Adjuncts & anthropology: What now?!?

This is a follow up to last week’s “Dear AAA: Sink or Swim?” post from last week, which generated a good number of comments here and elsewhere (over at Zero Anthropology and also on the Environmental Anthropology listserv, which is a great forum, but I wish more folks would post comments here as well).  There were a lot of comments, ideas, thoughts, and personal stories posted here, at Zero, and on e-anth.  But there is one question that came up several times and I want to highlight it here to see what you all think:

What now?

If we know there are serious problems in academia, and that those problems are clearly affecting anthropology, then what can be done?  This question came up at the end of the SM post, and it came up quite a lot more on the e-anth listserv.  Here are some of the ideas that were being thrown around (in no particular order):

  1. Unionization or some form of collective action for adjuncts.  One person proposed “A day without adjuncts.”  Organize.  Take a stand.

  2. Rethink the idea that anthropology PhDs must lead to a career in academia.  Scour the world for other jobs and opportunities.  Do not pigeonhole new grads into narrow options.  Diversify.  Open things up.  Don’t depend so much on the academy.

  3. Address the massive problem of student debt.

  4. Share and expose the stories of adjuncts who are trying to make their way through this system.  Publicize and humanize the problem.  Make the problem well known, and encourage more people to speak up.

  5. Build support and solidarity between tenured and non-tenured faculty to deal with the problems we face.

  6. Build support across disciplines, since this is not just a problem in anthropology.

  7. Create new models for higher education: Cooperative or alternative universities.  A number of people have been talking about this idea.

So what can be done?  How can we address the problems we face?  Do we need more analysis and critique?  Do we need to organize?  Do we need to completely rethink higher education?  Or do we do nothing?  Is it simply too late or impossible to make changes?  Is our university system doomed, or is there something we can do to change course?  Please share your thoughts.  Other ideas?  Let’s hear them.

 

Ryan Anderson is a cultural anthropologist, writer, and photographer. His current research focuses on the politics of development and land in Baja California Sur, Mexico. He is also an adamant advocate of Open Access publishing, challenging the current regime of student debt, and rethinking the state of Higher Ed. He is currently living out in the California desert, where he's working on his next move in the chess game that is life. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

20 thoughts on “Adjuncts & anthropology: What now?!?

  1. item 2 is hard. Unless one hold’s specific paths out to students
    even if a student is not careerist at all they still have to have some relatively long range idea where their life might be going. It is much harder to be a poor academic gypsy than it was in the 1930’s.
    And students have to justify themselves to a large number of family and supporters – that they can make some kind of a life for themselves. Of have a great faith!

  2. RE: #1 — Organizing is incredibly difficult these days. As a graduate student at huge public university, I experienced two unionization drives aimed at organizing teaching assistants. It was astonishing to see the extent to which university administration was willing to mobilize resources in opposition to this effort. HR sent out emails to all graduate students at least once a week throughout the duration of the drive full of misinformation about how union representation would undermine relationships between grad students and their faculty advisers, adversely impact equitable distribution of teaching assistantships, offset any wage gains with the collection of dues, and so on. I suppose I was naive to think otherwise, but observing the failure of those two campaigns really drove home the fact that there is little difference between the contemporary public university and private sector employers on the issue of organized labor. I imagine any effort to organize adjuncts would be equally if not more difficult. That said, I have several friends working as adjuncts in the California State system, where they seem to enjoy pretty good pay and benefits; perhaps someone else has more knowledge of the labor agreement in place there.

    @Karl. Yes, number 2 is hard, but I think it’s an area where we can have an impact. There are a number of aspects to the problem, but among the most salient are: 1) the inability of many anthropology faculty to offer applied training 2) the stigma attached to non-academic career paths. While it is not reasonable to expect that faculty responsible for mentoring graduate students will go and acquire applied skills if they do not already have them, the fact is that these people know what kind of job market they are sending newly-minted PhDs into, and it should be a professional obligation for them to at least attempt to build knowledge of viable non-academic career paths and to network with practicing anthropologists.

    For their part, grad students really need to think about non-academic career options long before obtaining the PhD. It became clear to me about halfway through my graduate career just how bleak the academic job market was, so I broadened my training to include another degree (professional master’s degree) that gelled with my anthropology interests and, more importantly, gave me a number of options outside of the academy. I now work in an research-oriented, non-academic field where my starting salary was better than it would have been in most tt assistant professor positions. I don’t set my own research program, but I get to work with people from a range of academic backgrounds on a variety of interesting projects.

    As far as reducing stigma goes, there’s no easy answer. One approach is for grad students to make clear that they are going to at least explore these opportunities with or without the help of faculty advisers. During graduate school, I did my best to advocate for non-academic career paths among my peers and did things like organize events that brought practitioners to my department so that others could learn about the nature of their work and establish contacts for the future. The faculty in my department didn’t openly encourage my doing this, but I was in no way punished for it, either. The more that faculty understand that their students are going to be looking for rewarding careers outside of the academy, the more that they will perhaps work to assist students in such endeavors (probably wishful thinking on my part).

  3. Efforts should be made to strengthen and nourish solidarity among the academic precariat which consists of adjuncts and non-tenured faculty. We need a national organization through which we can act collectively in an organized way to advance our interests.

    How to do this I do not know.

    However I can think of two things I would like to see such an organization accomplish right away: 1) establish binding requirements on PhD granting departments to offer as part of their training programs professional and career development for their graduate students; and 2) see to it that departmental rankings in major publications and national higher ed research organizations give rates of placing graduates in jobs the same weight as publications by faculty.

    For me the essential issue is that graduate departments and their faculties need to be made accountable for the fate of their PhD students. If a department has a high ratio of unemployed or underemployed graduates than they shouldn’t be in the PhD business. And furthermore I think there should be public reporting of this info to give prospective students the ability to make informed judgments about graduate programs.

    Too many PhD programs are exclusively focused on the production of ideas at the expense of producing employable professionals. Obviously this is not inherently an either/or proposition but it has become one. There are too many departments granting PhDs who are either unwilling or unable to restructure their training programs to meet the demands of the existing academic labor market. These departments should either stop producing graduate degrees or go out of business.

  4. Some of this is within our control, but much is not. When student loan debt becomes discharge able in bankruptcy, millions of dollars in loans will be discharged and lenders will stop making so many loans. This will force the price of grad school down as unis will see their funds drop with lower enrollment. Lobby your representative to support making student loans dischargeable.

    Unionization seems good, except there’s a new crop of hungry potential scabs coming up every year.

    In the end, anthropology will have to accept that working in the real world is not distasteful and have to start building bridges to the business world. The guy who commented elsewhere about google seeking anthropologists made a good point. What other ways are we useful? Will it kill us to learn some marketable skills?

    Finally, accept that the gravy train of being paid to write and speak in opaque lists of ridiculous words like “performativity” has come to an end. Some of what anthropology does appears pointless and nonsensical to the outside world. They might have a point.

  5. Remember Martin Luther King and ask yourself how much you are willing to sacrifice for others? If organizing is only about immediate benefits for me, the movement is easy to undermine and endless turnover and reinventing the wheel will leave it forever vulnerable. It has to be about “We shall overcome,” not “I shall get mine.”

  6. Any efforts to address this problem will require allies. Allies within the university: teacher’s unions, adjuncts in other departments, etc. as well as allies outside the university: labor unions, occupy folks, etc. The nature of those alliances will vary depending on the local situation of each university, but it would be good to have some forums for dialog and coordination between universities and internationally. Also remember that many grad students are international students who require their student visa to stay in the country – for this reason they may not be able to take the same risks as citizens.

  7. I completely agree with John McCreery. I have seen faculty unions that have thrown adjuncts, and even non-tenured in tenure track under the bus. And I have seen faculty unions that have acted in solidarity, which ultimately benefits everyone. Administrations are skilled in pitting different categories of faculty against one another, and this must at all costs be resisted. While the best defense (and offense) is “one big union”, where that is impossible, adjuncts should form their own. There are now enough classes at most schools being taught by adjuncts that if they were to walk out, they could cripple the institution. The only thing that stands in their way in fear. There is power in a union!

  8. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    @Karl:

    “item 2 is hard. Unless one hold’s specific paths out to students
    even if a student is not careerist at all they still have to have some relatively long range idea where their life might be going…”

    I agree that people need to focus. But if there are a really limited number of jobs in academia, why not expand the range a bit, since most people are not going to end up getting tenured positions? What I don’t understand is why academic anthropology focuses so heavily on producing more academics.

    @Radokane:

    “Organizing is incredibly difficult these days. As a graduate student at huge public university, I experienced two unionization drives aimed at organizing teaching assistants. It was astonishing to see the extent to which university administration was willing to mobilize resources in opposition to this effort…”

    I have heard similar stories. It definitely does not seem like many of these efforts go very far at all. Although I am not surprised to hear that admin went to great lengths to oppose unionization in the instances you talk about. What really interests me is the fact that there really isn’t a lot of discussion about this. At least, I don’t see it.

    “…and it should be a professional obligation for them to at least attempt to build knowledge of viable non-academic career paths and to network with practicing anthropologists.”

    Ya, I think that would be a good idea. Adding this kind of knowledge to grad programs would be a good start.

    “As far as reducing stigma goes, there’s no easy answer.”

    Agreed. Sometimes it’s almost as if people think it’s either one end of the spectrum or the other. Either you go into academia, or you end up selling your soul to “commercial interests” or something. Well, there’s a lot of ground in between there, and maybe we should all be more open minded about it. Going outside the academy should not automatically be seen as some sort of ethical breech or soul-selling endeavor.

    @Victor:

    “Efforts should be made to strengthen and nourish solidarity among the academic precariat which consists of adjuncts and non-tenured faculty. We need a national organization through which we can act collectively in an organized way to advance our interests….”

    Ya, more conversation between adjuncts and non-tenured would be good. I’d add in grad students for good measure, since they are the next ones lining up for all of the non-existent jobs.

    “Too many PhD programs are exclusively focused on the production of ideas at the expense of producing employable professionals. Obviously this is not inherently an either/or proposition but it has become one.”

    That’s an interesting point, and I know a lot of people bristle at thinking of anthropology in terms of careers, jobs, or professions. But if we have all of these people graduating after 7-10 years of school, with accumulated debt, how else are people supposed to think? They are going to want to work, well, because they have to. I understand the argument that anthropology is more than “a job,” but try telling that to someone who’s 50,000-100,000 dollars in debt. I don’t think we should just turn this all into a discussion about jobs and professionalization…but I also don’t think it makes sense for people to go into massive debt to attain anthropological knowledge.

    @Lilli:

    “Lobby your representative to support making student loans dischargeable.”

    Ya, that’s a good, concrete first step.

    “Unionization seems good, except there’s a new crop of hungry potential scabs coming up every year.”

    By scabs I guess you mean people like me who will soon join the ranks of newly minted PhDs (I should be done in about a year). But I think that including grad students in these kinds of conversations is the way to go, especially since it’s a classic ploy to use one group against another.

    “Finally, accept that the gravy train of being paid to write and speak in opaque lists of ridiculous words like “performativity” has come to an end. Some of what anthropology does appears pointless and nonsensical to the outside world. They might have a point.”

    What?!? No more using “performativity”? Now, that’s taking things too far! ;)

    In all seriousness, I think that we have to rethink how we communicate and why. Right now we mostly write/communicate to ourselves–at conferences, in articles and books. It’s mostly an internal conversation, and that’s what our training really focuses on. How to write grants. How to write academic papers. How to cite far too many people in one short paper. Most of this is not geared toward an audience outside academia, and that’s why I have to answer the “wait, what is it that you do again?” question all the time.

    “It has to be about ‘We shall overcome,’ not ‘I shall get mine.'”

    Yep. What amazes me is that many people acknowledge the problems we have inside our discipline, but the conversations about what to do are relatively few. At least from what I can tell. But maybe I am looking in the wrong places. But I do know a LOT of people who are so worried about getting a job–almost any job–that they are willing to do whatever it takes even if the pay is low and the requirements are kind of insane. The same goes for people who are killing themselves to get tenure. Basically, everyone is so stressed and swamped trying to “make it” that they have no time to look up and realize the ship is sinking. Or it’s off course. Or something.

    @Kerim:

    “Any efforts to address this problem will require allies.”

    Agreed. I think it’s really important to keep emphasizing the fact that this is not just some localized problem in US anthropology. And the more allies, the better.

    @Martin:

    “There are now enough classes at most schools being taught by adjuncts that if they were to walk out, they could cripple the institution.”

    Good point. If they are doing a large chunk of the work, then they certainly have some say, no?

  9. (1) “Non-white students get jobs and fellowships thrown at them.”

    (2) Discussions of “hierarchy and positionally” (and inequality) are passe’ 90s race theory for those not interested in and/or ‘theoretically sophisticated’ enough to write ‘smart’ anthropological books.

    I’ve posted the two statements above because as good as the conversations here about the plight of contingent faculty have been, they still have not gone far enough in really identifying ALL the (structural) barriers to academic solidarity and to challenging if not reversing the corporatization and neoliberalization of the university/academy. The statements above, made with abusive intent by two white male graduate students (and now graduates of a certain top-ranked program) to a black female graduate student, illustrate the ways in which people can be easily pitted against each other (and serve as a reminder that it is not just Republicans and the Romney/Ryan campaign who race bait or engage in the politics of (racial) resentment), including in ways enabled (if not encouraged) by tenured faculty in elite departments, as a method of social control of graduate students, in ways that encourage abusive careerism and individualistic ‘I will get mine at any cost and by any means, no matter how unethical, because all that matters is getting a job–and especially a tenure-track position’ thinking. The precarity of contingent and untenured faculty can’t be improved without anthropologists being more honest about the politics of resentment that is part of the anthropological professionalization process, and the myriad ways in which anthropologists are socialized–within and outside the academy–to normalize and justify and accept inequalities, and abusive and marginalizing practices, which discourage academic solidarity, position some people as ‘real’ anthropologists worth valuing (while others as seen as disposable and not ‘legitimate members of an academic community’), position some anthropological subjects (in all valences of this term) as worth studying but not others, and encourage all anthropologists–however reluctantly–to drink the already mentioned ‘I’m more deserving Kool Aid’ (more deserving because of race, gender, tenure, writing a ‘smart’ book, having Ivy League credentials, working at an R-1, and on and on and on).

    The academy is all about hierarchy and positionality and being deeply invested in one’s position with status hierarchies produced by inequality which then (re)produce inequality. So very interesting the ways in which anthropology has largely overlooked the hierarchy in its ranks and honestly–however uncomfortable it may be–acknowledged and discussed it. Connecting the dots between these posts on the plight of adjuncts and ‘the end of the academy’ needs to be connected to larger issues of inequality within and outside the academy, from ‘anthropology as white public space’ to attacks on workers, women, and (racial) minorities on full display during this presidential campaign.

    Over at Zero Anthropology a great point was made in the comments (here: http://zeroanthropology.net/2012/08/31/dear-aaa-sink-or-swim/) about the ways in which the precarity of contingent and non-tenured faculty and graduate students is linked to an attack on academic freedom, and the ways in which administrators want students and faculty who are scared to speak up–and can easily be fired, silenced, intimidated, and retaliated against. Corporate neoliberal universities do not want to be challenged, no matter how just the cause. Case in point: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/04/09/1081899/-Tell-The-Power-Crazed-DA-to-Stay-Away-From-Stay-Aways-Drop-the-Charges-and-Read-the-Constitution.

    Anthropologists need to be more honest about the daily practices which are producing the inequality which makes academic precarity and lack of solidarity between the tenured and untenured possible. This discussion of adjunct faculty is not seperate from and unrelated to the issues raised in “Anthropology as White Public Space?” (as demonstrated by the abusive and racist statements with which I started this comment), and relates to the previously made point in Jason, Ryan, Sarah, and Eliza’s post about anthropology ironically having done a poor job of (critically) interrogating inequality ‘at home’ instead of just studying it ‘elsewhere’.

    So yes, I think we need to revisit John McCreery’s admonition about “I shall get mine” motivations/politics in light of the statements with which I prefaced my comments, in response to Ryan’s solidarity post, and in this excerpt from Ryan in the comments: ” But maybe I am looking in the wrong places. But I do know a LOT of people who are so worried about getting a job–almost any job–that they are willing to do whatever it takes even if the pay is low and the requirements are kind of insane.”

    The threat/prospect of unemployment and academic precarity is producing some very frightening, unethical forms of abuse as some people will stop at nothing to try and get a tenure-track job that they feel they ‘deserve’ more than those at whom such jobs are supposedly being ‘thrown’. Anthropology needs to look at the inequality in its midst because they forms of inequality–and privilege–directly relate to, and are (re)produced by, power asymmetries and structural inequalities outside the academy which clearly need to be focused on.

    And finally, especially in light of the ways in which the abusive comments at the beginning of this message were directly discussed as indicative of structural inequalities inside and outside of the academy (and the specific department in which the abusive comments were made) with certain tenured professors who have previously commented on this blog, it is interesting to see who is and is not commenting on these three posts on academic precarity.

    How many tenured faculty *really* care about this situation. Maybe we need to reckon more honestly with the fact that many people who have the security of tenure just don’t *really* care about those who don’t. Maybe we need to think more about the ways in which anthropology is itself beholden to neoliberal logics of ‘just being responsible for oneself’. We’ve been justifying pervasive inequality in our ranks for a very long time, and encouraging people to be very individually careerist for a very long time. Especially in some elite departments. 

  10. It seems to me that a huge problem (and this problem is more or less present in all the social sciences, as well as probably present in the humanities) is oversupply. PHD programs suck in hundreds of students a year, and push out far more grads than the job market can support. This pump, while leaky, is still capable of producing at a rate far above what the job openings in the academy require. Grad students make excellent labor, though, so I don’t see what the motivation is for faculty or departments to correct the pump output.

  11. @DWP:

    “…because as good as the conversations here about the plight of contingent faculty have been, they still have not gone far enough in really identifying ALL the (structural) barriers to academic solidarity and to challenging if not reversing the corporatization and neoliberalization of the university/academy.”

    Agreed. There is definitely a lot going on here, inside and outside anthropology, and these conversations are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

    “Anthropologists need to be more honest about the daily practices which are producing the inequality which makes academic precarity and lack of solidarity between the tenured and untenured possible.”

    Yep, I agree that it’s time for anthros to start thinking about these things a lot more.

    “How many tenured faculty *really* care about this situation. Maybe we need to reckon more honestly with the fact that many people who have the security of tenure just don’t *really* care about those who don’t.”

    How many tenured profs are concerned or care about this situation? To me this is an open question, and I’d be interested to find out the answer. I’d prefer to avoid making assumptions about where they stand on this issue.

    @John:

    “It isn’t just anthropology. It isn’t just academia. It’s a world that needs remaking.”

    Yep. But we gotta start somewhere. Might as well be on our own doorstep.

    @Anon:

    “It seems to me that a huge problem (and this problem is more or less present in all the social sciences, as well as probably present in the humanities) is oversupply.”

    Ya, an oversupply of people all trying to take their knowledge and skills and start careers in a very narrow venue (academic anthropology).

    “Grad students make excellent labor, though, so I don’t see what the motivation is for faculty or departments to correct the pump output.”

    Agreed. They have no reason to change what they are doing as long as new grad students keep joining the programs and playing along.

  12. Hi Ryan. Thanks for your response. A clarification on my comments on *really* caring. It’s actually less of an assumption than it seems, or can seem, and is more of an honest self-critique. I tend to be honest about my own shortcomings when asking such questions, and am generally acknowledging my own limitations in asking others to be (more honest) about their own, and I have found this to be one of the reasons that I am often viciously attacked: I tend to lob ‘why don’t we just admit uncomfortable truths that we’d much rather hide and deny’ anthropological/analytical ‘grenades’. So in this case my question of (not) *really* caring comes from a realization that there are many inequalities and injustices I could claim to care about in some abstract, detached ‘political’ sense (and I use the word sense intentionally to index the embodied nature of such caring or not caring), but if I am being truly honest wit myself, especially as *based on my actions* I really don’t care that much, it is not a pressing daily concern–precisely because the issue is not personally negatively affecting me in ways that make it impossible for me to ‘care at a distance’, or to not really care at all.

    This realization, (re)cognition that not all ‘caring’ is equivalent, progressively and non-oppressively consequential (or non-complicit in reproducing the harm/inequality one claims to ‘care’ about), or productive of deep, transformative, and/or lasting solidarity.

    So…

    There’s a lot of not practicing what one preaches in anthropology, despite (publicly) professing to care, and this (re)produces much of the inequality and lack of solidarity which makes academic precarity possible.

  13. PS John:

    Thanks for the video link. Makes a really good point. These problems and issues we are talking about in this thread are anything but specific to the US, and far from unique. Definitely connected to a lot of larger issues (understatement).

  14. @DWP:

    “Thanks for your response. A clarification on my comments on *really* caring. It’s actually less of an assumption than it seems, or can seem, and is more of an honest self-critique.”

    Thanks for the clarification. I see what you mean now. And I think it’s important to really look at what we are all going around *saying* versus what we are actually *doing*. I think you make a good point about the *rhetoric* of caring/solidarity versus actually doing something to make changes, build solidarity, etc.

    “So in this case my question of (not) *really* caring comes from a realization that there are many inequalities and injustices I could claim to care about in some abstract, detached ‘political’ sense (and I use the word sense intentionally to index the embodied nature of such caring or not caring), but if I am being truly honest…”

    Yep. I think you make a really good point here. I have caught myself in the same exact same loop. I think a good dose of honest self-critique is vital if we are going to move past mere abstract and empty rhetoric. Sometimes the hardest part (as the title of this post indicates) is where to begin with actually *doing something* or making changes. Often in anthropology we have tons and tons of critique and rhetoric, but when it comes to solutions or ideas for moving forward, well, then all we hear are crickets chirping.

    “There’s a lot of not practicing what one preaches in anthropology, despite (publicly) professing to care, and this (re)produces much of the inequality and lack of solidarity which makes academic precarity possible.”

    Exactly. Therein lies the problem. Good summary.

  15. Another example of how different forms of inequality and marginalization are linked to and by academic precarity and a rhetoric of caring that is actually about *not caring*: 

    In the department in which the racist bullying occurred there are zero black faculty or under-represented minority faculty, and no sociocultural under-represented minority faculty who were born in the US (an important fact relative to the likeness of challenging certain practices which produce anthropology as ‘white public space’, or critiquing daily manifestations of white privilege/supremacy in the US in general, and antiblack racism in the department in particular). The department has never had a black female professor. And given that it is not a small department, these demographics are not happening simply because of size constraints. (Say, as would be the case in a small liberal arts college with only three or four anthropology faculty in total.) 

    When professors in this department were witness to and/or became aware of the racist-sexist bullying of which I’ve written, even when it became public in an attack via a departmental listserve, they concretely did and said nothing to repudiate this antiblack and sexist bullying–despite professors’ copious public claims (including in their anthropological scholarship) about not being racist and caring about antiracism. The rhetoric of caring did not and has not translated into actual caring, and the priority (like at Penn State) has been on covering up the bullying/abuse and doing everything possible to make sure that it is not acknowledged so as to damage the department or university’s reputation and ranking (or the reputations of individual anthropology professors who are documented to have engaged in racist and unethical ways to have covered up the truth, especially by engaging in the same problematic–and racist–behavior discussed in “Anthropology as White Public Space”: namely, claiming that institutional racism/sexism and abuse is just a ‘personal’ dispute). And yes, this is how ‘dignity deficits’ (as discussed in the Sink or Swim? post)  manifest and are exacerbated. And yet all this ossification and reproduction of structural inequalities, visited upon a precariously-positioned anthropologist, despite official rhetorics of caring and solidarity from professors whose actions clearly support(ed) neither.

    Furthermore, this lack of caring is also reflected, more broadly and across departments (and disciplines), in the hiring and firing practices of minority scholars and/or those teaching classes on race (especially which substantively and profoundly, v. superficially, challenge white supremacy as it interfaces with the corporate neoliberal university). Scholars like Jacqui Alexander have written about the practice of hiring black scholars to teach classes on race, but doing so only as contingent faculty: making it clear that this subject matter, and these scholars, are seen as less valuable and less important. Who you *consistently* (in your department, often by citing ‘lack of department fit’, making this comment relevant to Laura Miller’s most recent post on this site), who you *consistently* refuse to hire as tenured or tenure-track faculty sends a message as to who is and is NOT valued: including, yes, as a ‘real’ anthropologists, engaged in anthropological scholarship worth caring about–as opposed to seen as ‘not a legitimate member of this academic community’. (So why should it then come as a big surprise to a department that has never had a black female professor and which makes clear via its seminar offerings and pedagogical priorities that it devalues work on race, when two white male graduate students are bullying a black female graduate student who studies whiteness/racial hierarchies? And when the department’s reaction is to cover up the racist and sexist bullying, by any means necessary, however unethical or abusive, instead of acknowledging its ‘white public space’ issues, what message does this send, in general and to the graduate students it is mentoring and professionalizing to become faculty and the next generation of tenured professors, about either caring or solidarity? One has just taught a lesson in identifying with patriarchy, white supremacy, and the administrators running the corporate neoliberal university. Not exactly a great progressive lesson for solidarity between the precariat and tenured, huh?) 

    And, as others have noted, precarity constricts, if not entirely forecloses, ones ability to do the research for and write the kind of ‘smart’ book that confers academic heft/status. Moreover, and as has also been previously mentioned, precarity is an academic freedom issue: including one of creating an environment in which people (and specifically black graduate students in the specific case alluded to above) begin to self-censor, avoid certain research projects that they know will be frowned on by (white) professors (not because these anthropological topics are illegitimate, but because they fear it will cost them a job or result in a lack of support–if not outright hostility–from professors/their dissertation committee), and causes them to generally avoid any conversation that would require ‘too frank’ a discussion of the very “internal inequities” mentioned in the post above. Living in fear, because of one’s precarious and contingent academic position, and de facto lack of academic freedom, is not a situation conducive to academic flourishing, even in the absence of racist bullying and personal attacks.

    The Sink or Swim? post is spot-on to mention the dignity deficit academic precarity creates, and spot-on to mention the *embodied effects* of such precarity, of which the Sink or Swim? discussion is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg; it is a conversation that needs to be more expansive in ways that more directly relate anthropology’s/the academy’s ‘internal inequities’ (which anthropology has often refused to engage) to the full spectrum of academic precarity and the embodied suffering it produces: http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3414102/.

  16. If I could add my two cents to Point #2: I’m not sure it’s that hard. There are a lot of jobs out there, whether they’re labeled “anthropologist” or not. The challenge, in my experience, is finding the space to still engage in anthropological discussion and discourse while outside of academia. A lot of anthropologists do see this external space as somehow giving up or giving in. Or maybe it’s just a reason to stop paying attention to what goes on in the field. Going outside of academia doesn’t mean you’ve given up your anthro badge.

    I would propose as a sub-point of #2 is that we need forums for non-academics to engage with anthropology, and to do so in a way that is maybe not so strictly academic. I think point #7 gets at this, as well.

    I’d like to see more online spaces, for example, that focus on the stuff of anthropology, the ethnographic insights people are hitting on and the theoretical issues/debates that most non-academics are largely not hitting on. I’m not quite sure what this space would look like, though it would be nice to have the kind of dedicated following that Savage Minds has.

  17. @Michael Power. For me, too, finding the space to engage in anthropological discussion and discourse while outside of academia is something I’ve thought a lot about. One of the joys of the Internet is finding that kind of discussion and discourse in spaces like Savage Minds and Open Anthropology Cooperative.

    It is still in the early stages; but if you are looking for ethnographic and other anthropological insights framed in a way intended to appeal to the general public, you might enjoy taking a look at PopAnth, a website being developed for this purpose by Erin Taylor, an Australian anthropologist who now has a full-time research position in Portugal, and her partner, IT expert Gawain Lynch.

    According to the site, “Erin originally studied fine art, but she defected to anthropology when she realised that she was far better at deploying a pen for writing than for drawing. She is a cultural anthropologist who is currently living in Lisbon, Portugal, where she has a full-time research position at the Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS).”

    “Gawain is a reformed tech-geek who used to spend his time talking to corporate business managers with words like ‘synergy’, ‘symbiosis’, ‘B2B’, ‘B2C’, ‘paradigm shift’, ‘seamless solution’ and his personal favourite, ‘enterprise class’. This all changed in 2010 when he entered the world of the social sciences to assist Erin in researching the intersection between human beings and technology in the developing world. Now he’s immersed in a world of all things anthropological. However, he does still need his daily fix of technology.”

    Having admired their initiative and the energy they bring to it and made a few suggestions, I have just found myself a third party to this effort.

    I should note that PopAnth is, in no sense, a rival of Savage Minds, OAC, Neuroanthropology or other established sites. Its particular purpose is to provide a venue in which anthropologists and their fellow travelers can publish short, non-academic pieces with an anthropological slant. One particularly interesting recent submission is from a young man, whose observations about the importance of having the right gear to establish your credibility as a serious backpacker, even if it means sleeping rough and dumpster-diving to feed yourself when you run out of money, is as readable and elegant a piece of cultural critique as you are likely to encounter anywhere. Erin’s account of an Australian who strikes up a conversation while caught on a stopped London subway train and suddenly realizes that she has violated A BASIC RULE OF BRITISH BEHAVIOR “Thou shalt not speak to strangers under any circumstances” is also a classic.

    Anyway, the point is that while anthropologists have plenty of good sites on which to discuss the discipline, the fate of academia, and other deep issues, PopAnth will provide a home for the sorts of interesting observations, sometimes even insights, that pop up when we do fieldwork or are bringing an anthropological perspective to keeping track of what is going on around us.

    Check it out. Submit something. And if you have comments or suggestions, please chime in. Now is the time to make a difference, before decisions get set in stone.

  18. I’m so happy to see this robust conversation, and wanted to link you all to my most recent blog, which I called “How the American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps”, where we got hundreds of comments and responses. The issue IS bigger than the adjunct struggle, and we do have to build a coalition of students, parents, educators (university and high school), legislators and the working groups within Occupy which are fighting for college reform. The debate about unions is on-going — because the traditional educational unions have a lot to answer for in regard to how little they’ve done over the last 30 years to halt or prevent what has happened to the professoriate. National unions, like the SEIU – and their metro strategy in areas like Maryland/D.C./Virginia or the Steelworkers – and what they are doing right now for the adjuncts at Duquesne – seem to offer more determined effort. I like the suggestion for a National union, and have said for a while now that we need something like Actors’ Equity – because the reality is that we ARE gypsies who work in a variety of places, with precarious employment and little power. A national union that sets rates, benefits, professional support that are country-wide would do more faster. Of course, another thing to consider is pushing for a Workers’ Bill of Rights that addresses the underemployment and labor exploitation of ALL workers in the country – so that we don’t have to fight the same battle in every sector separately. Anyway – for those who are interested, check out my blog, and let’s begin to widen the effort in order to reverse the damage to our profession and to higher education.
    http://junctrebellion.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/how-the-american-university-was-killed-in-five-easy-steps/

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