Tag Archives: Careers

Selling Out

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Nathan Fisk, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.]

Over the past year, I’ve had to carefully consider the meaning of “selling out”.

Of my blogger colleagues, I’m probably the farthest removed from academia – or, at least I’m moving in that general direction. This certainly does not mean I’m abandoning research, quite the opposite in fact. It does, however, mean that I’ve all but given up on the idea of staying in academia and searching out a tenure-track position. For the time being, anyway. Instead, I’m looking to transition into the corporate world, but ideally in a way which would allow me to still do interesting ethnographic research. But, before I get ahead of myself, let me explain a little bit about my background and current position.

In 2011, I wrapped up my doctoral degree in STS – the first to graduate from my program under the soft four-year deadline slowly hardening under increasing institutional pressures. For years, I had labored, perhaps delusionally, under the hopes that if I was working on a “hot” and highly visible topic a job would simply materialize by the time I reached the end of the doctoral plank. For me, that topic was youth Internet safety. I developed my dissertation research with jobs beyond academia in mind, and deliberately built into the project opportunities to meet with school administrators across New York, in the hopes of expanding my contact network for eventual consulting work. I envisioned possibilites in state government, doing technology policy work. I thought I could even keep writing, given the two freelance books already under my belt.

The imagined job never really materialized. Between the economic downturn and my failure to anticipate what I’ve come to describe and recognize in others as post-dissertation slump, things simply stalled out. My dissertation research panned out in a way that made consulting difficult – schools want someone to come in and talk to kids about cyberbullying, not so much someone to tell them that the idea of cyberbullying is fundamentally problematic. State positions dried up during budget cutbacks, and I never really figured out how to get into a position that would allow me to write policy briefings. In terms of more writing, merely considering the idea of returning to Internet safety issues after almost a decade of research on the topic made me nauseous.

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Caring for Our Sidelines

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Ali Kenner, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.]

What might one find on the sidelines of academia? If you’re the managing editor of an academic journal, such as Cultural Anthropology (CA), the sidelines are rich with activity – trouble-shooting Open Journal Systems and managing content on http://culanth.org; staying up on open access conversations; running CA’s editorial intern program; coordinating various projects and figuring out how best to archive them; overseeing the production of the journal, in print and online; and managing the redesign of CA’s website. You’ll spend untold hours with your email client, and talk about how much time you spend there (this is part of your “busy” talk).

I didn’t see my work with CA as academic, or ethnographic, until recently. “Sidelines” is a fitting concept for the work I do at CA – managing editor by day, and ethnographer – of asthma, yoga, and alternative healthcare systems – by night, and weekend. I told myself I would stay on the sideline just until my partner finished grad school, then we could go on the job market together. But this isn’t honest – CA is much more than a day job for me (especially when you consider how I really spend my nights and weekends). I am compelled by our professional gold standard, the tenure-track position. That’s the endgame for many of us, I think. On the other hand, I love the work I do at CA. It’s an incredible space of production, if not in terms of conventional social science research.

As for my precarious position – I work on a 12-month contract and I ignore this fact. For now. Continue reading

Fluidity, Multiplicity, Contingency: The Shifting Sands of Knowledge Work

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Laurel George, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.]

In this discussion by and about anthropologists working at the boundaries of academia, a reasonable place to start is with a statement of academic situatedness.  But in academia today—and especially on its sidelines—talking about situatedness can be tricky business.  In the traditional U.S. academic trajectory with a tenured academic position as the ultimate goal, a simple name, rank, and affiliation answer was sufficient and expected. Moreover, that small piece of information could offer a good amount of information about one’s intellectual pedigree and leanings, relative degree of success, and likely fields of expertise. For so many today, though,  both within academia in contingent positions and those working outside of academia, describing one’s institutional situadedness requires qualifiying language of  temporality, multiplicity, and fluidity. These qualifications we make, offered apologetically or not, stem, I believe, from the gap between the reality of academic careers in the U.S. today and the ideal(ized) traditional tenure-track career trajectory, which we still hold as the norm.  This despite the fact that those with tenure and on the tenure-track comprise a distinct minority of faculty in U.S. colleges and universities. Recent statistics and studies indicate that somewhere between 65% and 75% of all faculty in U.S. colleges and universities are in part-time or adjunct positions while only 25%-30% are tenured or on the tenure track. And these numbers do not account for those who went into academe aspring to careers that looked like those of their own professors and mentors, but who now work fully or partly outside of academia. The next few weeks will take up these issues as they pertain to the field of anthropology and the practice of ethnography, and in doing so will offer ideas about centers and margins, success and failure, and tradition and innovation.

First, though, a quick look to my academic and professional trajectory, offered as a kind of case study.  After getting an undergraduate degree in anthropology (with a big dose of dance thrown in), I decided to work for a year or two before going for my doctorate in anthropology.  At the encouragement of an esteemed professor, I applied to work in the Dance Program at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), attracted by the possibility of immersion in a completely different world. Months went by with no word from the NEA. I took that as a sign that I’d better get on with the grad school plan without the detours,  so I applied to doctoral programs in anthropology.  Mere days before replies were to go out from graduate programs and almost a year after applying to the NEA, I was called down to Washington, D.C. for a job interview.  I was offered and accepted the job, deferred my acceptance into Rice University’s Cultural Anthropology Ph.D. program, and stayed at the NEA for a year and a half. It was the right move—not only did I learn about arts funding, concert dance in the U.S., and how to work outside of an academic environment, I also gathered information for my eventual doctoral disseration, a multi-site ethnography on contemporary dance in the U.S. which included the NEA as one of the field sites.  (The other field sites were dance organizations and communities of dancers in New York City, where I moved to do fieldwork  in 1997 and have never left.)

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Transnationalism, Interdisciplinarity, Collaboration (Or, A Few First Words on Ethnography On/From the Sidelines)

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Aalok Khandekar, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.]

My scholarly trajectory leading up to these series of posts on an anthropology blog is perhaps somewhat unconventional, and yet, also more straightforwardly located within the aspirational tenure-track model of the academy than some of my fellow contributors here—for the moment, at least. Even though I have worked closely with anthropologists since the earliest days of graduate school, been associated with Cultural Anthropology in good measure (c.f. here), my graduate degree—like quite a few contributors to this series—is in Science and Technology Studies (STS). And my university education prior to that was in Electrical Engineering: at Mumbai University (India) at the Bachelor’s level, and at Pennsylvania State University at the Master’s level. My dissertation research, in turn, went on to investigate the conditions of transnational mobility for Indian engineering students and professionals (between India and the United States): it was designed as a multi-sited ethnography with fieldwork components in Mumbai and in parts of the United States (more on that in my upcoming posts). I received my Ph.D. in STS from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Aug 2010, after which I worked as an Adjunct Professor at my graduate department for a year, and since July 2011, I have been based at the Department of Technology and Society Studies at Maastricht University in the Netherlands: first as a post-doc, and currently in the capacity of a Lecturer.

So, what does doing ethnography on/from the sidelines mean for me? What exactly do the “sidelines” look like when viewed from behind my work desk? In many ways, the sidelines, at present, do not relegate me to the margins of the academic hierarchy. Sure, I did was a freshly-out-of-school looking-for-jobs adjunct at my graduate department for a year. But since, I have been fortunate to find a position, which albeit temporary, affords me all the benefits of a full-time academic scholar: I have a (small) personal research budget, a printing-and-copying budget, regular library access, I don’t have an overly demanding teaching load (my time is evenly split between research and teaching), and I have access to a wide array of institutional resources including research funding specialists and a range of administrative support staff. There are certainly ways in which academic hierarchies do matter, but often, these are equally issues of navigating through a new work environment with a significantly different organization of higher education. My position at present, that is, is hardly anything that can be termed precarious.

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Dude, Where’s My Fieldsite?

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Lane DeNicola]

This post is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.

Last month I was involved as a planning committee member for a neat little event, the annual Anthropology in London Conference.  Each June the anthropology departments at SOAS, Goldsmiths, LSE, UCL, Brunel, and UEL (and occasionally the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) come together as a community for a full day of talks and panels by doctoral students, academic staff, and anthropologists at large (mostly but not exclusively based in London).  Unsurprisingly, the planning committee had wanted the theme for the event to somehow reflect both the current atmosphere of the discipline but also of London, the confluence of the 2012 Summer Olympics, the European economic crisis, and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. The theme we settled on—Certainty? (with a question mark)—struck a resonant and suitably interrogative chord.

If the waxing and waning drive for “certainty” deeply frames the academic profession (e.g. the tenure-track as canonical objective) I suppose I’ve had to contend with only a typical overall level of it, but it rarely feels that way.  When I slid from technical employment and a BS in physics and computer science into the social sciences, it kicked off a cognitive and professional butterfly effect I couldn’t return to order even if I wanted to.  Though several of my graduate mentors were anthropologists, I came not out of an anthropology program but rather a program in science & technology studies.  I suspect that many here would concur with my own (mercifully limited) experience as an STS-person the academic job market: the thaumatrope-like character of the field is usually received within more conventionally-disciplined departments as either powerfully “interdisciplinary” or suspiciously “everywhere and nowhere at once.”

Even my dissertation fieldwork—nine months in north India—largely took the form of participant-observation within a school, specifically an institution for the training of satellite image interpreters.  Most SM readers will be familiar with the often dicey proposition of having to explain their fieldwork to funding organizations or governmental agencies charged with evaluation, auditing, or border control.  It may well be that you can’t throw a rock in South Asia without hitting an anthropologist, but throw satellite images and “school as fieldsite” into the mix and you’re pretty much guaranteed to confuse people before you’ve really gotten anywhere.  If I’d had to choose a one-word theme for that work, Uncertainty! (with an exclamation point) might have worked fairly well.

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Going Adjunct, Or: A Picture of Precarity

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Deepa S. Reddy]

This post is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.

It is said that when the Indian cricketer “iron man” Sunil Gavaskar announced his retirement in 1987, he observed that it’s nicer by far to quit when people still ask “why?” instead of “why not?”

I’d like to think that I quit the tenured position that I’d held for a decade at a similar juncture. Not simply because my research and career trajectories were pointing upwards, but because institutionally things were stable—or should I say, stable enough. Anthropology was accepted as a valued service department key to maintaining multiculturalist credentials; our graduate program was growing organically—enough to justify a new faculty line. And yet it was on a crisp sunny fall 2008 day that a container with most of our belongings left our home in Houston for Pondicherry; the implications of the subprime mortgage crisis were just beginning to manifest themselves, though an increasingly anxious buzz was the only sound on the airwaves. Our Dean was soon to retire, and with him was to go the system of benefaction we’d so long worked with just fine. Big changes were ahead, though we could hardly have predicted their impact at the time: close-to-bone cuts in legislative funding, new initiatives to measure faculty productivity both within and without, new drives to measure the value of service programs like Anthropology by majors enrolled rather than by semester credit hours taught, an apparently new proactiveness from State educational policy-makers that determined, more than ever before, the fates of individual programs.

These are not just idiosyncratic details, specific to our school or to Texas, but rough measures of the sort of dubious “stability” that exists within the public university and that creates spaces for scholarship: “secure” only until the next (financial) crisis or push to fiscal efficiency. This is a condition that probably doesn’t need much elaboration for Savage Minds readers, but I want to pin it as a point of contrast to what we see then as life off the precipice, in the abyss of adjunctdom. The fear of falling, as Barbara Ehrenreich might have described the feeling one gets looking down.

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Ethnography on/from the Sidelines: A Quick Introduction

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Deepa S. Reddy]

Note: Updated on 7/27/2012 with links to all posts contributed as part of this series; please see below. With thanks to Savage Minds admins and readers for a fantastic four weeks.

The idea for this group guest blog on Savage Minds began serendipitously, as I suppose many projects do, with random conversations in hallways or after talks—this time, after a talk I’d just delivered at Rice University’s Department of Anthropology. I’d been asked for material by which to introduce me anew in the place where I grew (professionally) up, to the new students and faculty who had joined after I’d left. I offered the following bits, alongside my CV: after 10 years as tenure-track and then tenured faculty at UH-Clear Lake, I relocated to India in 2008; I continue to work for the University of Houston, however: I teach as an adjunct online and I serve as UH’s liaison in India in an administrative/ counseling/ recruitment-oriented role; I look increasingly to collaborations as the means to make ethnographic research viable, from where I now am situated. A series of conversations with friends and colleagues ensued, face-to-face and virtual, each considering situations such as my own as raising important and increasingly relevant questions about the production of ethnography in the intellectual spaces that line the margins of the academy.

Humph, I remember thinking, but of course. I’d been so immersed in making this relocation to India work as smoothly as it would with a husband still in Houston and a family to care for on my own in India, suddenly a single parent of a sort keeping my professional connections alive and my own research going—so much a participant in this process had I been, I’d neglected any observation/ reflection on what sort of intellectual space it was that I was now occupying, even myself creating, and within which I was attempting to (re-)create “ethnography.” And not just me, but so many colleagues and friends, people I knew and those I’d heard about, who’d left the academy but kept tethers to it, or who’d finished graduate studies and were struggling to get back in on firmer, more independent footing. What might a wider conversation on the precarities of the discipline look like—particularly when we think about just what sorts of intellectual spaces of production are produced as a result? What would ethnography produced from such spaces come to look like?

And so was born, longer story cut short, the conversation to unfold on Savage Minds all July.

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Another Occupy is Possible

A guest post by Levi Jacobs.

black marker, brown cardboard, red flags, blue jeans

sage, cigarettes, sweat mix with city smog and fried food:

in a circle we stand, breaths fogging, arms raised,

lie fragile under layers of tarp, blanket and winter night,

layers of poverty, police, and political scrutiny–

the sun sets fire to polluted streams, raises

factory stacks like charred fingers clutching sky:

powerlessness and power war in the returned Gaze of the cops,

antipathy, anger, appreciation in the honks of passing cars,

(never) doubting a small group of people can change the world.

Occupy is on our minds. With the May issue of American Ethnologist featuring articles on Occupy, and the New York Times noting recent social science interest in the movement, Occupy seems back on the anthropological radar—just as it is dropping off many screens outside academia. While this may just be a symptom of the speed with which our research and publishing tends to move, I’d argue there’s a better reason why anthropologists are researching and writing on Occupy. Early on, we maybe all felt we knew what it was about: economic inequality, the bailout of the rich, the newly-homeless foreclosed-on middle class and a permanent protest of all this, starting with Zucotti Park. As Occupy encampments sprung up nationally, then internationally, then started to get closed down, many of us became less and less certain of what Occupy is really about—homeless issues? Direct democracy? The banking system, or capitalism in general? Reform or revolution? It’s difficult to get a read on Occupy, not only because the interests of ‘the ninety-nine percent’ seem so broad, but also because there are multiple ninety-nine percents, with each Occupy locality made up of local people working autonomously on local issues, as well as translocal ones they might share with the larger Occupy movement. Is it even a movement? Towards what? Even locally, the diversity of concerns, goals and people involved in Occupy make this a hard question to answer. Continue reading

How fast to an Anthropology Ph.D.?

It seems universities everywhere are looking to cut down the amount of time it takes to earn a graduate degree. A story in Inside Higher Ed reports on the latest effort:

[Russell Berman] and five other professors at the university have produced a paper that calls for a major rethinking at Stanford — a reduction in the time taken to graduate by Ph.D. candidates in the humanities, and preparing them for careers within and beyond the academy. The professors at Stanford aren’t just talking about shaving a year or so off doctoral education, but cutting it down to four or five years — roughly half the current time for many humanities students.

This includes getting an MA (they suggest a two year review to decide “which students will advance to candidacy, and which will receive a terminal M.A.”). Now I can’t remember where I read it, but I believe that the average time to Ph.D. in anthropology is roughly what they say it is in the humanities: about nine years. How feasible is it that this time could be cut in half?

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