The Symposium

I’ve been impressed with the way the Finnish organise their academic conferences. Firstly, all papers (in full, not just abstracts) are read by an editorial board before the conference and only the best chosen. This avoids the depressing practice of having to listen to a boring, scatterbrained so-called-work-in-progress. A paper will still be ‘unfinished’, open to improvement in the light of discussion, but is not the series of bullet-points and cobbled together free-association which the author submitted just to be allowed into the exotic and picturesque conference venue. Secondly, there is a prize (nominal, non-monetary) for the first, second and third best papers of the conference, voted for at the end by delegates. Because quantity has been replaced by quality, there is more time for each paper – 45 minutes and 15 minutes of questions for each, instead of the more familiar 20 minutes and 10. This more accurately reflects the finished article length and allows the full argument (without leaps and gaps, which formerly had to be bridged and explained during question time) to come through. Conferences are still open to both established academics and graduate students but the quality, clarity and originality of argument is now the criterion (established academics now have to actually think about their new thesis, rather than rely on reputation) and it makes for a suprisingly level playing field. Not all competition is bad. When thinkers compete to make the most interesting, thought-provoking yet sound arguments, it seems – and here I think Plato would agree – everyone wins.