Baker Academic

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Le Donne’s Taxonomy of AAR/SBL Participants

Your flights are booked. You’ve flipped through the program book a few times. You think you’re ready for AAR/SBL. Oh, sweet fool, you’re adorable! Of course you know that nobody is ready.  Not really ready. How can one adequately prepare for this conference when one cannot predict the elements?  I’m not talking about the weather; I’m talking about the constituent parts of the grand social experiment.  In order to really prepare you must know who you’ll meet in the wild.  Even so, the behavioral patterns of these rare birds have baffled scientists for over a century.

[revised using reader suggestions]

The Gladiator

You are a beautiful, but deadly beast. You anxiously await each annual meeting to demonstrate your prowess in theological Thunderdome. You must defeat every opponent and emerge victorious in both of your presentations (you feel that if you’re not presenting in at least two sessions, you’re not even trying).  Worse, you must “win” every conversation.  This might mean exposing an evangelical bias or getting a hearty laugh from a senior colleague.  You replay conversations in your head and wonder whether you might have sounded wittier if you had better timing or better voice inflection. Sadly, you very rarely know when the fight is over. You are looking for the thrill of just one more contest.

The Vacationeer

You are a professional with “study leave” or a “professional advancement” budget.  You shuffle around the book room for hours on end.  You might take in a paper here or there, but you’d be just as happy to see a film.  If there is a museum or a historic landmark nearby, you might get up early and catch a bus. On the rare occasion that you present a paper, you will shrug off questions from the audience. You’ve used the line, “That is a good point. I’ll have to think on that more.” Translation: “I’m on vacation. These are the fewest number of words that I can possibly say to you before I never think about you again.” You would just as soon discuss the quality of the hotel service or the crêpes you had for breakfast.

The Greenhorn

You are attending your first to third annual meeting(s) or have not been to a meeting for ten years or more.  You might be a student who is feeding your dreams of tweed-jacket paradise. You might have thought wistfully, “Maybe I’ll see James Charlesworth! Maybe he will invite me for a sauna and a robust discussion about the Testament of Solomon! He’ll be impressed that I’ve read the entire Pseudepigrapha and will invite me to do a PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary!”  You will be awed by the sheer magnitude of the book room. You simply cannot stop yourself from purchasing twenty or more books. The ideas are simply too exciting and the mark down is almost as good as amazon. You have highlighted the sessions that feature the “big names.” You will be disappointed to learn that most of these big names are Gladiators or Vacationeers.

The Observer

You have been around the conference world for millennia. You walk among academics unseen and only rarely tinker with their particular space-time continuum. You’ve seen Dom Crossan come and go.  You saw the great Bart Ehrman / Dale Martin debate.  You witnessed the John Barclay / Bob Jewett / Tom Wright extravaganza.  You’ve seen exhibitionists present in the LXX session, identical twins tag-team a presentation, and have tripped over drunken Sheffield professors passed out in the grand ballroom. You are surprised by nothing.  You walk the Earth like Caine in Kung Fu… walk from place to place, meet people, get into adventures.

The Artisan

You would much prefer to be isolated behind the comfort of a computer screen or an office. The conference is a necessary trip to the market.  You must showcase your wares and drum up new contacts. You might be a publisher or a bookseller. This will be your ninth conference of the year, but the last and biggest. You are tired of pretending that every new book proposal is a stroke of genius that will most certainly find a home with a good press. You might be a writer who needs to promote a book or test out an idea.  In either case, the annual conference is like taking medicine.  You have to do it just to check “due diligence” off the list; attending is just part of your job description.

The Resident Tourist
  
You do not attend the annual conference on a regular basis.  You happen to reside nearby the city of choice this year. You decided to attend because you don’t have to travel far to see the freak show.  You might be a pastor, priest, rabbi, or an interested lay person. You once saw [insert seminary professors name here] at a youth convention and you’re hoping to see what s/he has to say to these misguided Tower of Babel builders. You are quite shocked to learn that almost nobody present has heard of Francis Chan.

The Reunionist

You are one of the lucky souls who found babysitting for three glorious nights! You might not approve of how your mother-in-law cares for the kids, but you desperately need a few days of not managing someone else’s nasal mucus. You are going to pretend like you’re a grad-student again and celebrate this fantasy with others who enjoy the delusion. You’ll live through the seventh telling of that “funny story that happened back then” because it is worth it to see your friend laugh at her own story… again. You research restaurants and breweries weeks ahead of time to ensure that your reunions will have the appropriate ambiance. You’re not going to let committee meetings or academic panels ruin your fun. You’ve heard of a microbrew that must – MUST! – be sampled and discussed.

The Zombie


You thought that attending the annual conference was a good idea four months ago. You now, for the life of you, cannot remember what the hell you were thinking. You might have traveled across two or more time zones to present a paper that remains unfinished. You promised yourself that you’d finish it on the plane… but the in-flight movie was really just too horrible to look away. You shuffle from room to room looking for the one session you care about only to find that you’re in the wrong building. You will get stopped in the hotel lobby by a colleague who wants to tell you about a paradigm-shifting thesis. All you hear is, “Blah blah James the Just blah blah blah corn industry blah blah blah erotic poetry of the middle ages…” At some point you will have to choose between occupying a room with your snoring roommate or sitting in a crowded pub with three junior colleagues determined to detail the various ways in which Babette Babich has been misappropriated.

This list is nowhere near comprehensive. What have I missed?

-anthony

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20 comments:

  1. how about a cross between the vacationer and the observer? the vaserver...

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    1. nice... you must be speaking from experience.

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  2. by the way, '... just assume...' should be '... just as soon...' in vacationer above...

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  3. Chris Tilling writes on FB: I'm a Vacationeer, pure and simple. But I also enjoy watching and pointing at the strutting Gladiators!

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  4. Cross between vacationer and observer, and I, too, enjoy watching the gladiators.

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  5. The Reunionist is the person who goes to meet up with old friends from grad school. Different from the vacationeer since they may never leave the conference hall for sight-seeing, unless a tap house is considered a sight.

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  6. What about the Boardroomers - they go to no papers (unless they sit on a review panel to give a 3-minute response), and spend all of their time sitting through board meetings behind very thick closed doors.

    Or the Closers - again, they attend few presentations (if any), but meet with a dozen publishers and editors and close book deals.

    I know plenty of both of these.

    And what about the reception parasites? Are these a dying breed because well supplied receptions are evaporating?

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    1. I do believe that Chris Skinner qualifies as a reception parasite.

      -anthony

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  7. This is begging to be expanded into a Bingo sheet.

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  8. I had thought I was a Tourist, but now I realize I'm more like a Greenhorn without the gravitas.

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  9. There should be a category for "name tag peepers" and "lurkers." The former go three days and nights without looking anyone in the eye, and the latter stand just to the side of anyone with a name tag that can help.

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  10. I always enjoy the "trying too hard grad student," dressed in a tweed three-piece suit, bow-tie, and unable to allow a paper to pass without asking a question. Not to be confused with the smug, less-well-dressed, grad student who points him/her out.

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    1. Hey, that's me! Except I cannot afford a tweed three-piece suit, so I wear suit separates. My life is so sad ...

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  11. I second the "Reunionist" category above, and join it...SBL is all about socializing (now ASOR is where real work still happens). The odd thing about this SBL for me will be the unprecedented "homefield advantage." In addition to the constant stream of couch-surfers at my apartment, this will probably also result in greater than normal temptation from those "almost as good as amazon" book discounts, since I will have spent none of the usual money on travel, and the old "I don't want to carry it on the plane or pay to ship it" excuse is suddenly irrelevant.

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  12. Related to the "reception parasite" might be the, eh...the "hotel-room party crasher" (HPCs). The intrepid souls with a taste for wine, beer, and/or bourbon who somehow find out which hotels and rooms are hosting the best social gatherings of the "This Group" or the "That Section" and manage to hit nearly every one of them...meeting many folks, well known and not, or even grabbing a snapshot or two, and without ever introducing themselves.

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  13. Zombie publishing professionals. You forgot us.

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    1. The "artisan" category isn't quite morbid enough for you?

      -anthony

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  14. Hilarious! I'd love to see a "Le Donne’s Taxonomy of Church Goers"

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