Solidarity among the ranks of anthropology

This is going to be short and sweet, and then it’s sharing time.  I just want to make it clear that the most important take-away point of the last post about academia, anthropology, and the current adjunct situation was the need for this:

noun, plural sol·i·dar·i·ties.

1.union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, as between members of a group or between classes, peoples, etc.: to promote solidarity among union members.
Ok, I’m glad that’s cleared up.  Next, I want to share a link that was just sent out on the environmental anthropology (e-anth) listserv this evening.  It’s a post called “How the American University was killed, in 5 Easy Steps.”  Here’s a little snippet that has some relevance to many of the recent discussions about the state of academia:

I’d like to mention here, too, that universities often defend their use of adjuncts – which are now 75% of all professors in the country — claiming that they have no choice but to hire adjuncts, as a “cost saving measure” in an increasingly defunded university. What they don’t say, and without demand of transparency will NEVER say, is that they have not saved money by hiring adjuncts — they have reduced faculty salaries, security and power. The money wasn’t saved, because it was simply re-allocated to administrative salaries, coach salaries and outrageous university president salaries. There has been a redistribution of funds away from those who actually teach, the scholars – and therefore away from the students’ education itself — and into these administrative and executive salaries, sports costs — and the expanded use of “consultants”, PR and marketing firms, law firms.

It’s a long post, but well worth a read.  Read the rest here.


Ryan Anderson is a cultural and environmental anthropologist. His current research focuses on coastal conservation, sustainability, and development in the Californias. He also writes about politics, economics, and media. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

6 thoughts on “Solidarity among the ranks of anthropology

  1. Of course, you have to imagine that piece was compiled by a recent political science graduate (who got a job!). “Take that, friends with interesting majors!”

  2. I think it is worth thinking more critically about the definition of the term solidarity that Ryan has quoted. Might this definition of solidarity truly be sufficient, or the one progressives/progressive anthropologists want to embrace?  The definition Ryan cites is not in itself problematic, but it could actually be exclusionary depending on how one defines the terms ‘interests’ and ‘common interests’ and depending on where one chooses to draw ‘group’ boundaries.

    I am thinking about this question of solidarity relative to the Occupy slogan “We are the 99%”, a slogan of solidarity to be sure, as well as one of potentially inegalitarian self-interest; and in some ways it is this question of (potentially inegalitarian) ‘self-interest’, versus *justice* (for all), which has engendered (pun intended) some of the most intense debate and perspicacious commentary/analysis in response to the Jason, Ryan, Sarah, and Eliza’s post. Comments from a number of posters have made it clear that individuals have multiple simultaneous (and often unconscious) ‘interests’ which militate against
    precariat/tenure-track faculty solidarity, as well as pitting long-term interests v. short-term interests, or emotional-affective interests v. ‘political-economic’ interests. More concretely and for example: the case of the newly tenure-track female professor who has drunk the ‘I’m special and more-deserving’ Kool Aid and now treats the adjuncts, whose ranks she only recently left behind (along with her solidarity with them and their precarity), with contempt and condescension and now is seen as of of the worst offenders in showing a lack of respect to adjuncts. This woman is clearly benefitting emotionally/psychically from her elevated status, even if the enjoyment she derives from this inequality is not in her long-term political-economic interest as a faculty member in the neoliberal corporate academy (unless she becomes an administrator, university president, regent, board director).

    Calls for solidarity based on ‘interests’ tied to ‘self-interest’ are not the same as calls for solidarity rooted in justice. This brings me back to the Occupy slogan “We are the 99%”, and the problematic ‘solidarity’ undergirding it. It is, fundamentally, a call for solidarity rooted in constricted and constrictive self-interest, as opposed to the expansive self-interest of (a Rawlsian theory of) justice. It is a call for solidarity motivated by ‘I don’t like how this is directly and immediately affecting me’ self-interest. And righteous as Ryan’s comments on solidarity are, I also worry about how to mobilize people, in this case precariously-positioned contingent faculty and tenured/tenure-track faculty, via constricted forms of self-interest: especially given the pull of, and individual subjects deeply embodied investment in, status hierarchies. After all, the ‘psychic wages’ of status hierarchies/inequalities often provides a powerful disincentive to solidarity that may be in individuals long term and collective political-economic interests.

    The constricted self-interest/solidarity of “We are the 99%” stood out for me given the temporal proximity of the start of the OWS protest to the execution of Troy Davis, a black man who was almost certainly innocent of the murder for which he was executed. But how many of the OWS protestors felt as passionate about getting justice for Troy Davis as they did in getting economic justice for themselves? How many stood in solidarity with him? Who do we stand in solidarity with, when, and why? Whose interests do we understand ourselves as sharing, and why? Who is understood as constituting the ‘we’, the ‘group’ in the definition of solidarity posted above? Interests do not just exist ‘out there’: they, like everything else about social relations, are constructed. Standing in solidarity for justice and self-interest broadly defined is not the same as standing in solidarity for self-interest (more) narrowly defined.

    In many ways “We are the 99%” is not a radical statement; and it is in its own way it is a deeply selfish one. “We are the 2%” (of incarcerated US Americans), now this is radical solidarity, expansive self-interest, Rawlsian justice. I write all this to draw attention to the barriers–especially the psychic wages of inequality–militating against the solidarity being called for in this post and in Ryan, Jason, Sarah, and Eliza’s statement.

    Radical solidarity, for justice, for all. 

    And while my thoughts on this subject predated and are not derivative of this NY Times op-ed, it nicely recapitulates my larger thoughts on solidarity and/for justice (not simply for narrowly-defined ‘self-interest’):

  3. Nice post, DWP. Good point about justice for all versus appeals to self interest.

    Political historians use a related pair of concepts when they talk about transformational versus transactional leadership. The former change our perceptions of possible futures; they latter know how to cut deals. The usual conclusion, though, is not one that appeals to idealists. The most successful leaders turn out to be good at both.

  4. @John:

    Did you see this response to your link:


    You make good points about some of the problems with the definition of solidarity I provided (which simply came from an online dictionary). I think you are right to bring up the difference between interests and justice, and in fact the kind of solidarity I had in mind would be rooted in social justice. But I think you are right to point out the fact that there are indeed more barriers (implicit and explicit) within the academy than many are willing to acknowledge or admit…and creates some serious problems for general calls for “solidarity” and such. It’s a good point to keep in mind, thanks.

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