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Monday, April 24, 2006

Professional Identities

I just returned from the Midwest Political Science Association meeting in Chicago where I presented a new paper entitled "Citizen Representation and the American Jury".  When I first arrived, I was totally alienated.  I was among 4,000 other political scientists -- but relatively few attendees and presenters were fellow law professors.  Although I have only been out of graduate school a few years, it is fair to say that most of my peers are now legal academics and not political scientists.  I attended a few panels and was quite surprised to hear the same arguments, debates, and frictions from political science conferences past.  Undoubtedly exacerbated by the fact that I teach at a "stand-alone" law school with no political science department, I thought that I might have simply outgrown my original home discipline.

Then I gave my paper, co-authored with another political theorist.  Although our presentation was attended by relatively few people (such is the problem with mega-conferences), I found myself wholly engaged and remembering which part of my brain and heart is essentially a political theorist.  My feeling upon arrival that "these aren't my people anymore" quickly evaporated.

I imagine that as the legal acedemy welcomes more and more PhDs from other disciplines, many people will find themselves in the position I was in this past weekend: experiencing role distance and role identity in quick succession.  My instinct is that the culture of the legal academy is actually a centrifugal one, in which even PhDs with their hearts deeply committed to other disciplines get acculturated to becoming law professors through and through.  But things may be changing as PhDs become more common. 

Posted by Ethan Leib on April 24, 2006 at 08:24 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I've had some similar feelings attending history conferences. At worst, I feel like I'm neither fish nor fowl. At best, which is more frequent, it's very satisfying to be able to move in a couple of undeniably different but still related worlds.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Apr 25, 2006 10:43:46 AM

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