Extolling RSSS

My college at ANU has started a thing called “Controversy Corner”. The first contribution made some rather unflattering comments about the Research School of Social Sciences, in which I’m located. I’m rather proud of RSSS, so it seemed a good chance to write a few paragraphs on what makes it such a terrific place. My spiel is over the fold.

Surprising things happen in strange places

John Docker’s initial contribution to Controversy Corner “What a Strange Place is ANU” contained some beautifully apt observations about the plants and animals that make working on campus so enjoyable. His observations on academics and their research were unfortunately a little less accurate. In particular, his article contained some oddly outdated views about the Research School of Social Sciences, implying that it is gloomy and insular, absurd and hubristic. He cites no evidence of this, and the picture he paints is far different from what you’d see if you strolled the corridors of the Coombs Building today.

Spend a day in RSSS and you might chat with economist Deborah Cobb-Clark about her project on the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage, a major research agenda that promises to provide new insights on why the children of poor people are more likely to grow up in poverty. You could read a copy of Tim Rowse’s recent book (with Murray Goot) that comprehensively surveys opinion polling on Indigenous affairs since World War II. You might grab a coffee with political scientist John Dryzek and hear about his work on deliberative democracy, rethinking democratic practices at a time when representative democracy is under severe stress. And in the afternoon, you could attend a talk by philosopher David Chalmers, whose work on consciousness not only inspires other philosophers, but is also featured in the David Lodge novel Thinks.

Dr Docker says that ANU is “an exceedingly odd place”. In the case of RSSS, he’s right. It’s exceedingly odd to find economists and philosophers sitting down in a seminar to discuss “The Irrationality of Disagreement”. Indeed, some might say that it’s downright weird to have historians and political scientists together running a conference on “Governing by Looking Back”.

From a personal perspective, the interdisciplinary aspect has been one of the most exciting aspects of working at ANU RSSS. I enjoy engaging with colleagues who are respected in their disciplines, but not afraid to present their work on television and radio, in newspapers and blogs. But don’t take my word for it – just check out our website.

(The original piece by John Docker is available here. However, the link won’t work unless you’re on the ANU campus. Controversy has its limits, it seems.)

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5 Responses to Extolling RSSS

  1. But will you hear any economists discussing the intricacies of game theory?

  2. By the way, I agree that RSSS is a great place.

  3. harry clarke says:

    I have a lot of time for RSSS – some very bright and productive people work there.

    To be honest Andrew I also feel a certain amount of envy – life outside the quiet fields of the research schools at ANU has greater pace and more pressure. Not just teaching but administration and bureaucracy. But that is not a defect of RSSS – its a problem in the evolution of modern teaching-cum-research universities.

  4. Andrew Leigh says:

    Harry, I think we should take the envy seriously, and work out how we in RSSS Econ can use our position to do more for economics in Australia more generally. For example, we might run more conferences; offer Australian economists a place to spend their sabbatical, etc. Let me know if you have other thoughts on this.

  5. Stephen King says:

    As a former RSSSer I agree with Harry – RSSS is a fantastic place to interact with other social scientists (including economists). The economics program has traditionally been the ‘training ground’ for young Australian economists who came to RSSS for a few years post-PhD, got their research going in a stimulating environment and then headed off to economics departments around the country (and in some cases around the world). Unfortunately, I think that RSSS has moved away from that role in recent years. Partly this may reflect pressures of funding at RSSS. It may also reflect a difficulty in getting young academics to move to Canberra for a few years. I think that RSSS needs to try and regain this ‘training’ role. This may not be possible just through the traditional ‘research fellow’ track but may need a mix of shorter term appointments and innovations (‘summer school’ type workshops is one possibility). Of course these innovations require both the will and the funds!

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