Tag Archives: contingency

A day for adjuncts

In case you didn’t know, today is National Adjunct Walkout Day.  If you need to catch up, here’s a good piece from Democracy Now.  For some more background, check out this recent piece from Inside Higher Ed.  It’s a good day to think about all those adjuncts, lecturers, part-timers and other contingent workers in academia–and what the university is, perhaps, versus what it should be.

Most importantly, I think, it’s time for those who are doing relatively well, and in relatively stable positions, to think about the current labor situation in academia, and how that is affecting the system as a whole.  As Sarah Kendzior argues, this is everyone’s problem, not just those who are working those low-paying, contingent academic jobs.  If we’re going to do something about this issue, it’s going to require attention–and solidarity–across the academic ranks.  The tenured, the retired, comfortable, and the secure need to pay attention and speak up…right alongside these adjuncts and others who are putting themselves out there to raise awareness.  Now, onto some links and excerpts (from me and others).  Please feel free to share your links, comments, and thoughts below. Continue reading

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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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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