Who will hold us in their hands? Precarity and the scientific career in East Africa
Branwyn Poleykett (University of Exeter )
Paper short abstract:
Drawing attention to different quotidian types of non work conducted in scientific workplaces, this paper explores how theories of precarity can be used to analyse the lives and careers of East African scientists who seek to secure and stabilise the symbolic and economic value of their work.
Paper long abstract:
This paper examines precarity as a condition of labour and daily existence in East Africa and explores how theories of precarity can be used to analyse the lives and careers of African scientists who seek to secure and stabilise the symbolic and economic value of their work. While the postcolonial period is conventionally narrated as a progressive loss of the professional possibilities of the stable and continuous career - a loss which engenders different forms of nostalgia and mourning - the accounts of East African scientists run counter to this narrative and nostalgia for "possibility" is inflected by class. In this paper I examine the appeal of a time of precarity for those who feel they are uniquely equipped to prosper in the uncertain and illicit interstices between different kinds of work. Under conditions of professional precarity the conditions of success have come to appear opaque and distinctly arbitrary. Scientists weigh the risks of strategies such as migration or educational investment against uncertain potential gains and frequently find themselves stuck in strategising. I empirically consider the bodily experience of the "meantime" between the past and a future of achievement and success. I examine the bodily experience of different kinds of "non-work" (Paulsen, 2013); the arrested labour, simulated labour, empty labour and appropriated time which all figure as practices and strategies with which to question and reconfigure the value and meaning of work.
The uncertain bodily relations of contemporary economic practice