Accepted Paper:

Mobility as precarity in contemporary academia: notes on South Asian social scientists building an academic career in Europe  


Vinicius Kauê Ferreira (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)

Paper short abstract:

This paper addresses the question of how non-established South Asian researchers building a career in Europe lead a mobile life across different countries in a context of growing precarization of academia. It takes into account the current dominance of short-term, non-renewable contracts that prompt scholars to mobile lives in order to reflect on how the experience of kinship and conjugality become specially complicated aspects of one’s life.

Paper long abstract:

As “academic mobility” becomes one of the watchwords of contemporary scientific policies, universities and research institutions in the global North adopt new strategies to attract “talented” foreign scholars. In this context, in which historical intellectual circulations between Europe and its ancient colonies are strengthened and resiginified, a growing number of South Asian researchers are recruited as postdoctoral fellows at European institutions. At the same time, European institutions are reshaped by pervasive managerial practices based on the notions of “flexibility” and “accountability”, which are translated into the proliferation of short-term contracts as the dominant model for the recruiting of their academic staff. Those “academic workers” are often postdoctoral fellows. Although both of these phenomena – that is, international mobility and neo-liberalization of academia – have been object of a growing amount of research, all these efforts have been analysing them separately; little attention, if any, has been paid to the complex connections between them.

Having said that, this paper explores the experience of continuous and indefinite mobility amongst South Asian social scientists who seeks to build an academic career in Europe, with a special focus on Germany. Considering the fact that a proliferation of short-term contracts has meant a shrinking of permanent positions in European academia, this paper gives an account of how these relatively young scholars have been prompted to build “postdoctoral careers” in different countries, and how lives can be lived in such circumstances of indefinite mobility. More specifically, it considers the implications of this circulation for two fundamental and related aspects of life, namely conjugality and kinship. Drawing on ethnographical work and in-depth interviews, this paper discusses the case of South Asian scholars trying to build not only a career, but also a family on the road; as well as the case of those who did not manage to. In sum, it argues that the growing precarization of academic jobs in conjugation with contemporary scientific policies has meant a particular kind of precarization of life to these scholars who are part of such historical circulations between Europe and South Asia.

Panel RM-MRB05
Migration in a world of turmoil