Andrew Ross with Jeffrey Williams

Andrew Ross
Andrew Ross

Since 1993, Jeffrey J. Williams has conducted over 50 interviews with contemporary critics, philosophers and writers. The Conversant is pleased to republish a selection of these interviews. This interview with Andrew Ross took place on January 31, 2009 at Andrew Ross’ office at NYU in lower Manhattan. Transcribed by Gavin Jensen.

Jeffrey Williams: I’m especially interested in the direction of your work in the past ten years. For a while you were the personification of cultural studies in the US, especially after No Respect, which has a chapter on pornography as well as one on the New York intellectuals’ attitude toward popular culture. But in the past ten years it seems that your work has undergone a shift. You’ve written a lot more on labor, and you also moved to writing trade books. Do you see it as a shift? What happened to draw you along that route?

Andrew Ross: I certainly have moved across different fields, at least from the perspective of an academic career or academic profile, but I think that has more to do with having been released from the disciplinary constraints of my original training to learning new skills and methods. These days, when people ask me, “What’s your discipline?” I’m more inclined, if I’m being flip, to say “I’m an agnostic” rather than “I’m an interdisciplinary scholar.”

A good deal of the motivation for the shifts in my work was the result of responding to circumstance, political conditions, gaps in scholarship and opportunities to do the kind of writing I felt would be most useful. An important part has been about finding my own voice, which I think is the most difficult thing for people to do with a standard academic training. It took me many, many years to find my own voice.

JW: Really? After having written so much, that’s surprising to hear.

AR: Yes. I often think the best I can do for my graduate students is to try and shortcut that process so that they’re not thinking with the language of the disciplinary consensus or they’re not trying to ape some master thinker who has been influential in a related discipline. In trying to fashion their own voice, the idea is they will be more likely to be thinking for themselves. At least, that’s been my own experience.

The books that I was writing in the early ’90s—while they probably did fall within the expansive boundaries of what one considers to be cultural studies—were really on the margins of cultural studies at the time. For example, I was responding to emerging technologies in the context of the history of technology in a book like Strange Weather. So, too, The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life was a full-on engagement with environmentalism. In the last 10 years or so, my focus has shifted toward labor and urban research. The graduate seminars that I teach are either on urban and suburban studies or courses that are studies in work. So those are the two main areas that I try to keep up with in terms of the latest research.

JW: When did it feel like you found your voice? With a particular book?

AR: Probably The Celebration Chronicles. I’d done some bargain basement ethnography at an earlier part of my career in various places, but it really wasn’t until I had the chance to be in the field for a year in Florida that the opportunity fully arose. That project was cooked up by my literary agent and an editor at a commercial press, so it was in large part funded by an advance and not by a scholarly grant. It was their idea to send me there, and I liked the sense of being commissioned. Of course, it was up to me to find the story, and the investigative challenge also appealed to me.

There weren’t too many precedents I could look to for writing models. In terms of scholarship, it had been a long time since sociologists had gone out to do residential studies of suburban communities. In fact, there hadn’t been all that much since The Levittowners and some work in the early seventies. The study of suburbia had been grossly neglected by urbanists who are quite disdainful, in general, of low-density settlement. So I felt I was helping to revive that tradition. But also there was a high volume of journalistic scrutiny of Celebration, and it was important for me to be responsive to that scrutiny if only because of the role it played in the lives of residents.

By force of circumstance, then, the writing of that book produced the blend of ethnography and investigative journalism that seemed to make sense to me as a writer. I got to feel comfortable with that kind of hybrid voice, and the trade books I’ve done since then—NoCollar and Fast Boat to China—have also been in that vein. It’s something I recently called “scholarly reportage,” which may have family resemblances to what others call “creative nonfiction” or “public sociology.”

Sociologists and anthropologists are very territorial about ethnography, so in our American Studies program we call it “people-based research,” as opposed to research that takes documents or texts as its primary materials. Social scientists trained as ethnographers are more or less obliged to always keep an eye on polishing their method, for reasons of disciplinary evaluation (“But is she a ‘good’ ethnographer?”). For me, the method is really quite simply a means to an end—it’s the primary vehicle for me to build a picture of a community, topic or tendency—so I don’t have to deal with that academic pressure. Nor, as is the case with professional journalists, do I have to labor under the pressure of coming up with a fairly conventional storyline, studded with character profiles to ensure “human interest.” Plus you can protect your informants in a way that professional journalists often cannot because the “authenticity” of their story depends on revealing and naming their sources. For the kind of scholarly reportage I do, I can camouflage my informants with impunity. The net outcome is that one can avoid what is most stultifying about the respective requirements of the professional journalist and social scientist alike.

JW: Do you think it’s more genuine than the academic way you were trained?

AR: To me, it’s more genuine only because I feel I’ve come about it in my own way. It’s not a style that emulates any professional standard or at least not that I am aware of consciously. Right now, I have started to do field work on sustainable development in the desert so I’m spending lot of time interviewing people in Phoenix—legislators, planners, developers, community organizers and the like. At this point, I have a level of confidence that I can turn it all into something readable and useful, unlike back in my Celebration days when I had no model and no experience to draw on.

JW: How do you go about doing your research? One thing that’s different from journalism is that you don’t swoop in to do three days of interviews and swoop out. That’s why it’s more like ethnography, because you try to inhabit a place and it’s more detailed.

AR: That’s correct, and in the few remaining print newspapers that allow for investigative journalism, the deadlines are tighter and tighter. I like to do deadline-driven work and research, and I wouldn’t publish so much if I didn’t, so I’m not one to defer. Also I’ve found that I thrive in research environments where journalists are focusing on the same issues—so there is some professional rivalry involved—that’s productive for me. That was certainly the case in Celebration. Also with NoCollar, my book about new media workplaces. There was a blitz of journalistic coverage of that sector at the time. As for my China research, there was a good deal of press about white-collar outsourcing in the early 2000s, though it was mostly about India. In addition, in spite of the flood of commentary we have seen about Chinese workplaces and the rise of the Chinese economy, strangely enough I didn’t meet one scholar or journalist in the Lower Yangtze high-tech industrial corridor, which was where I was doing my interviews. This region was becoming once again the primary engine of the Chinese economy with the lion’s share of foreign investment showing up there, but once I got outside of Shanghai and upriver, I didn’t meet anyone who was working the same story as I was. Even to this day, there has been virtually no English-language research published on that corridor.

JW: Do they not get permission or do they just stop at Shanghai?

AR: I honestly don’t know. The labor spotlight is still primarily on the South China workplaces, because they are the low-wage core of the export economy. Perhaps they are more accessible from Hong Kong than the Yangtze Delta factories are from the Shanghai region, but as an Anglo researcher that was not my experience. The only doors I found closed to me were in Japanese or Korean-owned companies, and I didn’t try all that hard to get into them.

JW: You mentioned circumstances and that your agent and an editor set up the book  Celebration, but what draws you to a project?

AR: I have to feel that it’s going to be politically useful to a range of audiences and also that it’s a story that is not being told. For example, with No Collar there was a flood of journalistic attention to dotcom business models and the investor impact of the so-called New Economy of that period and, along with that, there was some initial press interest in the nature of the workplaces themselves, but after a while it was all about following the money. My hunch was that the work mentality and the workplace customs were going to be the most durable features of that industrial milieu, and so that was what I focused on. Arguably, these features have become much more normalized in different work sectors in the interim. That self- directed, risk-taking, entrepreneurial profile is now the normative working environment for folks in creative labor and in the creative industries. Since this “creative class,” as Richard Florida calls it, are designated as model workers in the post-industrial economy, this work mentality doesn’t register as non-orthodox anymore. But in the late 1990s it was quite novel, and that’s what I set out to document, the adolescence of that kind of workplace culture, rather than focus on the business models and the economy. So that was a direct response to circumstance. Plus, I was not on leave at the time, so the research was mostly done in New York City en route to my own office. I had workplace berths in each of those companies, and I would check in whenever I could to do interviews or attend meetings.

JW: How often did you go to them? You researched them for over a year, if I recall from the book.

AR: It was about a year and a half. One of the companies was in Soho, so it was literally between my apartment in Tribeca and NYU. The other was over in Chelsea, so it involved a little more trekking. In the course of a day, if I was lucky, I could get to my NYU office and also spend a little time at each of the companies, but more often than not I would choose one or the other.

JW: How did it work out that they gave you permission?

AR: I was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Razorfish, which is not untypical, and my publisher’s legal department negotiated parts of it to facilitate writing the book. It’s fairly standard for employees to sign NDAs, and I had to be careful about abiding by it with Razorfish. But the owners liked the idea of having a scholar around, studying the workplace, and I went back there after the book was published to give a seminar about the findings as I had done at Celebration. I like to think most of the employees recognized their experience in the book, though management didn’t appear to think there were any lessons to learn. My arrangement with 360 Hip Hop was much more informal as was the workplace culture.

JW: How did it work out that you did the book on China? I can see how it related to labor, but what prompted it?

AR: The China book was motivated by the work I’d been doing in the anti-sweatshop movement. Though I was heavily involved in thinking and writing about offshore workplaces, I had never actually visited one. So I made a preliminary visit to some of the export zones in Guangdong—and wrote up the results in Low Pay, High Profile—but realized there was already quite a lot of documentation about these factories, mostly by folks based in Hong Kong. So there wasn’t much point in my duplicating that kind of research. Plus there would be the Cantonese language problem and difficulty with access in general. Instead, I realized that there was a story to be told about the high-tech workplaces in the Lower Yangtze that was not being written, and so I decided on Shanghai. I learned enough Mandarin to get by in the year before I went to live in Shanghai, but I couldn’t conduct my interviews in Mandarin and it wouldn’t have been easy for me to access the low-wage factory workplaces.

I arrived there with virtually no contacts at all. After a few weeks I called one person whose name had been given to me by a colleague. She invited me to a dinner party and there happened to be ex-presidents and the current president of the American Chamber of Commerce in attendance. It was a very interesting conversation, and I decided to start my research at the top, at the Chamber. That opened a lot of doors, and I found my way going down through the managerial ranks to the workplaces themselves and was surprised at how much access I got. If I were a trained sinologist, I’m not sure that would have been a path that I would have taken, plus I was interested in the impact of transnational flows of capital, as it were, and a sinologist would, again, have been more focused on China exclusively. After all, I was as much studying Americans abroad as I was studying the Chinese employees who were employed by the Americans.

JW: You mention in the introduction of the book that you moved your whole family there when you went. You weren’t just a researcher in the field but there were the three of you. How did that work to bring your family to China for a year?

AR:  It wasn’t all that difficult. My partner was writing a dissertation at the time, so she was mostly busy at her desk, and my daughter, who was a two year-old then, went to a local neighborhood school. She actually learned some Shanghainese, much more than I did in the year we spent there. I was affiliated with Shanghai University, and the folks in the Cultural Studies Program there (the first in China) helped us find a place to live. Shanghai is probably the most Western of all Chinese cities so it’s fairly easy for foreigners to set up shop.

JW: I can see how that displacement might be refreshing, since you must be pulled in a lot of different ways when you’re in New York, and you wouldn’t have all the administrative obligations you do at NYU.

AR: Indeed, I seem to have put in a lot of administrative labor here at NYU. I’ve directed two programs and chaired one department in the time I’ve been here, and when you’re at that level of engagement, it’s as if everything in your body is connected to the apparatus of an institution, so you have to get away to another place to do that kind of extensive, in-depth research. For sure it was helpful in that regard.

On the other hand, I’ve never had much trouble writing while doing administrative work. I know a lot of academics go through sheer hell writing anything, and I’m thankful that I actually enjoy writing and that I can write quickly.

JW: That explains all your books. Have you always been able to write quickly?

AR: Yes. I’ve never had any desire to be a journalist but clearly could have been quite comfortable with the pressure of daily deadlines. I do publish journalism every so often, but tend not to pursue assignments. My feeling is that I already have a livelihood and so I don’t want to poach on someone else’s. Especially these days, when there are so many layoffs and so many people struggling to get by doing freelance. They really need that gig more than I do. Unless it’s something that no one else could write, I generally won’t do it. That’s one of my ways of responding to the weary lament about the decline of public intellectuals. If academics really aimed at a broader public, we would be doing some very good independent journalism.

JW: Just to ask some particulars about how you work, is there a particular time you write? For instance, when you were in Celebration, did you take notes at the end of the day? What’s your process?

AR: It works differently now because I have two young children, and I’m the primary caregiver. So these days it’s whenever I can grab any time in the day, during daylight hours. I don’t write at all in the evenings anymore. As for writing technique, I don’t make plans, sketches or map out something before I write it. I’ve never done that. I always encourage my graduate students to do that, but I’ve never done it myself. It’s more of an adventure for me to work out ideas in the course of the writing. There’s a force of gravity that kicks in. Plus, I get bored easily, so I’d always be deviating from the script if I had one.

JW: For me the difficulty is not really in the writing but in the revising. Sometimes it’s a bit of a curse. Maybe because I became an editor, I learned to revise at a certain point, which is something I didn’t really know how to do in graduate school. It’s good because things come out better, of course, but it’s incredibly time consuming.

AR: Self-editing is important because editors really don’t do much these days. In the publishing trade here in New York City there are only a handful of editors who are known and appreciated for the time they take to edit a manuscript. That’s not the fault of editors themselves—they generally have to spend all their time in sales meetings and they are taking on many more titles so they simply don’t have time to do what used to be their main job. I’ve never had an editor at a trade press that edited my books. If you have published a few books they figure, “This guy knows how to write a book and there’s not a lot of work for me involved, so it’s easier for me to take it on,” whereas for a first-time author, they may have to put a little more work into rearranging and restructuring the narrative. But line editing is almost unheard of these days.

JW: I want to ask you more about your various administrative jobs. You’ve done a large amount of administrative work at NYU, for instance as founding chair of the American Studies program.

AR: Actually, the American Studies program preexisted my coming here, but it had no resources. When I came on board in 1993, there were ninety doctoral students on the books, and there wasn’t even an office. All we had was a filing cabinet. So my job was to hire core faculty and build up the program into a department, and somehow see these ninety students through. At the same time, I was involved in building up the Africana program and the Asian American Studies program, and also helping found the Gender and Sexuality Studies program. We all worked fairly closely together and, after a while, we decided to all go in together and create a new department—which is now Social and Cultural Analysis. There are six programs in the department, each with its own identity. Because of its federal nature, it’s a particular challenge to chair this department, but it’s also an adventure—how often do we get to create a new department? We chose Social and Cultural Analysis as a name because it is entirely bland. We wanted a name that wouldn’t define in any way what we do, so we could start off with a blank slate.

JW: It must not have been easy to get a university to start a whole new department.

AR: Actually it was quite easy. It’s much tidier from the deans’ perspective: instead of having six programs to administer, they only have to deal with one chair. Several other colleges have shown an interest in starting up a similar kind of department. I’ve had visits from colleagues in different kinds of universities who are interested in doing this.

JW: Do you feel that the program developed from what cultural studies had been?

AR: In fact, the deans wanted to call it the department of cultural studies, but all of us said no. We didn’t want the baggage that comes with cultural studies; we didn’t want to have to be answerable to the many versions of cultural studies that exist in people’s minds. In my own work, I’ve never had a vested interest in thinking about the boundaries of cultural studies or its goals. I’ve probably been more committed to American Studies as a discipline. American Studies was a very welcome haven for myself and a whole generation of my peers in the 1980s and 1990s.

JW: When you first came here?

AR: Actually, from Princeton, where I regularly taught in the American Studies program and directed it for a year before I left. It was a small undergraduate program that was an important part of the landscape there for me at that time.

JW: It’s amazing that you manage to do all of these different things, not only write so much but work as an administrator.

AR: Well, this is my last year of administration. I go back to civilian life after that. Actually, I’m more active in the AAUP these days. I chair the NYU chapter and I sit on Committee A of the national AAUP, which is the committee for academic freedom that investigates complaints we receive. We put universities on the AAUP censured list or take them off.

JW: When did you start doing that?

AR: This is my third year. I guess I’m part of the Cary Nelson slate. It’s an interesting moment at the AAUP. It has played such an important historical role but the membership has been declining steadily for two decades. People take it for granted, but with the profession eroding fast, the complaints and violations of AAUP standards that get logged every year have been skyrocketing. Without the AAUP, lord only knows how university administrations would feel free to ride roughshod over faculty.

JW: It’s like the Internal Affairs of the academic business.

AR: Yes, and let me tell you that university presidents don’t like to be on that censured list. Even though most of our investigations are of small colleges—religious colleges are where the worst violations occur—there are some big research institutions that occasionally find their way onto our list. NYU itself was on and off it.

JW: I was going to ask you about NYU. I know you were an active supporter of the graduate student strike.

AR: For at least the first half of the strike, which lasted for seven months, many NYU faculty were supportive. We regularly collected up to three hundred signatures on faculty petitions in support. The whole affair is analyzed in a book I co-edited called The University against Itself, which was not just a documentation of the strike and the lessons learned but also a profile of NYU as this archetypal modern, entrepreneurial university. NYU seems to be on the frontline of so many of the tendencies running through higher education. And the faculty has a difficult time protecting their rights in environments like that. It’s very easy to buy them out, which is what happens around here.

This year, the AAUP chapter has been very busy with NYU Abu Dhabi—the brand new NYU campus that our president decided to build that is bankrolled by the Abu Dhabi crown prince.

JW: Like the Guggenheim?

AR: The Guggenheim, the Louvre and NYU are all to be built on a cultural enclave called Saadiyat Island. Bryn Mawr was offered a similar kind of deal, but they decided not to go ahead with it. Needless to say, we have a lot of issues with the Abu Dhabi project. One of the things we’ve been trying to pioneer is a code of conduct that will govern the labor subcontractors who are building the campus and protect the workers. The Emirates are notorious for exploitation of migrant workers at construction sites, so we’ve been working with Human Rights Watch on fashioning a code that is an extension of the Worker Rights Consortium’s anti-sweatshop code of conduct. If it were to be adopted by NYU, then it would be the strongest code of conduct in the region, and if a highly visible employer like NYU took it up, it might have some impact in raising labor standards.

JW: How does the administration respond?

AR: So far, not so well. I think the NYU administration, ever since the strike, has dug itself in, as if under siege. There wasn’t a lot of faculty consultation before the strike and there’s even less since. During the strike, we wanted to figure out some way of having an active boycott on the part of scholars elsewhere of NYU as an institution, and there was a lot of internal debate about how practical or how ethical that might be. One of the practical lessons we learned during the strike was the university has most of its money in the bank at the beginning of the year, when they collect tuition, whereas corporations often depend on daily revenue. They’re different beasts, so they really do require different tactics when it comes to strikes.

After Obama was elected, the administration saw the writing on the wall as far as the temperature of the NLRB goes. In order to head off a reversal of the Brown ruling, they have now reorganized the grad student funding package so that teaching is no longer obligatory—only “encouraged.” Henceforth, there won’t be any TAs at NYU. Their wager is that new recruits won’t see any point in joining the union. It was a big blow and expressly aimed at crushing GSOC, but I don’t think that will be the end of the story. GSOC will shape its own destiny.

JW: It seems one of the more immediate issues facing the university is speedup and casualization. Who knew that universities were forerunners of figuring out how to do that? What avenues do you see to remedy that? One thing is unionization, but where do we go from there?

AR: Of all the professions, higher education has seen the most rapid and most pervasive penetration of casualization. Practically speaking, I like the idea the AFT is pushing in Washington State for conversion of part-time positions back into full-time positions, with the goal of restoring the status quo of 70-30—70 percent being tenure track—that they think is an acceptable goal. They’re pushing for legislation that would restore what would be considered an equitable or reasonable balance. At NYU currently, as at many institutions, the ratio is exactly the opposite. We have 72 percent teaching at NYU off the tenure track. The numbers are better in our school, Arts and Sciences, but NYU has a lot of other schools where there are hardly any tenured people.

JW: So what do you see happening with the university? Where is it going?

AR: I’m on record as believing that a lot of the talk about the corporate university is a lazy shorthand for the situation we’re dealing with. Academics have this siege mentality where they only see the changes coming at them in their own environments. They don’t get out a lot, and they’re not really aware of what’s happening in other workplaces, especially corporate America. They don’t see that there’s a two-way traffic through which more and more of the customs and mentalities of academic life find themselves in corporate workplaces, especially knowledge companies. In truth, the modern research university and the modern knowledge corporation are coevolving into species that didn’t exist before, and it’s this new mode of production that we have to keep our eyes on and chart and analyze. To do that we really have to go beyond this siege mentality of thinking that our workplaces and our institutions are simply being invaded by corporate logic. Sloganizing about the “corporate university” is good for consciousness-raising and activism, but it’s not a very good analysis of what’s going on.

Besides, it’s not just the research mentality but the organization of labor within the university that is a model business people are looking at very closely. When I was in China, I used to attend social mixers at the Chamber of Commerce. Every speculator in the world who is looking to make a fast buck ends up at these events sooner or later, but after a while, I realized that a lot of the folks propping up the bar were representatives of American universities. Some of them were there for social reasons but most were there to network, and they were treated just like any other investor. The Chamber even had a Education Committee. In the nineteenth century, foreign missionaries came to harvest the souls of the Chinese and foreign investors came to turn them into consumers. The investors failed miserably, and to this day they have only made meager inroads into the China market. By contrast, the missionaries founded colleges that have subsequently grown into China’s most famous universities, institutions that have far outlived and surpassed the influence of the business class. Now that record of success is not lost on the keen business mind.

These days, investors talk about a multi-trillion dollar global market for higher education services. The evidence so far is that this global market has not been impacted by the financial crisis to anything like the same degree as have national education systems in the West. Higher education analysts estimate that the global university will expand to as many as 200 million “seats” by the year 2020 (the currently enrolled are from 110 to 115 million). The numbers are based on estimates of the growth of the middle class in rapidly developing countries (scheduled to recover most quickly from the recession) and the evidence that transnational student mobility is increasingly funded by private family wealth and is not therefore dependent on state inputs, which are shrinking almost everywhere. It is hardly surprising that private investors start to salivate when they look at a market that has the potential to grow by 80 percent over the next decade.

JW: I know you have an essay on the global university that was in The University against Itself. Are you working on a book on the global university?

AR: I had wanted to go back to China to work on it. The state is focusing its funding on rural education. That’s why so many foreign universities are encouraged to set up shop there to respond to the demand for skilled labor. However, the logistics of relocating for another year proved too complicated.

JW: So what is your next project?

AR: Right now, I’m doing field work in Phoenix on sustainability. The mayor recently announced that Phoenix would be the greenest city in America, and for many outsiders that sounds ludicrous. On the face of it, Phoenix metro is the archetype of sprawl, and the energy consumption and lifestyle of residents must seem particularly unsustainable. So the assumption is that if Phoenix can do it, anyone can. The city is built on the ruins of a pre-Columbian civilization that exceeded the carrying capacity of its land and water resources, so there’s always a parable waiting to be realized. In many ways, it’s a one-industry town—real estate development—and that industry just fell off a cliff. I’m sure there are a lot of residents who don’t imagine that Phoenix could become the Detroit of the twenty-first century, but that’s one of the prospects in the offing.

JW: Let me ask you one last question. Looking back on your career, how do you reflect on the early part of your career? You were fairly young—in the British system people usually finish much earlier than people in the American system—and you had a lot of success early on. You wrote a great deal and obviously worked very hard. How do you see it when you look back on your work?

AR: I don’t look back very much; much of it is too embarrassing. I had a training in film and literature that wasn’t all that orthodox. When I started teaching over here it was at a time in the mid-eighties when there was a breach in the walls of what had been a very four-walled discipline of English. I just went through one breach after another and never really stopped. Because English itself is a fairly weak disciplinary formation, there’s a lot of anxiety about such things. Once you broke down the inner fortification of the canon and then moved on through the other fortifications, it’s not so easy or desirable for that matter to go back. When I was at Princeton, no one ever asked me to teach poetry, which was my primary doctoral field. So I just started teaching a broader field of material, mostly in the American Studies program, looking at culture and society more broadly—as it should be studied, I think, culture and society together, not in any segmented way. After that, I followed my instincts.

JW: If you think in terms of your career, what advice would you give to students? If you were to think in terms of “Letters to a Young Social and Cultural Analyst,” what would you say?

AR: The best advice you can give graduate students is really about confidence—how to research and write with confidence. One way I go about that is to focus on methods—what do I need to do to get from A to B? Theory can be a pretty good way of getting from A to B, but it’s not the only way, and I saw a lot of people get stuck in between, spinning their mental wheels in the air—some of the best minds of my generation, to paraphrase Allen Ginsberg.

So my advice to students is to get a sense of what A and B are, first of all, and figure out the questions they have to ask to get politically useful outcomes—what methods do I need to answer the questions? It could involve going to archives; it could involve interpreting documents very closely and using textual analysis; it could involve people-based research, picking up a phone, doing a survey, doing face-to-face interviews, consulting databases, etc. But what’s most important is getting to B. I think with the conventional four-walled discipline, the method always comes first. You learn the method and then you apply it and how well you apply the method is what credentializes you. It’s quite the opposite, I suppose, with the way I teach students. The methods are simply the means to an end.


Andrew Ross is a Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. A contributor to The Nation, The Village Voice, The New York Times and Artforum, he is the author of many books, including, most recently: Bird On Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City; Nice Work if You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times; Fast Boat to China—Lessons from Shanghai; Low Pay, High Profile: The Global Push for Fair Labor; No-Collar: The Humane Workplace and its Hidden Costs and The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney’s New Town.

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