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2017, May 31: PANEL at ACCUTE 2017: Research & Precarity in the Humanities
Research and Precarity
Co-organized and co-chaired by Dr. Emily Christina Murphy (Queen's University; U Victoria) and Professor Lai-Tze Fan (Lingnan University)
- Emily and Lai-Tze acknowledge this Indigenous land in Toronto, Canada, in which the seminar is taking place
- we discuss our motivations: what does it mean to stay in academia, academic precarity, and still decide to do research? How do we do it?
Ross Bullen - "Research for Nothing and Alt-Ac for Free: The Neoliberal University and the Surplus Value of Alternative Academic Careers"
at OCAD, talks about his teaching load, 70% teaching, 30% service
everything that isn't teaching becomes that other thing; research suddenly put in the slot of service
- his own experience as a sessional, then as an LTA, and now as a full-time and theoretically permanent teaching intensive stream lecturer
- Alt-Ac careers for practicality but also in capacity as ACCUTE's contract faculty caucus representative
starting point for conversation
extract surplus value through research and alt-ac outcomes to maintain institutional structure
- despite the fact that the jobs related to this kind of stuff are precarious
Publication towards Tenure-Track (TT)
associations of academic publications as if they are the trajectory towards a job
pressures to publish something, anything, for the job market, even thought the job market is far more complicated
home departments brag about grad student research as good promotion
- reflects well on the institution and this is uncompensated research work
for precarious academics and in contract positions, continuing one's research becomes the only way to indicate that one's work is not yet stale
questioning of what one's book is "worth"
- Bullen asks: in what sense and to whom?
- not a money-making venture except that it's crucial to one's professional success
- the book has no particular value for him--it doesn't change anything for him
- one needs a book for tenure, so one writes a book--the motivation is a job first, not research
the tenure book is increasingly replaced by the job interview book
if someone doesn't get a job, what is that book now worth?
would the book be written in the same way if someone knew it wasn't going to get them a TT job?
largely positive, especially re: moral incumbency to help students get a job after grad school bc they're not getting academic jobs
- "the good version of alt-ac"
- see: McGill white paper on the future of the graduate student in the digital humanities
are we now explicitly training grad students for alt-ac specifically?
- who is providing this training?
"horrible creep of credentialism"
PhD becomes incidental to the job the grad student will actually get
for grad students now, does training and teaching involve how to rebrand their degree?
alt-ac work will pretend that grad students will find a job on their own as if it was the grand plan, but it's a neoliberal push towards inflated precarity
see: How the University Works by Marc Bousquet
Felan Parker -- "Precarious Games in the Academy and Elsewhere"
talks about the trajectory of grad school to postdoc
has always been applying for stuff, has pushed from one thing to another
now LTA at St. Mike's at U of T
- 60% teaching, 20% service, 20% research ("professional development," having to do with pedagogy)
- so a paper doesn't count as professional development, but a teaching seminar would count
talks about his IG Development Grant on infrastructure and indie games
- also looks at the cultural ecosystem of games
- uncanny similarities to academia: people not working with a lot of capital
- indie as a descriptor is very compromised at this time
indiepocalypse: over-saturated market for indie games
- are we in an acapocalypse?
- are we possibly in situations of self-exploitation?
Romantic seduction of academia, even as we have panels on precarity
in understanding early career researchers, put a lot of time and energy into projects that may or may not turn out
- "venture labour"
opportunity costs and the constant hustle
- "what other opportunities are you missing out on?"
idea of securing a post-doc as a feeling of safety, but ended up kept trying to go up the ladder and
- all that time he spent on an IG application, if he wasn't successful, he could have published a paper and offered more "deliverables" required of his post-doc
emotional turmoil of the opportunity cost: the haunting of "what if that was the one" when you don't have time to do everything and have to choose
- esp for free labour like sample syllabi in job applications
"beer with friends" effect: in trying to network, a lot of indie developers
cultural intermediaries and relational labour: making a connection with people who can connect you to the right people
- journalists, curators, platform-holders
- academics: editors, conference organizers, supervisors, etc.
- sounds like something that happens to you, but it is something you do: it is labour
see: Emma Vossen -- "Publish or Perish" essay
Heather Murray - "Stabilizing Precariate Research"
has been talking about precarity since 1986
has seen that members of precariate and their supporters are approaching situation of incredible energy, creativity, info sharing, theorization, personal support networks
wants to focus on a small study of 40 English departments across Canada
- whether, how, and in what ways they fund precariat research
- questionniare to chairs of English: spells out different categories of employment
- "by sessional, I mean this," and didn't include grad instructors (bc had research funding by virtue of being grad students)
what entitlements to research funding simply by virtue of teaching in a dept?
- are LTAs or stipendiary instructors eligible for research and travel funds?
- does dept/uni have conference travel funding for instructors on course-by-course basis?
- are you aware of conference travel funding to which course-by-course teachers can apply? Maybe by the union?
- are you aware of situations where LTA or stipendiary instructors are involved with or supported in projects coordinated largely by full-time faculty?
- are there other initiatives that dept has taken to encourage research by LTA or stipendiary instructors?
- some were simple: no, no, no
- some offered a lot of context
Lai-Tze's note: While extensive notes were taken, out of respect for Heather's wishes to keep her research for future publication, these notes will not be shared publicly on Lai-Tze's research Wiki.
- while LTAs seem to enjoy more support in larger unis, stipendary hires seem to do better in mid-sized universities
Q & A
Q. Leif: collaborative work in aligning different types of labour with precarity
- makes reference to Foucault's identification of 1970 switch in relationship with government (gov takes care of you) to physiocrats (governmentality; entrepreneur story)
- imposes understanding that we should look at multiple forms of labour
- question is about expenditure of energy from precarius site
- without an institutional home, he has to apply to the government
- the values, not just research in career but also politically, has a specific kind of valence
- certain political work could be detrimental: no one would want to see the kinds of things you would say in a research paper
- why are we not talking about how research is political and how it affects other job-attainment?
A. Felan: Emma Vossen decided to become a critic of this situation, highly politicized
- ended up being trotted out as a SSHRC storyteller
- SSHRC denied her a post-doc while promoting this kind of work from her
- his work is politicized but can be spun to be palletable
A. Ross: right, these political disagreements don't really exist in other places
- especially union work
Q. Ann Gagne: for Ross: on stale research and publishing, at what point does stale overcome the publishing?
- has a friend with very prolific publishing history, but doesn't have a job, does this count as stale?
A. there's no path to follow in terms of not being stale
- escaping staleness question is a bit misleading
Q. Hannah McGregor: artists are also working on training, doing work for free, actors going to auditions that may result in nothing
- is there a difference: is one way in which model of academic publishing and labour is diff is that there's no sense that you can be a moderately successful academic?
- either inside or outside and your critique is helpful, or you're outside and your critique is powerless
A. Felan: might apply to people who aren't depending on academia, maybe have a side job
- with one foot in academia but without research pressure
- a lot of people who do really well and don't burn out are the ones who have a day job treat academia almost as if it's a side-job
A. Heather: regularized teaching-stream jobs, so that colleges are a target and changing enormously
- so a lot of students are taking this route, they want to stay in big cities, so they go to Humber and Sheridan (in Toronto)
- emergence of "ac-alt-ac": not a lot of mobility of universities at the level of teaching staff; the mobility is in the administrative level
- the people who loop out into alt-ac or out of academy into gov policy work, or loop into academic administration, are then by virtue of being around academy brought back into it to teach
- looping back around into teaching positions as she didn't expect