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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How useful am I?

As an academic, I question my usefulness. Society will always need carpenters (or plumbers or tailors or nurses or farmers). Their benefit is pretty clear and obvious. Will it always need historians? How important is my obscure research that might only be read by a handful of other obscure historians? Am I a producer or a parasite?

I think it is a normal to want to be a productive member of society. To know that the work into which you put your life force actually benefits humanity in some small way. Even to be able to ask these questions demonstrates a great deal of privilege.

On the one hand, academia is often criticized for being an ivory tower, from being divorced from "real life". On the other, academics are among the most engaged people I know. Rarely are they unconcerned with politics, society or human relationships.

In the hierarchy of academia, often the applied sciences and business are considered to be most useful - 80% of Canada's research funding is allocated to science and health. And in 2009, the Conservative government decided to increasingly allocate the social sciences and humanities research funding to business-related degrees. Already (as often decried during the most recent crash) so many of the best young minds are wasted in the financial sector moving money and creating paper wealth instead of solving society's problems. Even if I don't solve any major problems myself, maybe I will be partially responsible for teaching the generation that might do so.

1 comment:

janfromthebruce said...

That's a good idea because those other best minds just crashed our economy again - in a big big way!