I like distractions.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m an ‘emotional writer,’ meaning that I have, like many I know, a certain method to my madness. One necessity that I require is a good distraction. Too much time, effort, and focus on one thing makes, in my opinion at least, for too myopic of a perspective. Distractions are fun, and they break up the monotony of doing research. It’s helpful, and I think healthy, to look away from one’s work from time to time.
Right now, of course, distractions are the last thing I need (or want, for that matter).
However, I came across something recently that I needed to discuss, even if only briefly.
One of my random sources of distraction is the inane and ridiculous website, Reddit.com. It’s not an easy thing to describe this website, what ‘up-voting’ means, or how it affects your ‘karma.’ So I won’t here. The best way to understand what it is would be to just go there and make sense of it in your own way.
While browsing through the ‘all’ section, I came across this ‘meme:’
To explain this for the uninitiated, this is what is called a ‘confession bear.’ When you want to confess something, such as was done here, you use this meme to do so. I should also add that reddit is, if you want it to be, an anonymous website.
This meme also came with a discussion, like a forum. For anyone interested in its context and contents, see here: http://www.reddit.com/r/AdviceAnimals/comments/32seka/my_mom_was_so_proud_she_made_me_oreo_pancakes_for/
In essence, this individual was admitting to having their PhD Thesis ‘ghostwritten’ for them. While this is an interesting statement in itself, a good friend of mine sent me a link to an article (https://chronicle.com/article/The-Shadow-Scholar/125329/) written a few years ago by a gentleman who did this very thing for a living.
Published in the Chronicle for Higher Learning in November of 2010, it soon became one of, if not the most famous, articles ever published by The Chronicle. In it, the author, who refers to himself as ‘Ed Dante,’ tells us about his job, citing the number of pages he tends to write during any regular work week, how he prepares his ‘research,’ and shares some personal insights about how he came to be a plagiarist for hire. As well, throughout the article he repeatedly refers to his most recent client who has had the unfortunate circumstance of having an abstract that he wrote for her accepted, and who now needs him to write the dissertation. The article is an engaging read, and likely (as it did) will inspire quite a flurry of emotional responses for those who read it. It was so successful, that news agencies picked it up (like the ABC News clip below), and it was turned into a text, this time under the name, ‘Dave Tomar.’ Dave, if that is his real name, is now a ‘legitimate’ author.
My interest in Dave/Ed’s story is of course piqued by the notion that any sort of writing is ‘fictional’ in its ‘made-from-ness,’ as well as whether we should consider anything he says to be ‘true,’ because, like writers of both fiction and non-fiction, he lies for a living (“all constructed truths are made possible by powerful ‘lies’ of exclusion and rhetoric […] even the best ethnographic texts—seriously true fictions—are systems, or economies, of truth”). However, I’m also intrigued by the very nature of Dave/Ed’s description, and it’s here where I think I’ll conclude this brief distraction.
I think his story speaks to an amended version of what a colleague at last year’s British Association for the Study of Religions Conference called ‘indentured academia.’ Rather than an indentured perspective on ‘being’ an academic, I think it better speaks to the notion of ‘indebted academia,’ the idea that, because academia is becoming a ‘business,’ students have no choice but to treat their education like a transaction.
In this way, it begins to seem, at times at least, all about the money. Alongside rising tuition costs, textbook costs, etc., Dave/Ed’s story appears very much like a product of that. Of course, while I would immediately respond to my own argument here with the counter statement that even with this more ‘financial-based’ perspective, ‘cheating’ should never be an option worth considering, it’s still a discursive influence we can’t just ignore.
We might ask, then, as costs rise, and as academia becomes more and more of a business, does the ‘value’ somehow go down? For me, that hasn’t been the case, and cheating isn’t anything new. Yet, even if Dave/Ed’s story is a singular example, and even if it doesn’t account for the wider meaning of ‘academia,’ it is still something that I think must be considered when we begin to examine how ‘academia’ and ‘academics’ are perceived discursively within and without the context of ‘higher education.’
 James Clifford, “Introduction: Partial Truths” in James E. Clifford and George E. Marcus, eds., Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 7.
***I should mention that a good friend of mine, and pretty clever guy, Jonathan Tuckett just successfully defended his Thesis, and I swear this post is neither inspired by, nor is in reflection of, his achievement. I swear. Really. Check him out, he writes fiction (the made-up kind, as well as the made-from)!***