What happens to academics whose ideas or theories become marginalized?

I was thinking about the shift in gender theories and philosophy over the last half of the 20th century and into the new millenium the other day, and idly wondered what Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin were doing with themsleves these days. This line of thought made me wonder what happened to the philosophers and social scientists generally whose ideas fall out of favor. Are they still academic gods on campus even if academic peers in their field of study consider their ideas outmoded? If their ideas and theories are not given the same credence anymore, do they tone down their classes? Do they even teach their theories anymore or just rest on their laurels and advise graduate students ?

What happens real world and career wise when an academic gets moldy or outmoded?

I don’t think McKinnon and Dworkin are marginalized, at least as far as academe goes. Just last month, I was having lunch with a colleague who teaches women’s studies courses, and we were discussing his strong anti-pornography views (which contrast sharply with his otherwise liberal freedom of speech views), and he told me that I was overreacting to M. and D, who (he said) basically got it right on the dangers of porn. (That it represents violence against women, that it represents a key barrier to equal rights for women, etc.) So in their case, I’d say that they still have their loyal supporters.

As to the larger question, I’d say that academic careers don’t last all that long. If someone manages to get tenure with a particularly loopy idea, even if its loopiness gets exposed pretty quickly, that person is probably in his forties by the time the worm turns. So you get a couple of decades of some nutty professor riding his hobbyhorse, teaching courses that are regarded as loopy by his colleagues, and then he retires (or is pushed into retirement) and the approach is never heard of again.Every college has a couple of those. It’s a small price to pay, IMO, for academic freedom.

Far scarier to me is when a loopy idea gets exposed as loopy (as with M. and D.) and still carries weight in the larger academic community.

" What happens to academics whose ideas or theories become marginalized?"

They hang out in pool halls, bum ciggies off people & get into rumbles.

My answer pertains to academics in the hard sciences, rather than philosophers and social scientists, but I believe the same would apply to them. Academic researchers obtain the vast proportion of their funding through grants. If the scientific community feels your research isn’t worthy of funding, (based on a number of factors) you won’t receive grants. Lab space is apportioned based on the amount of funding you have. At my university, each one million in grant money earns 8 benches. If you have less than a million, you’ll have less lab space, more, you’ll have more. If there is ever a time when you have no grant money coming in, the university may choose, at their discretion, to fund your research for a defined period. Typically, if the person without funding is not tenured, tenure will be denied, forcing them to move on. We currently have one tenured faculty member who has no independent funding. His lab space was taken away two years after he lost funding. He spends his time assisting students, going to comittee meetings, and writing grant applications. I don’t think he spends any more time on any of these things than the funded professors do, however.

I think I just found my ambition in life :slight_smile:

I can tell you what specifically happened to Andre Dworkin, in 1999 she published an article in the New Statesman detailing how she was drugged and raped in a Czech hotel. Soon after Guardian columnist Catherine Bennett wrote a piece that highlighted several large inconsistencies in Andre Dworkin’s article which cast severe doubts on whetehr or not she was telling the truth about the episode, even sevreal close associates doubted he. Her reputation was severally damged by the whole episode and she did not help this when her subsequent work descended into the bizarre, calling for seperation of men from woman, which along with other episodes led many to say that she was psychologically unbalanced.

We have one of these in my department, he’s not a big name but his theories, which involve ethno-botany, were much more popular during the early seventies and at that time he was given tenure, now he’s mostly considered a joke and he’s only allowed to teach a couple low-level undergrad courses. As long as you don’t crave the acceptance of your peers, it’s actually not a bad deal, as far as I can tell: he has tenure, he teaches a minimal load, he self-publishes so no worries there; he could actually be quite happy, even if the rest of the department thinks him the punchline of a joke. I think the key is having tenure, though; but most big name academics (like the examples in this thread) would certainly have that, one thinks.