Our Response to the American Anthropological Association

The same week my article The Closing of American Academia appeared in Al Jazeera, three other anthropologists published works criticizing labor conditions in the discipline. The American Anthropological Association responded with a blog post dividing our articles into “two camps”: one with “a negative future on academia in general and the success of students pursuing a career in academia” (ahem) and one with “a positive outlook on the field of anthropology” that nonetheless recognizes that “adjunct positions are challenging” . You don’t say.

The nice thing about our failing system of higher education is that it brings people together. The authors of the other articles — Eliza Jane Darling, Ryan Anderson and Jason Antrosio – and I were surprised to hear we were in “two camps” since our views are similar. We decided to co-author a response to the AAA, which has been posted on the anthropology blog Savage Minds:

We are gratified that the American Anthropological Association has taken note of our critical commentary on the vagaries of the academic career, and we thank fellow blogger Joslyn O. for publicizing our work on the Association website. However, we would like to clear up a few misconceptions.

The AAA post suggests we represent two “camps,” but we share only one: a commitment to ending precarious intellectual labour. We protest the transformation of our profession into a swelling Hooverville congregated on the margins of universities whose dwindling tenured citizenry is bankrolled by our low-wage, low-benefit, low-security, low-respect work…

Read the full post here. I encourage you to leave your comments on the Savage Minds blog and contribute to the ongoing discussion about anthropology, academia, and the AAA.

Update: Anthropologist Amy Todd posted a link to her article on academic labor in a comment on an earlier post. I’m adding a link here because everyone should read it. She has written a succinct and thoughtful commentary on how the “culture” of academia works to make contingent faculty complicit in the system.

Challenges to Organizing Academic LaborAnthropology News, April 2012

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3 Responses to Our Response to the American Anthropological Association

  1. Hanoi Paris Hilton says:

    The problem with finding the money to pay the 60+ % of college instructors who are functionally in serfdom is that our universities are already screwing their students with phenomenal fees (around $16K/yr for in-state registrants at US public universities –not including living expenses, twice that for out of state students, and three/four times that at most private universities), unemployment for new BA holders aged 23-35 in America is about 50% –on whom the average debt burden for academic loans utterly non-dischargeable in bankruptcy is about $30K and rising.

    Who says that Ph. D.s in anthro or enviro planning (in which I myself hold a doctorate from a top-tier university, yet nevertheless am essentially unemployable), or whatever, necessarily should be employed at high bourgeois salaries when there’s no market for their (our) services? Where is the money going to come from? Collective farms, Soviet tractor factories??

    Supply and demand.

    Oh yeah, we’ll just squeeze it out of the Koch Brothers and other such evil plutocrats and kulaks.

    Interesting article in today Telegraph (UK) on the ideological core of the Republican candidacies, as laying down the gauntlet on “the most basic premise of the politics of the centre ground: that you can have free market economics and a democratic socialist welfare system at the same time. The magic formula in which the wealth produced by the market economy is redistributed by the state – from those who produce it to those whom the government believes deserve it – has gone bust.” See:

  2. A. Todd says:

    An environmental planner *would* be gainfully employed in any rational economy – meaning an economy with a long-term orientation. The so-called “market economy” can’t put an environmental planner to work because an environmental planner might hinder certain kinds of economic development (projects with short-term benefits to investors but high negative externalities to the general public, or to future generations like hydraulic fracturing, for example).

    Students *are* paying (or, unfortunately, in many cases, borrowing to pay) phenomenal fees for an education – so there *is* a market. Where’s the money going? To unnecessary expansion, glitzy student centers, the “deanlets” and “deanlings”? (see http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/07/14/new_book_argues_bloated_administration_is_what_ails_higher_education). But whether or not there is a market, any enlightened government should support education because the alternative, an uneducated workforce is an economic disaster.

    The redistributive system isn’t working not because it *doesn’t* work, but because it isn’t happening – the wealth concentrators have managed to convince people that taxation to support public good is somehow unnatural. It’s a nightmare…

    And it’s not about “high bourgeois salaries” for lecturers but job security, health care, a living wage, the ability to retire some day.

  3. Interesting discussion, but I wonder if cultural anthropology departments have any plan for preparing their students for the kinds of careers that could actually pay the bills? Jobs like working in marketing, taking legal depositions, working as a consultant? I’m an archaeologist working on PhD and haven’t drunken the koolaid of “tenure-track uber alles.” I plan on being a CRM/historic preservation consultant, but wouldn’t pass up a chance to be a professor. Based on what I’ve seen from other professors, working in academia is actually less arduous than working in cultural resource management.

    It seems like many universities are at least acknowledging the fact that most archaeologists will work in CRM. I was wondering if cultural anthro is moving the same direction.

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