Sunday, April 1, 2012

On the precariat

Among candidates in the "Naming Games" (a periodic event among adjunct/ NTT/ contingent faculty), precariat and variants on it keep come up more as the tanks of globalization roll through our cavalry lines. Back in 2002 when I was doing the Valencia AAUP Chapter newsletter and webpage, I fancied "precarious faculty" for its "call a spade a spade" directness. At that time, Canadian NTT faculty were called that as often as sessional. Every one working without a safety net.

Since then, the global precariat has grown, extended increasingly to "knowledge workers" of all stripes, and become a more widely identifiable term. It's back in the running. In the UK and NL, the Precarious Workers Brigade brings together artists, designers, writers, teachers, "insecure" university lecturers, freelance web workers ~ knowledge workers in education and culture.

Whether or not a variant or some other terms catches on among us remains to be seen. Self naming of a large, diverse group is ultimate crowdsourcing. By definition, no individual, group, organization or even consortium of organizations controls the process. Making it stick later with the Department of Labor is yet another matter.

In the meantime, I'm exploring the precariat here and around the world, primarily but not exclusively, knowledge workers (go Gramsci!) to aggregate and curate sources. I added sites and alerts to the feed reader to bundle and widgetize, started a Storify series (first entry below) and am also developing a "Welcome to the Precariat" newspaper in


  1. I have a suggestion for nomenclature - (professional) academic. Are there peripheral attorneys, adjunct psychiatrists, precarious engineers, "precariat" physicians, actuaries, pharmacists.....

    We do not need a new name. The exercise would be amusing if the referent were not the key labour of the pillar of civilization.

    What we need is a a new paradigm for HE. We need to discard the university-government-union hybrid in favour of another - I suggest the professional.

    But certainly I care more about the "name" of the next vehicle for the provision of HE commodities than I do the name for our labour under the current one - an unsustainable, redundant functionary called the modern university.



  2. Professional Academic, yes, and as much as the paradigm is what needs changing, it wouldn't hurt to have a name that is easy to search, for other to remember and a likely sell to DoL. Unfortunately more hangs on what they call us and how defined than just feeling good. Consistent naming also matters for information gathering and analysis ~ the data thing. A multitude of names suits colleges because it obscures how many of us there really are.

    Have you posted this over at Josh Boldt's Copy & Paste or the Adjunct Project.

    That said, like it or not, we are also precariat labor along with artists, musicians, freelance writers, tutors, translators, copy editors, etc. Knowledge workers are the latest and fastest growing section of the precariat. If there is any advantage to working together, then we would be fools not to take it.

  3. I agree - as a philosopher, I appreciate the power of concepts. I have not posted at CP and AP - thank you for the suggestion.

    My point, however, might better be presented by saying that under the professional paradigm we would simply be academics. There are not the distinctions that riddle academia in the professions.

    There exist, of course, the formal stages of entry into the profession - that ALL who are (once educationally qualified - by academics no less!) required to undergo. However, once admitted, an-attorney-is-an-attorney-is-an-attorney (for example)- each worthy of equal respect, designation and remuneration (based on merit).

    It might simplify the stats too - or better yet, make the sort of desperate interest we have in them at the moment unnecessary...


  4. sorry about not seeing the notice sooner. I had more mail than usual this morning and the post notice was down a screen, out of sight.

    I suspect the convoluted distinctions are built into academic culture, all the more defensive for being under siege.

    I spent too many years in areas where demonstrating competence was the primary credential to take Byzantine ritual as seriously as expected.

    Not who work data and analytics (stats on 'roids) are uncritical of them. Increasingly more who really understand them acknowledge their limitations and question the ethics of how they are used. That makes me wonder about the believers, fools or self deluded by self interest?


pull up a soapbox and share your 2¢

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...