Something joined or added but not essential

For me one of the highlights of the annual meeting of the AAA is migrating from one reception to another like a hunter-gatherer constantly seeking to optimize food foraging strategies. While the Wenner-Gren typically has the heaviest hors d’oeuvers (this year they even had free booze) I find the best company at the joint reception of the progressive and minority sections.

There under the thumping beat of party music I met a friend of a friend of a friend, a young man who had recently left an adjunct position at a Colorado school for a tenure track position somewhere in California. We toasted his professional good fortune as this was the first semester of his new job.

“How did you do it?” I begged, “It’s so hard to make tenure track.”

“I don’t know, man.” He exhaled, “Just got lucky I guess.”

It’s true that making it out of the post-graduate equivalent of the horse latitudes to the beginnings of an academic career as an assistant professor requires a tremendous amount of work. And sure, it helps if you have a pedigree and other trappings of prestige to go along with that big, beautiful brain of yours.

But that’s not always enough. Sometimes you’ve just got to be in the right place at the right time.

Here at Savage Minds we have discussed how the labor of academia is being transformed by disruptive technologies, by neoliberalism, and by economies of prestige that necessitate a large adjunct workforce. We have also observed the extent to which academia has conserved rather than challenged many of the racialized and gendered social privileges that define the warp and weft of American society — something represented in the demographic of contingent workers. These topics were also touched on by an excellent run of guest posts about precarity too.

While organizations such as the New Faculty Majority seek to improve the working conditions for all adjunct faculty, we could stand to learn more about adjunct anthropologists specifically. Fellow anthropologist Matthew Wolf-Meyer, who teaches a course on professionalization at UC Santa Cruz, has put together two surveys that probe the state of being an adjunct anthropologist today. You can read blog posts about his class here .

We invite every anthropologist with adjunct work experience who cares about this issue to participate in the survey. Then we can share the results and address new questions in future Savage Minds posts.

Click here if you are currently an adjunct faculty in anthropology (not grad student)

Click here if you are a former adjunct faculty in anthropology (now working in some other capacity)

Thanks in advance for taking the survey and sharing it widely.

Matt Thompson is adjunct assistant professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University and a student in the School of Information Science at the University of Tennessee. He was once cast as a soldier in Andrew Jackson's army in a theatrical production on an Indian reservation.

9 thoughts on “Something joined or added but not essential

  1. This survey assumes you have the PhD at time of adjuncting, and requires you to state how long ago you received it. Lots of adjuncts are ABD.

  2. Is this only for people teaching in anthropology department? I note that you are not in an anthropology department. many adjuncts hop across departments. What does “in anthropology mean?”

  3. We’re not asking for people who are still ABDs with the assumption that as long as you’re ABD you aren’t formally part of the workforce (e.g. you might go back to being a teaching assistant and you’re eligible for kinds of support that PhDs are not, like dissertation writing grants). I recognize that some people might stay ABD until they get a tenure track job, but I’m not sure how representative those cases are of what we’re interested in.

    And I’ll clarify the survey: if you have a PhD in Anthropology and you adjunct or have adjuncted, you’re eligible to complete the survey, regardless of what kind of department you adjunct for.

  4. Hi, Wolf.

    When you check my answers, you may discover a phenomenon not imagined in your questionnaire, becoming an adjunct as a hobby instead of a livelihood. This possibility is quite common in Japan and, I understand from gossip, in business and other professional schools in other parts of the world. The business schools call adjuncts of this type “clinical professors,” and hires them to share their practical experience with students more interested in recent war stories than in organizational theory.

    This is, in many respects, a totally different world from that of adjuncts who are just starting academic careers and hoping to win tenure. I mention it here only because it represents a possibility rarely considered in these discussions. Securing a livelihood outside of academia while retaining academic interests and returning to teach at a later point in your life,

  5. John,

    On a similar theme, I think another possibility are people who are locked into adjunct positions (even crummy ones), are actually okay with it, and have stopped looking for tenure track jobs. While my job doesn’t pay very well it is rather easy and thus affords me plenty of time to be with my three kids.

    Nevertheless, I had to go through a few years of angst and feelings of failure before I came to this point. Even now I remain thoroughly ambivalent about my employment status. I’m sure you felt something similar when you did not receive tenure. I think once you said you were “apocalyptic” afterwords!

    Anyways, I expect that a sense of ambivalence and doubt will turn up in many responses… but we shall see.

  6. We’ve tried to keep the questions as open as we can to allow for all sorts of different possibilities. We couldn’t imagine them all in advance, but hope to get a good picture of how people fit adjuncting into their lives and shape their lives around adjuncting. Thanks for participating to help us flesh everything out.

  7. Given the number of community colleges in the country, I’d hazard a wild guess that more than half of the adjunct instructors in anthropology who aren’t in ABD status are MA holders. I’ve been teaching for five years and have no desire to finish my Ph.D. work, despite dropping a decade at Chicago. Many of my colleagues are in similar positions. Why should the survey exclude people trying to make the leap from adjunct to full-time instructor at the CC level? What’s at stake in preserving the distinction?

  8. It is true that the distinction between a MA and PhD is somewhat arbitrary, yet however socially constructed that distinction may be it is still a consequential one.

    While an MA is no less a “real” anthropologist than a PhD, what we’re examining here is professional development. Without the terminal degree one has always has the possibility of finishing, even if the desire is not there.

    Once you have a PhD the credentialing process is complete. So we’re controlling for that variable.

  9. Just to add to Matt’s comment, one of our goals here is to think about how people move from adjuncting positions to tenure track faculty positions; if you’re happy with your adjuncting or community college job, we’re not so interested in that — although it might provide the basis for something else in the future. So the survey for current adjuncts is really designed for people who hold a PhD and don’t want to be an adjunct. And the survey for post-adjuncts is designed for people who — at least at some point — imagined that they wanted a tenure track job, but who may or may not have one now.

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