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 In particular, his article contained some oddly outdated views about the Research School of Social Sciences, implying that it is gloomy and insular, absurd and hubristic.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.)