10th Anniversary of the TAKE Zine

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the 10th anniversary of the TAKE Zine, issue 10.1! It has been a long time coming for the TAKE Zine and we wanted to use this opportunity to reflect back on all the great contributions received in the past decade. The original intention of the TAKE Zine was to have a creative space for Sociology graduate students, and this has grown to including submissions over the past ten years from sociology undergraduate and graduate students, staff, and submissions from graduate and undergraduate students across the University of Alberta community. A big thank you to all of those who have contributed to building and maintaining this collective outlet over the past ten years.

You are of course reading this on our new blog! Alongside of the printed TAKE Zine (download here), we will be publishing selected submissions that we received in article format on the TAKE Blog. We encourage our readers to discuss any or all TAKE Zine articles on the blog. Between printed issues, if you would like to contribute to the blog, please send your  submissions to takemagazine@gmail.com. For more information on article submissions to the TAKE Blog see our guidelines for submission.

The 10th Anniversary issue’s theme is Anonymous. Our most recent call for submissions also included a call for reviews of music, films and restaurants. Which we are excited to include for the first time in the print issue. This week we have selected articles from the print edition for the TAKE Blog concerning Surveillance and University Life, reflections on the recent tragedy in Moneta, Virgina of two On-Air Murders of Reporters, and provocative Anonymous submission concerning Why Graduate Students are The Worst.

Once again, a big thank you to our readers (old and new) and contributors. We look forward to hearing from you in new chapter for TAKE.

Sincerely,

Your TAKE Editors

Surveillance and University Life: A Glimpse Behind the Curtain

Centuries ago, learned masters wandered across continents and taught students where they could and them. Around the 13th century the masters began to stay put and allow students to come to them. The university has never been a place where anonymity was possible, let alone cultivated. e university model has always required that at least the teacher’s name be known. Teachers had to be entrepreneurial in order to attract students and earn a living. The modern university has existed since the 19th century and since that time has required the collection of an ever increasing amount of details regarding students and professors. People working, living, or passing through the university are known at an ever increasing level of detail and the institution’s effective functioning is ever more dependent on such knowledge to attract donors, students, and build facilities worthy of large prestigious grants.

Graduate students and professors in particular must increasingly make evaluations regarding how to cultivate a professional and public identity in order to gain access to symbolic rewards and promotion through the academic ranks. Authorities that determine careers identify a strong scholar by the number of their publications and citations, but also by their recognition beyond scholarly spheres. is means telling stories regarding one’s biography and the struggles one has over come to reach the heights of the ivory tower. It also requires being registered for numerous data tracking sites to disambiguate oneself from other scholars with similar names so that one can be counted more easily in terms of downloads, citations, and translations of one’s work (e.g., Mendeley, Researchgate, Academia.edu, Orcid, Researcher ID, Google Scholar). Scholars must be engaged in disseminating their work to new audiences, cultivating citations, invitations to talks, and appearances in the media. If one wishes to be successful in academia one must master one’s digital double for promotional purposes and bend it to one’s will.

However, universities require information about students, staff, and faculty in order to report to governments, accreditation and ranking organizations. By virtue of being a student or employee of a university one’s activities are monitored, digitized, aggregated, reported, disseminated internally to department committees, deans and faculty committees, institutional analysis departments, marketing and communications departments, the provost’s office, and others. Externally student and faculty data are sent to provincial governments, data consortia, consulting firms, academic publishers, and ranking publishers. Such data is often monetized and sold back to universities. Such data make more staff and administrative personnel necessary to monitor the institution, build technologies to assist with warehousing the data, and to produce reports. These chains of data flows have consequences for how universities are allocated large research grants and symbolic capital, how deans and provosts allocate resources to particular departments, and how departments determine which students are worthy of awards. Along the way there are many judgments as to the value of each activity that every person has undertaken within a particular unit of time which culminate in a final assessment of one’s worth.

Life in such an environment incites the need for constant comparison. Which colleagues applied for what awards, did they win? Why didn’t I win? How many publications do I have compared to so and so, how many citations each? Do I have a national or international reputation? Is this corpus of work enough to earn me a tenure track job, to get tenure, to advance to associate professor status, full professor status? The comparisons expand beyond one’s own career, they incorporate colleagues’ departments and their universities in an unending concern with relative status.

These comparisons are driven by the need to build reputations, because reputation and the status it confers is the currency of academic cultural economies. No wonder so many graduate students and faculty have in inflated egos and yet suffer impostor syndrome. We are constantly told we are special, that we are excellent, and yet are never excellent enough. This narcissistic obsession with one’s own image and that of others creates much anxiety, but also the desire to continue to work towards more favourable comparisons. It is a cycle that does not recognize any limit and forgets the value and purpose of creative performance.

It’s hard to know what motivated the wandering masters and their students. I personally find it difficult to invest much in a system of cyclical ego-stroking and wonder about what value there might be in anonymity. In the past, one could not be regarded as having done a moral good if one spoke of it. Good could only be done anonymously. In the face of so many declarations of “look at me, look what I’ve accomplished” I find myself thinking heavily on whether we are doing any good. What can be said of those who have their work taken up, used and shared without having been credited for it? Is there any significance in having developed a concept, or approach to a problem that has had effects on how people think, organize, and act if one is not recognized for it? What is a person worth if their contributions have wide and significant effects, but they remain anonymous? The irony in writing this piece is telling. ◆

Gary Barron
Sociology PhD Candidate at the University of Alberta
Find Gary here and here

Thoughts on Vester Lee Flanagan’s On-Air Murders

On August 27th, Vester Lee Flanagan II, a disgruntled former employee of a Virginia TV news station, stalked and murdered two former coworkers as they conducted a live interview. The TV station quickly cut back to a shocked news anchor who told viewers that she would report back with information about what just happened.

Before long, video of the incident found its way onto the internet where anyone could watch the shooting. While the sounds were chilling, not much was visible in this footage as the cameraman dropped his camera (either because he was shot or because he tried to escape) soon after the first shots are fired. In response, Internet users scowered YouTube for a clearer alternative, and quickly found a second video. This video, they soon realized, was uploaded to a social media website by Flanagan
himself.

This second video, which I suspect was recorded on a smartphone, is surprisingly long as Flanagan takes his time before opening fire. He aims his gun at his targets a few times (he whispers “bitch” when he aims at one of his victims) before pulling the trigger. When he begins to fire, viewers are able to see and hear the shooting from Flanagan’s point of view: they can hear the loud bang of a gunshot as it is heard by a shooter, to see as the gun recoils slightly just as it seen by a shooter, and viewers can also see as the victims try to run as they are being shot.

There are a number of elements to this murder to discuss including problems related to the accessibility of guns, as well as Flanagan’s claims (in a confession he faxed to a news station after the shooting) that he did what he did because he was a gay black man who had suffered racial
discrimination and bullying at work. But what stands out to me, is Flanagan’s decision to record his shooting and upload the resulting video.

For some reason, Flanagan seemed to think that it would be a good idea to record his shooting and then post the resulting video online for all to see. His written confession and his eventual suicide suggests he was not trying to escape the repercussions of his crime. So it is not the fact that the video exposes his identity and his guilt that is of interest to me. Rather, I suspect that his decision to record his murder was purely to document his crime and bring attention to it. With his video, his confession note, and several tweets detailing his motivations (including tweets accusing his victims of racism), Flanagan seemed to want to grab the Internet’s attention, clarify his motivations, and declare himself a victim. He seemed to want to tell the world why he did what he did in his own words.

Though social scientific research has discussed peoples’ surprising willingness to incriminate themselves by posting videos of their crimes on social media, much of this work proposes that these people do so without recognizing the repercussions of their self-exposure. Flanagan does not fit this mould, as he did not seem to have ‘outted’ himself because of ignorance or naivety, but with the specific purpose of telling the world about his motivations.

As smartphone cameras become more popular and social media continues to offer people a platform from which to tell others how we feel, criminals can take advantage of these technologies to voice their opinions. Though this may mean self-incrimination, it seems that for criminals like Vester Lee Flanagan II, it is well worth the opportunity to offer the world their point of view.

I wonder, as our surveillance society evolves and as criminals realize that they have the opportunity to voice their perspective, if we will see more of these point of view crime videos. I wonder what this means for assumptions about the criminal’s desire for secrecy, privacy, and anonymity.

Ajay Sandhu
Sociology PhD Candidate at the University of Alberta
Ajay can be found here.

It’s Your Own Damn Fault: Why Graduate Students are the Worst


There’s a cancer among us. The only cure is for doctoral students to stop pretending they’re victims of circumstance.

Years ago, we all decided to commit ourselves to higher education by entering doctoral programs. Arriving from different walks of life, employment histories, beliefs, and ages, we were nevertheless seduced by a life of the mind. This cliché gave us scant warmth as we huddled in cold offices and tried our best to live up to the expectations of a previous generation of scholars.

As we moved ever closer to the end of our arduous graduate school process, we were discomfited by news of acquaintances dropping out of PhD programs, many of whom had developed serious bouts of depression. Worst of all, some completed their PhDs only to decide to go back to the farm (or wherever it is you go after a complete mental collapse) jobless, friendless, and alone.

Our crunchy friends blamed the “system,” explaining how corporatism, neo-liberalism, intolerance, and gluten diets had each contributed to their suffering: no degree, no job, and no hope for the future. Why, we ask, does this narrative lack any sense of individual responsibility? It’s almost as if the current breed of graduate student is born lame and helpless subjects to the whims of the more powerful.

There are two kinds of PhD students: the one who contributes to a culture of victimhood, but doesn’t actually do anything substantial. The second is the busybody who claims to want to change things for the better, but is really just there to make everyone else miserable. I am less concerned with the first type than the second type for obvious reasons.

The complainer is self-indulgent, slow, and uninteresting, but the busybody is a toxic presence in any work environment. They imagine themselves locked in combat with some unnamed social monster lurking behind every scholarship offer and hiring decision. The monster is given many different “isms” and “ologies” to excuse incompetence and failure. But, the real menace is a lack of individual responsibility and accountability. When you take a hard look at PhD students—a risky thing to do given their insecurities—what you find is that their failures are largely personal and controllable, rather than systemic.

Being a scholar is a career choice, and training should mirror the demands of the job. Academia is competitive and that competition begins in graduate school. If you don’t like competition, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. We don’t need you here. You are holding other people back, bringing them down to your level where mediocrity flourishes. A big reason you don’t like competition is because you have never matched up, and not because you are a member of a marginalized group or because your parents did not read to you enough as a child. You’ve never matched up because you don’t like taking risks, you can’t take criticism, and you hold others responsible for your missteps.

Few students, in our experience, are willing to admit that their failures may, in fact, be theirs alone. Since any outside encouragement of self-awareness and self-critique is considered offensive in the academy, the mere suggestion that individual choice has any impact on outcomes risks total censure via accusations of privilege and false-consciousness.

Doctoral students believe that they are the victims of outside forces, or that society is “out to get them.” They give each of their discomforts a name and a complex history, if only to shame those who do not struggle as much them. But, retreating into “isms” and “ologies” isn’t fooling anyone, and it’s preventing you from producing better work.

Get over yourself.

Anonymous