainstream" people for whom "the barrio . . . is alien and invisible." I grew up across the street from the Carmelas barrio in Norwalk, California, and a third of my high school classmates came from there. Just whom are we talking about here?

If the reader’s own background happens to parallel Kennedy’s, perhaps he or she can recognize the traumas he had to go through (like having his day ruined because a professor was in a bad mood) and think them both important and universal. But if the reader’s background was more, well, outsiderish, it is probably harder to relate.

Look at the paradox. Here we have the ultimate insider, using the resources of the richest and most influential university in the world, publishing ideas that have already seen the light of day in a commercial book and a peer-reviewed law journal, and would be eagerly accepted by a hundred other respectable publications. Yet, he is working hard to make it look like the clandestine works of some hunted Spanish anarchist who is just one step ahead of Franco’s secret police.

The Law Professor Blog Network, of which ContractsProf is a member, was not designed to change the world. Its goal was to provide resources to law teachers and, I suspect, to make a few bucks for the founders. It is determinedly apolitical, but its mere existence is breaking down barriers between law schools and within law schools. The bloggers on the network, at this particular moment, come from every tier of American law schools

Not only is it an eclectic mix of schools, but the bloggers themselves vary in status from holders of named chairs at elite institutions to those who are not even on the tenure track at their fourth tier schools. Some are even, (gasp) legal writing teachers. We have folks who are noted experts in their fields, and other folks who are near-complete newcomers. Yet in an important sense, we are equal here—no one controls what we write. We are not vetted. We write, and we are judged on what we write.

And from PrawfsBlawg, an excellent commentary by Paul Horowitz:

But I'd add two caveats. The first is that to some extent, those hierarchies can colonize the blogosphere too. At least for a good long while, a Chicago faculty blog will get more readers, and get taken more seriously, than a blog of faculty members from the Podunk Law School, regardless of the quality of argument presented. I doubt it is an accident that the cast of characters at the Harvard bloggership conference is top-weighted with bloggers from first-rank schools; although it must be said in fairness that they are also good bloggers and that one or two of them might have acquired prominence and advancement through blogging. Nevertheless, I think the general point -- that closed hierarchies can enjoy at least temporary, if not entrenched, advantages in the blogosphere too -- is true. Second, much depends on how much we bloggers ourselves internalize the idea of hierarchy (in its closed sense, not in the sense of meritocracy). After all, we write in part to advance ourselves within the established hierarchy -- not just to challenge it.

***I can't help but wonder what these observations say about a host of things that have been discussed on this blog and elsewhere, often though not necessarily having to do with issues of gender, race, and sexuality, but almost never with issues of social class. I think the observations I've made above raise questions about the kinds of efforts we've seen discussed by professors here and elsewhere: deliberate ambiguity about one's partners in book acknowledgments, thoughtful disclosure of one's orientation in class, various Ayresian proposals, discussions of and responses to covering, and so on.

I know this risks becoming personal, so let me say emphatically that I'm not saying that these responses are unimportant to the people who engage in them, or that they do no good. Perhaps a little bit of good is enough to warrant the amount of time and concern we spend on such issues. Rather, I'm suggesting that it is possible to take such issues too seriously, or to fail to recognize just how small the ground of contestation is, and how privileged all the contestants on the field are. We ought to approach such issues with a reasonable sense of perspective, a sense of how low the stakes generally are, perhaps even a soupcon of levity -- and always with a sense that although it may feel like we're engaged in working toward progressive social change, what we're mostly engaged in is a debate about how we affluent, well-educated people should order our own lives. (Nor does what I'm saying apply only to issues that concern political progressives: although I believe strongly that faculties
should hire people from all ideological stripes, one does well to recognize the difference between the failure to do so and actual tyranny.)

Social class, as always, seems to mark the real demarcation between those issues we count as important and those we don't. As long as we openly acknowledge that most of our issues about race, gender, power, etc., within the legal academy are unlikely to be meaningful outside it -- as long as we recognize that we are arguing about the terms of life within the enclave, and that we're just not as concerned with life outside it -- we can, I think, continue to hold such debates, although I suspect they would be considerably chastened. In doing so, though, I think we in the academy might occasionally question the subject, and stakes, of our debates altogether.

Both of these articles (Horowitz's post is very long, but worth the read) were very enjoyable to read. It kind of got me thinking again about law school, hierarchy, and blogging. I went to a school consistently ranked (and keep in mind, they skip numbers when schools tie) around 14 on both the U.S. News and Leiter Reports rankings. It was a good school. But you couldn't say "Top Ten," and for some reason, that really matters. Next year, I'm going to a "Top Ten" school--one that consistently produces judges, clerks, and even professors. But it's not a "Top Five." When I enter the market a few years from now, those reputational rankings will be very important about where I go, but less so in where I'm going--I know full well that if you get a job offer from a "fourth-tier" school in some midwestern/southern state you've never even been to on a vacation, you should be GRATEFUL. Law school is full of hierarchies even before you're accepted. It's no secret that people apply according to rankings or even the vaguest idea of "reputation." Once inside, the hierarchy of law school kind of sneaks up on you. For myself, I started realizing that it is not chic, particularly in an urbane "foodie" (I hate that word!) city, to admit that you eat at Souplantation. My sister, the dentist, makes wayyyy more than my fellow students ever will, but has somehow resisted the urge to live beyond her means or indulge in "aspirational consumption." Still, I engage in a sort of covering and hide my less than bourgie upbringing. Why? Maybe I'm just a self-hater. Maybe I stopped liking Souplantation. (the bakery is still good, but the salad is terrible)

Or maybe I'm just self-focusing, again and worrying about how extrapolating from my personal experiences is in any way significant, relevant, or particularly enlightening. I wrote an article (that I do not like much) about the concept of "diversity" in the race-conscious remedy of affirmative action, and it started with a CRT personal narrative. For this reason (and it's kind of dated) I never shopped it around. It didn't particularly ring true to me--the method or the self-focus. It's not that I lied or exaggerated. I did, shockingly enough, in one of America's more racially and socioeconomically diverse law schools with good programs in Public Interest and CRT, have negative racial experiences with some of my peers. But I don't want to be another Duncan Kennedy. And I don't want to lose my perspective on what the stakes are like for me and what they are for others who look like me.

I'm not saying that I'm not proud of my achievements and what it took to get here. I'm just another immigrant, but luckier than many. With every stage of my education (and I am over educated), I get farther away from the obstacles that were overcome and made the basis of that admissions essay. There are six children in my family. The oldest came at 17, did not speak English, and yet 5 years later graduated with a bachelors in Engineering (with a minor in Math) from Cal State Fullerton. She was an engineer for a big company until just a year ago, when she was laid off and began working for my dentist sister at a considerable pay cut. Now that's overcoming obstacles. Each sibling has an extraordinary story, but less extraordinary as you get to the younger ones--the ones who came young enough to learn English and get into honors classes within a year of arrival, until you get to me--born in America with every benefit of citizenship. I didn't speak English till the age of 5, and I had to take those stupid proficiency tests until high school--but I ended up majoring in English literature in college. Still, my story is not that extraordinary, and there are not many Oprah-esque obstacles I had to overcome. So I worked during school. So I took care of my siblings children during college and law school. Big deal, right? That's the case with a lot of people.

But maybe not in law school. I felt like I was the only one missing out on Bar review (even though I did it on purpose) to go home and be Super Nanny. In law school, more than in college, are familial/financial obligations the aberration. You do not work to put yourself through an elite law school. You borrow a lot of money and live beyond your means. You do not distract yourself with family in law school. You become a mean lawyer and skip birthday parties if they're around finals.

I suppose I don't have much to add to the conversation--Frank Snyder and Paul Horowitz say it all, and say it better. There is hierarchy in law school, but don't be surprised if you find yourself ranking yourself among "equals." Whether you're comparing the designer of your handbag/perfume or comparing stories of how much you had to overcome to get here, you're playing Chutes and Ladders. There's a term for it in CRT--the "oppression olympics." It's not as fun as it sounds, and it's another kind of competition. I wasn't happy talking shopping with Prissy Princess, but I wasn't happy defending how "Asian" I was either.

And don't forget, in every hierarchy that law school produces or emphasizes by contrast, you're only fighting with yourself. There is no trophy at the end, only your sense of self-worth in comparison to others. This is why I don't have a link to where I am in the TTLB ecosystem. I do enough self-focusing on this blog, without comparing this inflated conception to my my cosmic/blogospheric significance.