When are we “known” and how do we know?

This past academic year I went to six conferences. I think that’s a lot, but I actually enjoyed it. If I had the money to go to more I probably would. At the last conference of the academic year, I saw that a scholar whose work I was very familiar with would be there. I explicitly cited him in my paper when I gave my presentation. After the panel, he came up to me, and the first thing he said was, “Hi, you know, I have work out on your topic.” I was so happy to meet him, I sputtered, “Oh, I know. I cited you explicitly. I quoted your paper in big disciplinary fancy journal.” And then I flipped through my paper and found the quote. He said, “Oh, I left to go to the bathroom so maybe I missed it.  Sorry. So you’re at Big Midwestern University? Is Mr. Big Shot still there?” After I said that Mr. Big Shot was on leave, but should be coming back next year, he encouraged me to talk to Mr. Big Shot.

Looking back on that encounter, it just seemed really weird. In the moment, I just did what I thought I should – say that I cited him and whatnot. However, thinking about it now, I think, how strange to just come up to someone, not say your name, and tell them you have work on that topic. Maybe this person is just awkward, but I get the sense from a lot of academics that many feel like they just aren’t getting their due. However, this person has published prolifically, in many disciplinary and non-discipline journals. How can anyone working in his area not know who he is? Other people have mentioned him and his work in my presence. Hell, I mentioned him by name in my presentation in front of everyone at the conference (but apparently when he wasn’t there). I know that people know about him. I just wonder if he knows that.

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