Contingent Imaginations

When I expressed doubt about the job market to one colleague, she advised me, with total seriousness, to “re-evaluate what work means” and to consider “post-work imaginaries”.

This quote from our latest posting, an account by a recent Anthropology PhD graduate, newly entering the academic work force, plays to the irony that many recent college graduates would likely hear in the suggestion to “reevaluate what work means.” It’s not that “post-work imaginaries” aren’t worth considering, of course, it’s who gets to consider them. Or rather, who gets to imagine that they can consider them. The ironic reception of the “total seriousness” is obviously based on the recognition that lots of people are currently living post-work realities, some of them more comfortably than others. At least for now.

The account comes from Sarah Kendzior, writing for Al Jazeera. It has made the rounds of many people I know who teach Higher Ed, both as full-time and adjunct professors. The biggest reaction is to the paltry compensation that part-time faculty earn for teaching classes on a course-by-course contract. These typically small sums are documented at the Adjunct Project website, where one can compare per-class pay scales and benefit packages across universities and colleges. What are we to make of a situation in which those who only teach are paid so little? Does this reflect how the institution values the educational portion (arguably the largest portion) of its mission?

Kendzior ends with a sentiment that can probably be found in the responses of many graduates, at least the ones I know:

most of all I struggle with the limited opportunities in academia for Americans like me, people for whom education was once a path out of poverty, and not a way into it.

This conclusion represents a dismal view of the future and the institutions that are considered partially responsible for that future, but it also asks us to question the value of labor and how that value is assigned. I encourage you to read it and consider the implications it has for all of us.

2 responses to “Contingent Imaginations

  1. There are several flaws in this article: 1. what, may I ask, are “post-word imaginaries?” 2. Of what does a “contingent imagination” consist? and finally, 3. Who doesn’t know that teaching in the U.S. regardless of level, is the lowest paid job ever? If I knew all that, I could write a sensible comment.
    Can anyone help?

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