This probably works differently in the sciences, where (I’m told) some organizations elect you as a fellow or a member and it’s a great honor, but in the humanities, you join a group, you pay the dues, you get the journal, and if your paper is accepted, you go to the conference.
There are lots of levels of engagement, including being involved with elected leadership or committees, but the basics are these:
1. You pay your dues faithfully every year, no matter what.
2. You submit to a conference and have to be a paid member to be there, so you join before you submit.
3. You get accepted to a conference and then join so that your name will be on the program.
I’m usually in the #1 category, but a few years ago, I realized how sensible it was to be in #2 or 3.
Example: Let’s call it the Crunchy Granola conference, the one where everyone wears brown instead of black. For the better part of 15+ years I paid every year. I presented at some conferences. I was elected to office and went to conferences every year (and often on my own dime).
And then I noticed that my proposals were getting rejected more often than not. That’s fine: the organizers can’t accept everyone. There was less and less in the journal that had any relevance to my work. My interests had gone in a different direction, and they weren’t Crunchy Granola’s cup of tea. We had Grown Apart, as they say in letters to Carolyn Hax.
But on a different note, I had also become fed up with a radical egalitarian rhetoric that was not, shall we say, matched in practice.
So I stopped paying the dues notice, and you know what? It was a relief. I guess I figured that I somehow had to stay with Crunchy Granola for my whole career, as though we were academically married, but I so didn’t.
When I get a dues notice now, therefore, I think before automatically paying it. Does the journal have materials relevant to what I’m working on? Do I meet up with people working on relevant topics at conferences? Is my work at least sometimes accepted at those conferences, and do I have good conversations that further the work when I go?
This is all obvious, of course, except that it definitely wasn’t for me because as someone whose parents weren’t professors and who is terminally naive by nature, I began by not knowing the norms, which is why stating them now has become a real thing for me. What I learned is that you can & should be strategic about those alliances and not look back once they don’t work for you any more.