A RhetNet SnapShot Reply:
Quite interesting, and certainly, in the context of some regional organizations, notably M/MLA, these questions have been on the agenda for several decades. In the early 1970s, the Midwest MLA organization instituted a conference format that emphasizes dis- cussion vs. paper-reading. How is done is simple, yet has con- sistently met resistance: to make all papers (in principle at least) available to conferees before hand, open each section then to discussants and brief responses from the authors (again, in principle), and then to throw the meeting open to the audience and discussion. The "in principle" qualifiers relate to how these guidelines are actually followed from panel to panel and from year to year.
This past year, in the Nov. St. Louis convention, I made a point of noting how the guidelines were, and were not, followed, and discovered that they function as a more or less general outline upon which each panel organizer creates his/her variations, along the predictable spectrum, from *no* audience intervention/complete paper reading, to "maximum" audience inter- vention (scare quotes here because this maximum, at best, still only constitutes half of the allotted time periods).
In any event, the point in relation to "tired fannies" is that sometimes, our colleagues come to these conferences precisely to fatigue their posteriors and not to work. As sacreligious as that observation might sound, I have been astounded in the M/MLA context, i.e. in one that explicitly favors collegial exchange, how resistant both organizers and participants tend to be toward being made to work, in organizing the panels and following through on papers being submitted by the Aug 30 deadline, for the former; in reading the papers available beforehand and being able/willing to participate in discussions in competent fashion at the selected panels, for the latter. My own experience in organizing these has been that while it does take time and energy to develop a panel most conducive to the discussion guidelines, the rewards can be very astounding, notably a 75-90 exchange from which all there gain something, even learn something.