On professional identity and lost opportunity

My new article for the Chronicle of Higher Education is called Professional Identity: A Luxury Few Can Afford. An excerpt:

In a post-employment economy ridden with arbitrary credentialism, a résumé is often not a reflection of achievement but a document sanctioning its erasure. One is not judged on what one has accomplished, but on one’s ability to walk a path untouched by the incongruities of market forces. The service job you worked to feed your family? Embarrassing. The months you struggled to find any work at all? Laziness. The degree you began a decade ago for a field that has since lost half its positions? Failure of clairvoyance. Which is to say: failure.

Read the whole thing here.

In other news, my thanks to Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing for his article reflecting on a PolicyMic interview I did in June:

Here’s a fabulous interview with activist Sarah Kendzior, a journalist and researcher who made a great, concise argument against unpaid internship as a series of four tweets last June. Policymic talks with Kendzior about her work on the “prestige economy” and the widening wealth-gap, and also talks about the theory of presenting arguments over Twitter, a subject on which Kendzior is every bit as smart as she is on matters economic and political.

As a result of the renewed interest, the interview has gone viral again. Thanks to everyone who shared it!

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3 Responses to On professional identity and lost opportunity

  1. Erstwhile Anthropologist says:

    Sarah, I am glad that there is a space for you to write as you are, and that what you are saying is being so well-received by so many. I enjoy reading your articles and tweets, and wish there were more anthropologists like you, especially White female anthropologists standing up for (not ‘speaking for’) women of color, as you do.

    Your most recent post is also related to your recent tweet on the race/gender hierarchy of Princeton’s job ad, and Tressie Mc’s recent Slate article on Shannon Gibney, as well as the de facto racist Savage Minds post on AAA ‘conference chic’ ( with its refusal to engage the comments of Black female anthropologists who pointed out the unacknowledged normative race/class/gender assumptions of the post, and responses to it). All circle back to the question of ‘privilege’ and who gets to call it out, frankly discuss how privilege structures employment opportunities and outcomes.

    In 2007 when I was raising these same issues you are now raising about privilege and the prestige economy, including relating experiences similar to that of the Duke senior who wrote about coming from a modest background and going to an elite private college/university, I was verbally abused and publicly cyberbullied via my department’s graduate student listserve, by a White male principal bully and his White male enabler (both fellow grad students) and told to “leave your ‘privilege’ critique at home”. These angry White male anthropologists–who to this day claim to be dedicated antiracist feminists–told me I had no right to discuss structural racism/sexism and White/male privilege and class inequality with them because I went to Yale undergrad while they went to state schools, and then insisted that a Black woman with a degree from an elite undergrad institution has more overall structural privilege than them, two White males on the cusp of getting doctorates from Berkeley. These racist, sexist, and ridiculous comments are important for people reading you to think about in the context of your critiques of privilege, the prestige economy, and #solidarityisforwhitewomen and other hashtags by WOC giving intersectional critiques of inequality. The politics of resentment, Anthropology’s ‘white public space’, and the normalization of racist-sexist abuse in the academy are part and parcel of the prestige economy and the crap meritocracy it asserts.

    I find it truly interesting that Savage Minds also linked to the article by the Duke senior ‘confessing’ how she’d tried to hide her poverty, given how the site allowed Chris Kelty and Paul Rabinow to censor a conversation on the site (in early 2010) in which the cyberbullying via the Berkeley forgrads list was discussed, because it named the dissertation advisee of Rabinow’s who engaged in the public cyberbullying, shutting down a conversation of the very dynamics discussed in the aforementioned article on Duke’s elitism and the way in which an attempt to discuss such elitism had been angrily shouted down with “keep your ‘privilege’ critique at home”. To this day the Berkeley department refuses to publicly acknowledge this public cyberbullying and the less-public racist and sexist bullying which surrounded it, and refuses to engage that the Berkeley Anthropology department has the same demographic fault lines as the Princeton ad (a department where one can only find Black women employees working in admin positions, and a department which has never had a Black female professor, leading to the kind of ‘you are just the help’ that all too often happens in Anthropology/the academy, including at AAA conferences where Black female professors serving as panel chairs are asked if they are there to refill the coffee). Structural racism yes, but not the kind that women who look like me can expect to speak up about without being viciously retaliated against, sadly, because we are expected–especially by many anthropologists who don’t have the commitment to antiracism you do–to keep our ‘privilege’ critiques at home … or else.

  2. Thank you for your comments. I will continue speaking out — and I hope you continue to do so as well.

  3. On “professional identity”…, yup. Quite the continual shape-shifting circus we anthro-PhDs weave through, for quite some decades. The story is pervasive, the elephant in the room. Perhaps there’s comraderie, and consequently a strange strength to be found, in seeing, being and having the collective skills to facilitate directions by minimal means in the mass of the 99%. In addition to the Middle East, bring analogies from those lessons back home, on the ground in our region, such as we are attempting to push in southern Illinois just to the southeast of you…issues of labor (academia, industry, service), education structure, natural resource use…

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