Marketing by Academics

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Though I am not compelled to market my services as an insurance agent or such a professional, there is an element of `marketing’ in the job of an academic. People may think genuinely that `marketing’ may not be the appropriate term to be used here, and I understand their concerns. However, there is one benefit of using the market-logic that many people have not understood. This logic helps us to pierce easily the thin veil of a moral posture, and uncover the moral ugliness or dirtiness and the wickedness in us. That would help us in dealing with these characteristics in a better manner.

There are situations where an academic like me markets oneself. It could be for pecuniary benefits as in the case of post-doctoral fellowships, research funding and collaborations or for higher positions in academia or government. Many well-paid academics may market themselves to be in `powerful’ positions in government, even if such positions are not attractive financially. Even if someone is not looking for such tangible benefits such as money or power, there may be a marketing of one’s own research, writings, and ideas. I do send my blogs to my colleagues and to a Google group (in addition to mentioning in social media platforms). Though some of my colleagues are very apologetic in sharing a writing of them, I am shameless in this regard. This could be partly due to the internalization of a `market’ logic. Or it can be due to a blunt perception on the rightness of what one does.

Is there any reason for a cultural aversion to an explicit marketing by an academic? Though there are advertisements of dentists who promise great service, we are not that happy with the advertisement of doctors. As we all know, the issue of incomplete information is severe in medical service, and it is the doctor who decides the service that is required for the patient, and hence there are several ways by which a doctor can cheat patients. Hence we don’t like signals that the doctor is interested in making more money (profits). Hence a doctor who does not advertise her service may seem more credible to the public. This is true in the case of academics too. However that may encourage them to follow the strategies of hidden marketing.

Friends and close personal networks play an important role in this hidden marketing. There is a scene from a movie that comes to my mind whenever I think of hidden marketing. Someone sitting among the audience of a classical dance program performed by a young lady exclaims: `wow! – what a great performance?’ The people who are sitting nearby but who cannot decipher the quality of a classical dance also nod. Only the viewers of the movie know that the man who appreciated the girl openly is her dad. A lot of appreciative remarks on academics are from those who have a personal interest. We do not think much about the `conflict of interest’ in appreciation.

Who are the targets of the marketing by academics? When they aim at fellowships, research collaboration and higher position in academia, the target could be their peers or other members of academia. There is a very interesting pattern in this regard. We may think that the possible collaboration is between people who do similar work. That is not the most prevalent situation. Usually those who work along similar lines on a social issue are `competitors’, and it is difficult for two competitors to collaborate. One person has no interest in taking the service from his/her competitors, and each one of them is in a struggle to demonstrate to the world that her service is better than that of her competitors.

However we see so much research collaboration between academics. In reality, most of the collaboration is between those who provide complementary services. There may be someone in a US university, and who has developed a theoretical framework, and then he would be looking for collaborators who can collect (or facilitate the collection of) empirical data in the developing world. Or another person may have done a research in country X and then may look for a collaborator to do a similar research in country Y. Given the unequal distribution of endowments of all kind, the researchers from the developed world may come with money and superior networks, and that may become attractive to the partners in the developing world who look for tangible and intangible bits from the academic capital of the metropolis.

Those who serve in the universities of the developed world have certain advantages (like a salary in powerful currency and other benefits of metropolitan academic capital) but they (especially those who have migrated from the developing world) have a lesser chance of involvement in the policy-making space in their host country. Hence they take flights frequently to the developing world (possibly to one’s own country by birth) and one can see a number of such characters hanging around in the corridors of power and academia in countries like India. There would be potential collaborators (including government officials) in the poorer country who see pecuniary benefits from such partnership. Even a paid visit or a short-period fellowship or attendance in a training program in the richer country could become an attractive perk for many people in the developing world (considering its poverty and underdevelopment). Hence there is a higher demand for academic advisors from abroad in developing countries.

Some academics in India complain about the `import’ of the theory from the west. To some extent, this is inevitable due to the incentives of academics. Even those who are complaining about the import of theory could be somewhat opportunistic. It is fine as long as it gives benefits to them and it could be `sour’ when `the fruit’ cannot be plucked. The international division of academic labour has made the focus on theory by the western universities somewhat natural, and that cannot be broken easily.

Due to the long period of underdevelopment of education, the migration of the better educated to western countries, the hard work that is needed to survive there, and the lax behavior tolerated in countries like India, one may not see many academics in the developing world who focus on building theories informed by an understanding of their contextual reality. Sometimes they become so `closed’ in their theoretical frame and hence become incapable to develop an understanding that is valid in multiple social contexts. They may get an exposure to the academia in the developed world but not different social realities. For all these reasons, many academics in the south may not develop a theory that is relevant to their own and other social contexts. Hence this space is occupied by the academics of western universities. However this need not be a desirable situation or need not be the one that prevails in future.

In reality, academics who live in the `south’ have immense opportunities to understand multiple and evolving social situations. On the other hand, there is not much space for such an understanding in the western developed world for academics there and the cost that they have to incur to develop such an understanding in the poorer world is higher. Summer vacations may not be adequate for this purpose. Academics who live in poorer countries have several opportunities to interact with those who want to make a change in their social context and those who make such a change possible. These are very useful for the generation of an appropriate knowledge on social change. This knowledge can contribute to the `universal’ theoretical understanding of social change too. However not many academics who live in the developing world make use of these opportunities. Laziness could be one reason. The lack of motivation and preparedness could be another reason. Hence one can see some among them becoming minor affiliates to the academics of the western world due to the attraction towards small pecuniary rewards.

These days I do market myself among the potential collaborators in the academia of other developing countries. An opportunity to understand their social context is immensely helpful to my academic and practical work within India. I am emboldened when I get a positive response from Swaziland, Timor-Leste or Ecuador.

There is an important lesson in this marketing. One should not be depressed when you do not get many positive responses. This is like a firm communicating with thousands of its potential customers. One should not be discouraged when many `customers’ are undecided, if you are reasonably sure of the worthiness of your effort. When I write 100 messages to organizations and academic collaborators, I may get a response from 10, and something concrete may happen in the case of 2. According to me, this is a sizable number and that should make me very happy, especially when I cannot offer any financial benefit to my collaborators.

One thought on “Marketing by Academics

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  1. Hi Santha Sir! Beyond the Demand/Supply theory this is more generous angle of this academic contract. A good narrative with different perspective and also it is going to be new normal in academic arena with growing pressure of producing quality research consistently for them to gain or retain the tag of ‘ Institution of Excellence’. Developed world are now lacking painstaking social issues which is easily available in developing economies and also marketable in developed world. As the number of institutions and academician grows gradually, this would develop a formal market to trade pain with a paper. May be online. Although the phenomenon has lots of positive outcomes we should think of an extended contract for implementation of research findings through tripartite agreement as part of initial contract to allow at least some direct benefit to the constituencies. Academics neither revisit hypothesis nor they try to gauge impact on a later date hence termed as opportunistic, but actually they are not getting another opportunity. Intervening with a service provider to some extent would fix fair game rules in this market too if you termed it “market” otherwise looser are always there. Don’t we know who are they……??


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