EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

(Plenary C)
Early Career Scholars Forum: im/mobility, uncertainty and hope - critical reflections on academic precarity
Location Aula Magna-Auditorium
Date and Start Time 17 Aug, 2018 at 14:30
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Georgeta Stoica (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement - IRD France) email
  • Sabine Strasser (University of Bern) email
  • Gabriella Körling (Stockholm University) email

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Discussant Vita Peacock and Theodoros Rakopoulos

Short abstract

This plenary aims to present and discuss precarity through the lens of different experiences and choices of staying, moving and settling in different academic settings and contexts. The plenary welcomes theoretically grounded ethnographic case studies and experienced "episodes" of precarious lives.

Long abstract

In recent years, precarity has become a new standard on the labour market and an urgent topic for discussion and research. Precarity in academia, a symptom of larger political and economic transformations, is also gaining increasing attention as a structural problem that has negative effects on occupational health (causing stress and anxiety). At the same time as precarity is directly linked to risk and uncertain choices for future careers, it also needs to be understood from an intersectional perspective that takes for instance gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, class and age into account. By discussing and unfolding different types of precarious lives through the lens of different experiences and choices of staying, moving – including mobility in the search for employment and immobility in the context of hardening migration regimes - and settling in different academic and national contexts, this plenary invites proposals from precarious scholars in order to explore the following questions: How is im/mobile precarity produced at different institutional levels and in different national and political contexts? How is it experienced by the scholars’ community whether tenured-track or non-tenure track research staff? What are the implications at a personal and professional level of long years of academic precarity? What are the possibilities of solidarity and collective mobilisation? How can we engage with the casualization of labour outside of academia? The plenary is intended to be an opportunity for EASA members to discuss and share reflexions on these timely problems.

Proposals will be evaluated based on their scholarly quality and contribution to the theme of the panel. Considering that precarity is a phenomenon that is relevant to different stages of the career, we encourage submissions to this Plenary from not only scholars that are at the early stage of their career (about to complete and have recently completed their PhD) but also scholars dealing with the different forms and levels of precarity. After a selection process, which may involve an interview, we will select three or four candidates who will make 20-25 minute presentations during the plenary, which will be followed by a discussion.

Please note that participation in the Early Career Scholars Forum does not exclude you from submitting your work to other panels.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Leaving precarity? The emotions of quitting contingent academia

Author: Lara McKenzie (The University of Western Australia) email
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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.

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 http://erinbartram.com/uncategorized/the-sublimated-grief-of-the-left-behind/.

The imperative to be mobile for academics: Negotiating career, personal life, and transnational mobility

Author: Martine Schaer (University of Neuchâtel) email
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Short abstract

Transnational mobility is often presented as indispensable for a successful academic career. Building on a research study conducted at three universities in Europe and USA, this paper discusses difficulties that young academics confront when trying to reconcile career, personal life, and mobility.

Long abstract

Transnational mobility is often presented as indispensable for a successful academic career. In Switzerland and beyond, many academics thus integrate mobility in their career trajectories. Apart from its 'imperative' character, academic mobility differs from other forms of highly-skilled mobility in that it is organized without institutional support and on the precarious basis of fixed-term contracts/fellowships (except for professorships). Academic mobility also triggers a particular dynamic whereby it often becomes difficult for the academics to return where their mobility trajectories started, without disrupting their careers. Furthermore, as with other forms of mobility, research showed that academic mobility is highly gendered and has important effects in (re-)producing or transforming gender inequalities.

Building on a research project conducted at three universities - Zurich (Switzerland), UCLA (USA), and Cambridge (UK) - this paper discusses the mobility experiences of young academics and their partners. Through the portraits of academics whose mobile trajectories are emblematic of today's academic paths, we examine the difficulties they confront when trying to reconcile career, personal life, and mobility. Furthermore, we show the role of gender in these negotiations, as well as the constraints that structural contexts and gendered societal expectations put onto these mobile academics. Overall, when mobility episodes (and/or fixed-term appointments) follow one another with no satisfactory ending in sight, academics express the possibility to leave academia altogether or move to a less fulfilling position elsewhere to better attune their personal life.

"It's mobility for precarity": ethnographic considerations on South Asian scholars in Europe

Author: Vinicius Ferreira (École des Hautes Études en Siences Sociales) email
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Short abstract

Drawing on an ongoing PhD research on South Asian social scientists building an academic career in Europe, this paper explores the experience of continuous and indefinite mobility amongst South Asian social scientists who seeks to build not only a career, but also a life on the road.

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. Drawing on an ongoing PhD research on South Asian social scientists trying to build an academic career in Europe, with a special focus on the German context career, this paper explores the experience of continuous and indefinite mobility amongst South Asian social scientists who seeks to build not only a career, but also a life on the road. We ask how lives can be lived in a context of proliferation of short-term contracts engendering indefinite mobility. In sum, it argues that the growing precarization of academic jobs in conjugation with contemporary scientific policies of mobility has meant a particular kind of precarization of life to these scholars who are part of historical circulations between Europe and South Asia.

Between Privilege and Precarity

Author: Christian Rogler email
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Short abstract

Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork at two university departments in Austria and Denmark, this paper discusses how early-career anthropologists experience the unleashed competition they face which confronts them with ever growing performance pressures and precarious working conditions.

Long abstract

Academic precarity is a multi-faceted phenomenon: While academics are increasingly and continuously subjected to short-term and part-time employment and expected to be repeatedly internationally mobile, developments which undermine the stability of both their economic situation as well as of their social networks, they are relatively free to self-determine their work to a high degree (both concerning its content as well as its organisation). Therefore, (particularly early-career) academics find themselves in the challenging situation of pursuing a seemingly privileged occupation demanding an extremely high commitment and specialisation of them, while at the same time struggling with insecure employment conditions, uncertain career perspectives and inadequate career alternatives. At the same time, they face an increasingly high competition for both internally as well as externally funded academic positions which inflates the demands they face for obtaining these positions. Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork at two university departments for social anthropology in Austria and Denmark, this paper discusses how these phenomena are experienced by early-career academics and how they intertwine, confronting these academics with new possibilities for (temporary) academic careers on the one hand and new hierarchies and dependencies on the other hand that leave them vulnerable to exploitation by both their superiors and themselves.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.