"Us" and "Them" - Pondering Academia

This evening I played croquet.

I didn't particularly want to play. I'd never played before that I can recall. I know the rules of the game, but it didn't seem interesting. And I wasn't particularly looking forward to it because, honestly, it seemed like an affectation. I mean, I grew up with folks who might play horseshoes or "Smear the Queer" (sorry...). I guess croquet would be alright if there were kids there or all the adults were drinking. Where I grew up, nearly any behavior is made less of an affectation if the adults are drinking. But it's also true that where I grew up, you don't diss the host, and since they wanted to play, I played.

And despite the fact that I won - largely due to how the game was played and that I was so sucky that I was able to sneak past all the players trying to do strategize around each other - the game still seems like an affectation. So, in spite of the fact that someone actually got annoyed in a game of croquet, it has me thinking.

What I'm thinking is this: I wonder what other affectations go along with academia? And maybe affectation is too strong, but there are certain behaviors that I'm thinking about that people seem to expect within the career more than outside of it. Or maybe they're assumptions. For example, wine drinking. I have no empirical evidence of this, but I'm pretty sure there are more than a few people who became wine drinkers because it seemed like what people "like us" do.

When croquet was mentioned to me before the dinner, I said, honestly, that I'd probably pass if given the choice. This was greeted as shocking. But really, it just didn't seem like something I would do.

I think there's a tendency, too, to assume that academics have traveled abroad extensively, that we all went to Europe in high school or college. I don't think I've ever been to an academic get-together yet where someone didn't drop a story about their time in Europe the first time, and almost inevitably, it came with the tone that I'd clearly been there, too. But it makes me wonder what else the "academic-us" carries with it that I'm not thinking about, and maybe, just maybe, whether this isn't somehow tied to why academia isn't working for me?

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Maggie said...

This is absolutely right, this idea about the "academic us". I notice it a lot because in many ways, I don't fit the "us", for reasons mainly having to do with class and ethnicity.

Honestly, I revel in some of my pastimes because they are academic counter-cultural. Like, I read a lot of celebrity gossip. I like going to county fairs and I read tons of low-brow mystery novels. I talk about these things in conversation with other academics because at some level, I want to disrupt the "us."

August 4, 2008 at 8:08 AM
Brigindo said...

It sounds like you're describing class differences...many academics come from the same class and assume everyone has had similar experiences and have similar tastes?

Personally I've never noticed an abundance of wine drinking but rather what I consider the lack of drinking in academia. I've also never once heard croquet mentioned in any academic function. The Europe thing is also outside my frame of reference. However in my last position, everyone talked of skiing-as if it were the only activity one would do on a vacation.

August 4, 2008 at 9:44 AM
ash said...

it's funny that you have that association with croquet. i know there is a stereotypical association with an upper class lifestyle. but i love croquet because it evokes childhood memories of playing in my dirt-poor, high-school-educated, working class southern grandmother's backyard. (was this an example of the poor wanting to emulate the lifestyle of the wealthy? i think not in this case, as granny had nothing but disdain for "uppity" rich folks and intellectuals.) so i have always thought of it as a kids game, not an elite pursuit, FWIW...

it's also funny because we bought a croquet set for our memorial day BBQ. now i am wondering what this says about us!

August 4, 2008 at 10:28 AM
Mindy said...

I have this feeling all the time as well...i find myself being very outside of many of the "us" like affectations. I also think they fall along class lines. I am a first generation college grad and so both grew up in a largely working class and rural community and also not surrounded by people who had much, if any, experience with A) the academy and B) anyplace more than 200 miles away.

August 4, 2008 at 11:41 AM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

It certainly could be a class difference, though I don't think class neatly fits it. Part of it, I think, may be about where I grew up (as in the croquet case).

My issue isn't necessarily the game, it's the expectation that I'd look forward to playing, the same way (in my experience) there's often the expectation that I'd traveled in high school or love wine.

A friend and I used to talk about a set academic stance on religion - that most academics we met simply assumed any religious belief or comfort was crazy. Though I'm not religious, it still somehow got off-putting to me. Of course, now I'm at a school run by a priest, and I'm a lot more capable of those "it's all crazy" views. But really, I'm just curious about what those assumptions are.

August 4, 2008 at 12:05 PM
Dance said...

The assumption that I've heard the latest story on NPR is always the one I notice--because I never have. Stories in the New Yorker and Atlantic is another one. And I'm the only person I know who retells stories from Sports Illustrated.

I don't know about the default assumption that you would enjoy croquet, though--I've played croquet at a grad student party and later a professor party (that one largely full of non-white people), and bocce ball and bow-and-arrow shooting at a somewhat-professorial party, but there was never really the assumption that I would enjoy them or that they were the natural thing to do. I mean, I'm someone who is generally up for whatever game and strongly believe that a little retreat to childhood (croquet, roller skating, bowling, etc) is always a good and healthy idea for me/all academics, but I usually find that I'm trying to convince other people to try whatever. And it seems like "you'll play croquet, right" is said to me with hope in convincing me, not confidence.

Wine drinking, though, definitely. I mean, I would have been a wine drinker anyhow, but the other day I almost took a bottle of wine to a BBQ in the foothills of CA, until my sister said "wine to a BBQ?" And wine to a BBQ totally flies in academia (and in fact, there *was* wine at the foothills BBQ), but it is a weird thing to do. I have parties with no hard liquor, almost no beer, just wine, and no one ever seems to think this is strange (but of course it is).

August 4, 2008 at 1:28 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

In this case, the conversation went something like:

Faculty 1 - "We're going to play croquet."
Me - "That doesn't sound fun to me. I'll probably just talk to people."
Faculty 1 - "What?! Are you serious? Why wouldn't you want to play?!"

It wasn't said in a way that seemed to suggest I wasn't being a good sport and trying something; it came across (and subsequent conversation confirmed) as "Who are you that you wouldn't want to play croquet?"

In any case, croquet is just one bit of anecdotal what-not, a cheap vehicle into talking about other weird academic assumptions. There are lots of little weird things that seem to be assumed. Part of those definitely seem to be regional: so some places, skiing is the default vacation.

It's interesting to think about academic identity as a multi-faceted thing, but I'm beginning to wonder if there aren't some core things about it that I'm just missing.

August 4, 2008 at 11:55 PM
lonna said...

I always find that the expectation is that academics love classical music. I share an office with three other professors, and one of them has seriously started many conversations with me regarding my intense disdain of classical music. He honestly doesn't understand how an educated person wouldn't like classical music.

August 5, 2008 at 10:04 AM