"The accident of where one is born is just that, an accident; any human being might have been born in any nation"
Martha Nussbaum, 'Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism' in For Love of Country (Beacon Press, 2002)

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Finding your ideas in the work of others

Andrea Sangiovanni's latest article 'Justice and the Priority of Politics to Morality', is highly recommended - it provides a very helpful summary of recent developments in global justice (and justice more generally) research, and brings together some very important issues. But what struck me most while reading it was the uneasy feeling of seeing my own ideas and thoughts written out much more clearly and succintly that I have so far managed to do. I also had this feeling at the ALSP conference listening to Kok Chor Tan's excellent plenary lecture. On both occasions, I had a sense of satisfaction, in that I was pleased that people higher in the profession than I am share my understanding of the issues. It's always reassuring to know that you are on the right track and working in areas that other people agree are important. But I also had a feeling of frustration that maybe because someone else has managed to get these ideas down first my contribution is therefore less valuable. Of course, I'm not claiming that I think my ideas are particularly insightful, innovative or important, and it's natural that some of the other people working in the same area will come to the same conclusions as you (or understand the debate in the same particular way). Indeed, about 85% of me feels pleased and reassured by the presence of similar ideas to mine in work by such accomplished academics. Should this be 100% though - should one be completely pleased to see that other people share your views and understanding of an issue?


Tom said...

I sometimes get that feeling too (I wrote this post about one case last year). It seems to be the same thing bothering me as you: what it might say about the way we relate to our projects that it matters to some extent to us that it is we who complete them rather than that they simply get done regardless. At the very least, I don't think it is that unusual, especially as aspiring academics whose future occupations and even self-images are dependent on being able to formulate original responses to issues of interest to other academics. To completely block out those sorts of pressures is likely to be tall order, if it is even desirable at all. For there is a sense in which it might be just as bad if things swung too much in the opposite direction -- just being glad that someone had made the contribution that you thought needed to be made -- since that might lead to becoming disinvested in your own work and overly-modest about the unique contribution that you can make.

Anonymous said...

I find it especially fustrating when I'm writing something, come up with what I think is a good point, and then read the same thing elsewhere. I agree with you that it ought to be largely encouraging as it shows you're on the same lines as other people. But for reasons that Tom points out it's still annoying. It would be worse to find a devastating objection though!