FACULTY WRITING GROUP HAS A LITERARY LICENSE
It’s one of those gorgeous spring days out of SoCal Central Casting. Birds burst into song, the breeze comes tinged with lemon blossom and dogs forget how to growl. Gathered around a table in the groovy environs of USD’s new architecture pavilion, several young faculty members are describing why they gather every month or so.
“I love the idea of getting together and hearing about people’s projects,” muses Assistant Professor of Architecture Shannon Starkey, who’s working on an exhibition and accompanying catalogue titled The Suspension of Disbelief about Southern California real estate. “As far as my own work goes, I only aspire for it to be read by a handful of people. But I’m definitely interested in engaging with you all on the theoretical level.”
The loosely organized group of academics, with a half dozen or so regular attendees, is the brainchild of Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, assistant political sociology professor for the Kroc School (pictured, above). “I like the idea of a younger generation of people at USD — ambitious and driven — getting together to talk about our work, spilling out of our disciplinary homes.”
Assistant Professor of Sociology Greg Prieto, who’s in the revision stage of his book, Reticence and Resistance: Everyday Immigrant Politics in the Deportation Nation, says that the group’s conversation changes every meeting. “The emphasis is guided by who has the floor. They determine what happens next.”
On this particular day, Choi-Fitzpatrick is sharing his marketing strategy for his newly published book, What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators Rationalize What They Do. He talks about choosing a publisher, working his way through the revision process, penning related articles and book excerpts for the Huffington Post, Aeon and The Guardian, the value of social media, all characterized as “constellation stuff.”
His eyes light up when he describes doing readings at some of his favorite bookstores, even though he admits that the jury is still out: “I’m trying to figure out if doing publicity is worth it. As I’m working on another book right now about drones, social movements and protests, which is a totally different topic, so I need to figure out if I do this sort of marketing again. I’m trying to figure out what I want from all of this. Do I want to be a public intellectual? Not really.”
Kroc School Associate Professor Topher McDougal — who says he’s “a few months behind Austin’s curve” in publishing his own book, The Political Economy of Rural-Urban Conflict: Predation, Production and Peripheries — jumps in.
“A friend of mine, who’s a philosopher, wrote a book, Thinking in Public, about the tradition of these exiled great Jewish thinkers from Europe and the World War II exodus. A lot of them grappled with the idea of what it meant to be a public intellectual in that context, to try to get to serious issues in public settings. But they had come from places where the intelligentsia had been singled out for murder.”
The conversation stalls for a heartbeat, then restarts.
“I know you said you have no interest in being a public intellectual,” McDougal says to Choi-Fitzpatrick. “But you brought this group together in the first place.” A wave of laughter signals agreement.
“If you want to have a presence in the public realm, you eventually have to trade on your name,” says Starkey.
“What’s fascinating in this conversation is that one shift in venue, from academia to bookstores, changes the whole tone,” comments Choi-Fitzpatrick.
“Well, what’s the difference in the discussion at a bookstore or in an academic environment?” interjects Starkey.
“At bookstores, people ask questions that are rooted in profound curiosity, but not necessarily in knowledge,” answers Choi-Fitzpatrick. “They may not have read the book, unlike people like us, who want to critique a bound book”
“Maybe you don’t need a definitive answer at this point, but you clearly like bookstore experience,” says Prieto. There is general agreement of the idea that popular authors would wilt if subjected to the rigors of academia, but the tone is unfailingly polite, civil, and yes, collegial.
“This all takes time. And, for me, it’s all about getting it all out there right now,” says Choi-Fitzpatrick. “Because I’m always about moving on to the next idea.” — Julene Snyder