Monday, February 21, 2011

Philosophy Now and Then: Employment

A "Folk" History of recent professional philosophy - posted in 2008, so its a bit out of date, some very interesting comments. Comparing 1997 to 2008

"Leiter's got an interesting thread going about what philosophy's like now, as opposed to ten years ago. But there's one job-market-related thing I'm not sure about. Martha Nussbaum says "the job market for young philosophers is considerably worse" now than it was in 1997, and so "talented young people are increasingly deterred from choosing philosophy as a career."

Really? I mean, I'm not one to deny claims about how crappy the job market is, but is this comparison really right?

I ask because my folk history of the philosophy job market goes like this. The good old days were the '60s and maybe part of the '70s. Back then, undergrad teaching needs were growing faster than grad schools could pump out the new PhDs, and any white guy with three dissertation chapters and enough family money to put him through grad school could get a tenure-track job somewhere nice. Thus many seeds were sewn that would grow into dead wood.

But grad schools expanded too, and the supply of philosophers caught up with--then blew right past--the demand. In the early- to mid-'80s the market collapsed. No one got jobs. The Eastern APA became a sickening re-enactment of the children's crusade, with hundreds and hundreds of idealistic young philosophers getting sold into permanent adjuct-slavery or simply getting beheaded for sport. Each year was a scene of such gory carnage that the APA started sending out their notorious Letter of Death to new grad school applicants, telling them all to do anything--anything--with their lives besides grad school in philosophy.

Then, the story goes, the market started to improve in the late '90s. But getting back to Nussbaum's comments, is there any reason to think the market was better in the late '90s than it is now? Has there really been any movment back towards the market of the bad old days? I'm not so sure, but I can't say my views are actually based on anything like "facts" or "knowledge." So I'm curious to hear the thoughts of people who've been around for longer than me. How's the market now compared to ten years ago?"

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