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Submit a Manuscript to the Journal
Teaching in Higher Education

For a Special Issue on
Precarity and illusions of certainty in higher education teaching

Abstract deadline
05 December 2022

Manuscript deadline
31 May 2023

Cover image - Teaching in Higher Education

Special Issue Editor(s)

Peter Kahn, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
[email protected]

Marie-Pierre Moreau, Anglia Ruskin University
[email protected]

Jessica Gagnon, University of Manchester
[email protected]

Submit an ArticleVisit JournalArticles

Precarity and illusions of certainty in higher education teaching

For this Special Issue of Teaching in Higher Education we invite articles that explore issues pertaining to precarity and illusions of certainty within teaching in higher education.

The term ‘precarity’ has been used since at least the 1950s in theorising the nature of insecure employment relations (Millar, 2017). Bourdieu (1998), for instance, used the term to refer to a specific set of conditions that constitute a labour regime, one in which workers face job insecurity, unstable working hours, low pay and so on. For Standing (2011), meanwhile, precarity referred to workers who are ‘living in the present, without a secure identity or sense of development achieved through work and lifestyle’ (p. 16). He also offered an associated class category, the precariat, for those whose working conditions are characterised by precarity. The ongoing commercialisation of higher education, indeed, has seen increasing levels of casualisation in the working conditions of those who teach in higher education. For instance, this commercialisation is evident in an increased usage of companies located in the private sector to support the delivery of both online learning and (pre-sessional) English-language support. A growing proportion of staff are employed on a temporary basis as adjuncts or assistants—an academic precariat.

Ettlinger (2007) argued, though, that there is value in considering precarity in relation to both macro-level structures in general and the micro-spaces of daily life. On this reading, precarity becomes ‘a condition of vulnerability relative to contingency and the inability to predict’ (p320). In taking such a stance, Ettlinger (2007) built on earlier work by Butler (2004), who highlighted the interdependent nature of human sociality, an interdependence that carries with it vulnerability. Such analysis also fits well with the stance taken by MacIntyre (1999), who highlighted the importance of developing virtues that pertain to an acknowledged dependence on others. Millar (2017) argued, nonetheless, that it is helpful to distinguish a general condition of vulnerability (i.e. an ontological precariousness) from the precarity that is considered as a condition of a labour regime. Such a distinction, indeed, is helpful in ensuring that precarity is not considered through a narrow lens that focuses on secure forms of work associated with wealthy nations in the Global North.

In terms of significant macro-level structures (beyond labour regimes) that give rise to vulnerabilities, Fraser (2014) referred to a crisis that is in play across the world that is linked to ecological destruction of the biosphere, an economy grounded in paper values and a crisis in social cooperation. The impact of climate change, for instance, is being keenly felt by universities across the world, whether connected to natural disasters or to migration—resulting at times in a dislocation of entire universities and a consequent impact on teaching staff. In terms of a crisis in social cooperation, the organisation of higher education is challenging in countries that are subject to ongoing conflict (or to the aftermath of earlier conflict), whether in Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Somalia or elsewhere. The crisis in social cooperation also manifests itself in relation to macro-level inequities linked to ethnicity, gender and sexuality. For instance, racism may be an underlying issue in terms of the extent to which teachers are exposed to abusive social media campaigns. It is also now well established that there is significant scope for bias on the basis of both ethnicity and gender to occur in student evaluations of teaching.

A consideration of micro-level structures, meanwhile, led Ettlinger (2007) to suggest that there is a tendency for people to seek certainty in response to the feeling that some aspect of life is precarious. Strategies at the micro-level that she identified as supporting this quest include those that pertain to classification (keeping groups apart), homogenization (suffocating difference within a group) and legitimization (shoring up power relations based on the other two strategies). These strategies are typically employed to try to create more certain futures. In terms of higher education teaching, there is scope for regimes predicated on quality assurance, learning analytics, performance metrics, notions of excellence and so on to promise more than can be delivered in terms of enhancing student learning. For Ettlinger (2007), such strategies characteristically offer an illusion of certainty rather than any transformation of the conditions of precariousness.

While there has been extensive discussion around precarity in relation to work in higher education, only limited attention has been paid to the implications of precariousness for teaching in higher education. This Special Issue seeks to expand the boundaries around precarity in higher education teaching. In doing so, we agree with Butler that ‘Lives are by definition precarious: they can be expunged at will or by accident; their persistence is in no sense guaranteed. In some sense, this is a feature of all life, and there is no thinking of life which is not precarious […] Precarity designates the politically induced condition in which certain populations suffer from failing social and economic networks of support and become differentially exposed to injury, violence and death.’ (2009, p. 45)

Examples of article themes

  • We envision contributions to the Special Issue will problematise HE teaching in light of critical framings such as those that follow. Please note that this is far from an exhaustive list of possible framings.
  • What are the manifestations of precarity in the contractual status of those who teach in higher education, and how is their teaching affected as a result?
  • Are curricula framed in specific ways when a significant proportion of the teaching staff are employed on precarious contracts?
  • What consequences pertain when those engaged in teaching are subject to insecure forms of identity?
  • What challenges are reflexively experienced by teachers in higher education who are subject to precarity?
  • What conditions of vulnerability play out in higher education teaching? Are there ways in which it is possible to work towards a transformation of these conditions?
  • What are the phenomena that underpin precariousness in the micro-spaces of daily life for those teaching in universities?
  • What illusions of certainty play out in relation to teaching in higher education?
  • How do experiences of vulnerability in teaching play out in relation to social class, ethnicity, gender, disability and other identity markers?
  • How are precarity, uncertainty and vulnerability resisted by professional organisations, activists’ networks, and by individuals who teach in higher education?

Special Issue Editors

Peter Kahn, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK. [email protected]

Marie-Pierre Moreau, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK. [email protected]

Jessica Gagnon, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK. [email protected]

TiHE Scope and Aims

Accepted articles must be aligned with TiHE’s aims and scope.

Points of Departure articles option

As well as research articles and conceptual pieces, we also welcome shorter articles as part of our ‘Points of Departure’ section of the journal.

Submission Instructions

Potential authors are asked to submit their extended abstracts of up to 700 words by 5pm GMT on Monday 5th December 2022 at the following location: https://forms.gle/3HVZ12CePqxFd3F27

Abstracts should provide an outline of the proposed paper, including its empirical, theoretical and/or philosophical basis, originality, and its importance within teaching in higher education specifically. We actively welcome abstracts which target the themes of the call from across the globe and from a range of disciplines.

An online event will be held on 17th October 2022 from 4.15pm (GMT+1) with the Special Issue Editors, allowing those considering making a submission to understand the main focus of the special issue and the nature of those studies that the journal publishes. Please register for the event at: https://TiHESI22.eventbrite.co.uk

For those abstracts that are accepted, the deadline for submission for full papers (via the journal’s online submission system at https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cthe20/current) will be 5pm GMT 31st May 2023.

For advice on submitting a paper, please see: https://teachinginhighereducation.wordpress.com/seven-questions-for-potential-authors-how-to-get-published-in-teaching-in-higher-education/

Accepted articles will be published as Online First after they successfully complete the review process (this is expected from onwards April 2023 onwards). The special issue will be published in Autumn 2023.

Authors from a range of contexts are encouraged to apply, including those who are early career researchers, based in the Global South, on precarious contracts, with no institutional affiliation or so on are warmly encouraged to submit abstracts.

Special Issue timetable

Q&A with Special Issue editors for prospective authors 4.15-5pm (GMT+1) 17th October 2022
Deadline for abstracts 5pm GMT Monday 5th December 2022
Decision on abstracts Wednesday 21st December 2022
Submission of draft papers 5pm GMT 31st May 2023


Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article

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