Accepted Paper:

Leaving precarity? The emotions of quitting contingent academia  


Lara McKenzie (The University of Western Australia)

Paper short abstract:

Based on interviews with precarious academics, observations in universities, and an analysis of academic 'quit lit', this paper explores narratives of leaving and being left behind in contingent academia. I analyse the emotional dimensions of leaving, including longing, love, shame, loss, and anger.

Paper long abstract:

In February of 2018, Erin Bartram, who held a PhD in history and had spent several years searching for a tenure-track position in the United States, wrote an article on her decision to leave academia. In it, she argued for the need for her, and others, to grieve the epidemic of losses to universities' academic departments when precarious scholars leave their disciplines (Bartram 2018). Bartram's article—which was so widely read that it crashed her website—was the latest in what has become a steady stream of academic 'quit lit'. Like other such pieces written by precarious academics, her article tapped into the emotions of quitting: the pain, grief, and rage of thwarted desire for an academic career. Unlike many others, she explicitly sought to analyse these emotions, grief in particular.

Taking Bartram's (2018) lead, in this paper I draw on interviews with precarious academics in Australia, my observations and experiences in universities, and an analysis of academic 'quit lit'. Through people's narratives of leaving and being left behind, I pursue an analysis of the emotional dimensions of leaving academia, including feelings of longing and love as well as shame, loss, and anger. Drawing on scholarship on emotions, precarity, and universities, I question how leaving is understood, felt, and enacted by precarious academics, why people do (or do not) leave, and ask what might be done about these losses.

Bartram, Erin 2018, "The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind." Erin Bartram: Doomed to Distraction 11 February

Panel Plenary C
Early Career Scholars Forum: im/mobility, uncertainty and hope - critical reflections on academic precarity