Over at the Leiter Reports blog, there’s been an interesting conversation about where philosophy departments should interview job candidates. Let me sketch a bit of context for those not familiar with the meat market that is the Eastern meeting of the APA: this divisional meeting takes place each year between Christmas and New Year’s, which is about the only time that philosophers can afford hotel rooms in big cities. Pretty much anyone who is hoping for a job in the coming year will be vetted in a first round of interviews at this meeting. Departments will send a subset of their search committee to meet with 10-15 candidates, rather assembly-line-like.
Many of these interviews take place in a large exhibit hall filled with round tables, tenured faculty seated around them interviewing candidate after candidate in a kind of speed-dating format. These brief meetings at the professional interview are meant to be a way to narrow down the 2 or 3 candidates that departments will then bring to their campuses for a full interview and visit (teach a class, give a talk, meet the dean, etc., etc.).
Now, because of the cattle-call atmosphere of this exhibit hall context (not to mention the horrible din of multiple concurrent interviews happening in an acoustic nightmare of a basement hall), some departments elect to rent a hotel suite and host interviews in a quieter, less public setting. This all sounds good, until you think about one oddity: often this means interviewing candidates in a room with a double bed–sometimes even with faculty interviewers sitting on the bed.
Given that context, one prospective interviewee posed this question to Leiter:
Am I the only female who thinks it silly in 2010 to force departments to pay many hundreds of dollars (coming right out of our budget) to exclude a certain piece of furniture in the interview room? In the past, at least it sufficed to hide the b__ behind a screen (for which hotels charged quite a bit extra). To create what they call “made” suites this year, one must pay for two rooms, but one is guaranteed cot-free (nor does it suffice to drag the offensive item out each interview morning). Isn’t there already sufficient incentive to be 100% professional at interviews? Is being interviewed behind closed doors in a suite more acceptable than in a room containing a b__, as opposed to a couch, or a screened bed? does it really help to shroud beds, cots, or couches? (It’s a bit like shrouding females to insure no unwanted attention?)
Kick the bed to the side, sit on a chair!
This strikes me as almost a caricature of what a “philosopher” would suggest: “C’mon–we’re all just rational here. Why does it matter what’s in the room?” That might sound “reasonable” and mature and no-nonsense, but it also strikes me as incredibly naive and inattentive to the complexities of how we inhabit the world. Thankfully comments on the post, from philosophers, show a more holistic appreciation for our embodiment.
In fact, if you imagine the scene, and try to live into the strangeness of the scenario for just a moment, you’ll begin to appreciate how much the material environment conditions our perception. Indeed, one could spend all day using Merleau-Ponty to show just how we construe and constitute such a context: how the body sort of “knows” the bed in ways and on levels that are almost inarticulable, but nonetheless really significant and powerful. These ways of knowing are not often the subject of philosophical reflection, but that doesn’t mean that our perception is not equally shaped by them.