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31 March 2021
The Academic Precariat: Understanding Life and Labour in the Neoliberal Academy
Social scientists have recognised and written widely on the problems of the neoliberal academy and the emergence of the ‘entrepreneurial university’, which has been theorised as a product of academic capitalism (Slaughter and Leslie, 1997; Slaughter and Rhoades, 2004). Contributions have included critical standpoints on the effects on publishing and writing (Billig, 2013), emotional and physical wellbeing (Gill, 2009), and career progression (Loveday, 2018). Discussions of these and similar issues became more widespread and transitioned into more everyday, mundane, and radical forms during the UK-wide industrial action taking place in 2018 and again in early 2020.
Scheduled for publication in January 2022, the special issue acts as a focal point for theories, concepts, and experiences of precarity and casualisation in the academy and how these relate to discussions of neoliberalism, marketisation, bureaucratisation and new forms of solidarity. It will also encompass work linking these matters to knowledge production, identity, legitimacy, and validity in the academy. It is in part an invitation for new imaginings, which are especially welcome from precarious academics themselves.
By expanding on these ideas and bringing new perspectives to these practices, we intend this special issue to carry on the productive work of existing scholarship that examines precarity as it is encountered in the academy. We hope that the special issue will build on and extend such studies as Read and Leathwood’s ‘Tomorrow’s a Mystery’ (2018), in which there is a call for academics to – with ‘urgency’ – ‘focus their gaze within’ the academy in order to work for a prosperous and socially just future.
Contributions may include, but are not limited to, the following:
Theme 1- Neoliberalism in theory and in practice
- What does neoliberalisation of the university/academy really mean? To what extent does this term remain useful? Can it be used rigorously? Does it need fine-tuning or re-specifying, and if so how can this be done?
- What is the relationship between knowledge production, legitimacy, and precarity? To what extent does precarity affect individuals’ abilities to produce knowledge and be understood as disciplinarily legitimate, and what are the wider effects of neoliberalisation and casualisation on the forms of knowledge that can be produced and legitimated within the contemporary academy?
- How might we expand our theorisations of neoliberalism and precarity by considering them in terms of the concept of the global or international academy?
Theme 2- Understanding precarity within existing inequalities
- How can we understand precarity and casualisation in ways that are more intersectional and attuned to other forms of inequality? How does precarity in the academy relate to emergent forms of labour and changes to working practices in other employment sectors?
- In what ways might attending to casualisation and precarity in the light of (forced) mobility, migration, movement, and language/Anglocentrism bring new understandings of lived experiences?
- What strategies exist, or may be developed, for individuals to resist continued or increased precarization within the neoliberal academy? What practices and processes may be enacted to ensure that these modes of resistance are inclusive for all?
Theme 3- Precarity and the lifecourse: reflecting on career stage and solidarities
- To what extent are there commonalities between the current struggles of precarity and the experiences and standpoints of older/more senior colleagues who experienced forms of precarity and casualisation during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s?
- How can we rethink the concept of solidarity to better function in neoliberalised institutions, and support individuals and groups oppressed by such structures?
- To what extent can there be solidarity between hourly-paid lecturers, working across multiple institutions, and more securely-employed academics? How might we use the conceptual tools we have as social scientists to foster cross-hierarchical bonds of solidarity and approach precarity with an ethics of care?
The guest editors are keen to invite contributions from a range of scholars, particularly from those who focus on the relationship between casualisation and other sources of inequity in the academy such as racism, sexism, Anglocentrism, classism, and ableism. Also welcome are contributions that focus on precarity in academia beyond the UK, focused on other countries or calling upon international comparison.
The guest editors are aware that this call comes amid a time of global crisis and personal difficulty for everyone. We know that lockdown and stay at home orders in operation mean that we are all coping with new and often trying work situations and environments. We also recognise that we may face extended disruption to our lives, our employment and our plans over the period of submission.
We are aware that current conditions are far from normal and bring new difficulties to bear, with serious implications for carrying out research and writing. We will be attentive to this and strive to support and include everyone who wishes to respond to this call
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Well ahead of the deadline for paper submissions, the guest editors invite one-page outline proposals to reach them by Friday 17th July 2020. Proposals should be one A4 page maximum and contain a title and the author name/s, affiliation/s and a contact email address.
Please send outline proposals to all three guest editors: Sarah Burton ([email protected]), Rachel Handforth ([email protected]) and Benjamin Bowman ([email protected]). The guest editors are also happy to discuss ideas prior to this deadline.
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