In his post on gossip, anthropologist Kerim Friedman made this observation:
.. [W]hile gossip can play [a role] in policing community behavior, the gossip I’ve personally encountered in academia seems to often serve a different function. Namely, gossip is what allows the very different worlds of professors and graduate students to interact.
Now, we have an update on the role of gossip in academia through a personal essay by Barbara Pinckus, (a newly minted faculty member writing under a pseudonym) in Inside Higher Ed -- The Gossip Scene. Good stuff!
British anthropologist R.I.M. Dunbar compares human gossip to primate grooming. Both are group-based activities that center on trust. And it often feels good, comforting actually, to disseminate and receive private information, because it makes you feel “part of the team.” Just consider this: How would you react if you were the last to learn a succulent piece of information that affected your network? I, at least, would feel left out, as if my confidantes didn’t care enough to clue me in to the developments shaping our environment. After all, who likes to feel unpopular? And a lack of information may indicate a weak connection to the power brokers.
As residents on the lowest rung of the academic ladder, my fellow graduate students and I honed our skills at investigation with a constant comparative analysis about the goings-on in our doctoral program. [...]