Who decides ISAA priorities? ­ Blog ­ ISAA

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Who decides ISAA priorities?

Clearly and necessarily the answer is the committee but should there not, perhaps, be ways in which ordinary members and especially those in more outlying areas can raise issues and offer ideas. My email is jammed with big organisations asking that I 'sign' petitions for this or that. Is this the effective way of getting attention now? Should we be doing this?

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  1. Sybil Jack June 16, 2021 at 7:41 am #
    Without detracting from Ian and Shirley's points, I am concerned that we are not putting first the need to allow independent and perhaps unpopular thought to develop and find an audience and perhaps then people who would argue with and maybe demolish the ideas developed. There are indeed practical problems with facilitating all this but surely solving problems is part of our raison d'être.
  2. Ian Keese June 16, 2021 at 7:41 am #
    Shirley has raised what I consider the three interweaving meanings of ‘Independent’ that are related to ISAA. (1)She begins with the primary, and underlying, one: being independent of any structure/organisation that would want to influence or direct one’s research. (2)We usually then move on to having ‘independent’ funding but here there are at least three categories of members within ISAA: (1) those who work in one field and have a salary from that work but have an interest independent of that, such as a working scientist with a love of history; (2) those who have an ‘independent’ source of income and these are usually those who have worked in education or the public service and have superannuation; (3) those who really do have to finance themselves by their scholarly work alone. Maybe we should be thinking more of ways to support this last group. (How to do this could be another discussion topic.) (3)Then Shirley moves onto what I consider the primary function of ISAA and that is in providing that support one has lost by NOT being attached to an institution. There is no need to repeat the excellent list that Shirley provides but I would add one area of support that has been most important to me and that is the chance to have your work critiqued by others and to engage with other scholars in their areas of interest. Unfortunately this has been limited in the main to those who by physical location and ability to travel are able to attend ISAA functions but we have only touched on ways in which the internet can widen the “net’ of those involved. Finally, on looking at contact with some sort of ‘ethics committee” a NSW ISAA member, Jane Burns, explored this some years ago, and I will forward details to Shirley.
  3. Shirley Pipitone June 16, 2021 at 7:41 am #
    Having a discussion in this forum about what we mean by independent scholarship is an excellent idea. Independence from what is the question, I think. What is most important to me is independence from any structure/organisation that might want to influence the direction of my research. Employers, including universities, are probably the biggest controllers in that respect. Funding bodies probably come second because they will have priorities to meet in the way they allocate funds and you would have to be very lucky for your ideas to accord perfectly with their priorities. Having independent financial means facilitates independent scholarship but doesn't define it. With the exception of any expensive electron-microscope type of research, many independent scholars can probably get by with modest means for much of the time until they need to do things like travelling, or publishing a book, or obtaining expert assistance in such areas as graphic design or statistics or computing. Clearly this points to an area where ISAA could help - not by providing funds itself, but with tips (eg on self-publishing or e-publishing), advice about sources of expertise or information about smalllish funding opportunities, etc. In relation to what I've called electron-microscope type of research, by which I mean any research requiring regular and long-term access to any kind of highly expensive equipment or even highly technical support staff, I doubt if any research organisation would be willing to offer access to its equipment or resources to anyone except their own employees or research students. In considering how it might be able to support its members, ISAA has to first consider its own limited resources - effectively its committee members and other volunteers. ISAA would be making very poor use of its own resources if it spent any significant amount of time seeking support for members from people and organisations who are extremely unlikely to agree. Another example which probably affects many independent scholars is access to online journals. Unless the whole academic journal publishing system changes dramatically, it is extremely unlikely that any university would agree to provide access to online journals to anyone other than staff and students. They don't even do it for fully-retired staff. So this is another area where ISAA would probably be wasting its time. However there are undoubtedly many other ways ISAA could support its members. For example, one day in the very, very distant future when I have done enough background reading and planned my initial research project, I will be looking for a kind of ethics committee to endorse my work. I have no idea whether ISAA might be able to help in that way, but I'll wait and see when the time comes. Unless this blog brings masses of other members out of the woodwork who have a similar need. Keep talking everyone.
  4. Sybil Jack Ungar June 04, 2014 at 2:13 am #
    I do hope that Alan isn't right about independent means as society needs people prepared to think along unpopular lines and develop ideas rejected by the 'consensus'. Politically correct can ignore too much that is important if humans are to survive and develop. We need to come up with ideas about how independent scholars who need electron-microscopes and aren't millionaires can get access to resources.
  5. Alan Holgate June 02, 2014 at 2:39 am #
    This new blog facility seems an excellent way of encouraging members to express their opinions. No doubt the committee will take them into consideration. I am currently studying online and our Latin units included skype-type tutorial sessions. There were some clunks in the technology due to individuals' computer settings, but once these were ironed out it was a great way of interacting. If committee meetings could be held in this way, and perhaps interest-group sessions, it might help involve people more. The only truly independent scholar is one who has an independent income large enough to support their research, and thus does not have to meet performance benchmarks invented by people with no understanding of academe. That rules out people who need electron-microscopes and super-computers, but some of us with modest projects manage it :)
  6. Sybil Jack Ungar June 01, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Setting aside the number of meanings priority might have, my point was that members not part of the committee should have both the means of drawing the committee’s attention to problems and perhaps solutions and that there should be some means of testing what the body of the membership would like the committee to be doing. It seems to me that no-one in the association has tackled the fundamental issue of what independent scholarship is, and should be and maybe can’t be. Until we are clear on this then we effectively have no voice. People are necessarily social; they necessarily need various sorts of support (or why does ISAA exist at all) but the nature of the control that support involves is crucial. Encouraging scholarship generally sounds like a politician making a motherhood speech—when, how, with what, for what….Please let us make this blog a centre for a proper discussion.

  7. Ian Keese May 29, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    ‘Priorities’ can have at least two meanings. In the context of petitions it could mean what particular social/political issues ISAA should pursue, which pose problems if one claims to have AN ISAA position on one of these. On the other hand priorities could be those about how we can encourage and support scholarship generally, and what structures can be put in place within ISAA to achieve these.

    In the case of the former, members can use the blog to provide evidence based arguments for particular positions. In the latter case it would be interesting to hear from members, via the Blog, what they would like ISAA to be doing that it is not doing now, and how this might be achieved..

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