end of quarter fog has lifted; or, precarity as a mode of being

I submitted final grades tonight, and it’s really quite amazing just how much head space that takes up: two new course preps, in a discipline I do not call ‘home’ (whatever that means) and visually-content heavy courses. Never mind the personal roller coaster of an aging (dying) mother in another state and a substantial commute layered atop the quarter. It has resulted in a quarter with not much to show, intellectually.

I’ve had many a moment to question the investment of time in relation to pay as ‘adjunct.’ I stopped keeping track of the hours of prep in relation to the pay, since it’s not really ‘about’ money… It’s certainly rewarding to see students come into their own in classes, and to see them command material in an original way, or take feedback and excel in future assignments. But as whole, I’ve had more new course preps over the last few years than anything, which directly equates to ‘time spent.’ But also inefficiencies, learning what works, and what doesn’t, depending on student populations at Institution A, B or C… And as I feel the hot breath of publishing post-dissertation on my proverbial neck, I know instinctively (and absolutely) that the ‘market’ does not applaud the time spent on course preps, nor care about precarity and what that entails; or personal circumstances that absolutely mean more than a journal article. Moreover, I know I am not alone in this realization.

Over the last few weeks though, I’ve had the opportunity to see the disparity of adjunct work, concretely. While it is bandied about in no uncertain terms as bargain rates for quality instruction, I have recently experienced a very transparent moment of inequity in relation to a close friend (cohort) and what a graduate student union can accomplish for the un-degreed, compared to the vicissitudes of post-PhD adjunct status of price per credit teaching rate. While my intention here is not to rail on the inequity, the specific situation was so ‘plain’ that it is hard to not feel it: two lecturers, same departments, same credit loads, same program, same qualifications. The soon-to-be-christened doctor will make significantly more than myself, as an already awarded PhD, simply because he is under a union.

I applaud the union for demanding fair wages for its student workers, and I benefited by those terms previously. But the question begs asking, what are the obligations of a department to create an equitable environment for non-tenured lecturers? Isn’t the situation already shitty enough? That my unioned counterpart might make nearly 1.5 times what I will earn next quarter, for ostensibly the same load… it seems more than ‘ridiculous’. But what are the options here? If a newly minted PhD does not take up adjunct, is this viewed as ‘damaged goods’? At what point does a simple non-academic job (that leaves head space for my own personal academic work) be viewed with the same neutral qualification as an irregular, underpaid lecture position? A recent forum in the higher ed points to this concern (though I cannot find the post at this time…)- and it seemed like the advice/ tenured view is that we must maintain institutional affiliation, no matter the cost. (I refuse to utilize the ‘neoliberal’ adjectival account of the situation. While apt, it’s wholly unsatisfying as a nuanced explanation of the situation. But that is a different post.)

As I head into Winter quarter with a rare opportunity to teach a class for a second time and teach another class that I had an opportunity to ‘assist’ in several years ago, I feel optimistic about what I may accomplish for myself, in addition to teaching load. Neither are visually intensives course this time, and the commute time is greatly reduced, less students, etc…. And yet. As I consider my lower wage to said counterpart, the antagonistic, stubborn and spirited side of me wants to offer 2/3 effort for teaching: to demonstrate the department’s value placed in adjunct vs forced pay of a unioned grad student.

But that is simply unfair to the students, of whom are my primary concern. If only Universities’ economic bottom lines were that straightforward.


Making a case for Interdisciplinarity

or, perhaps less ‘buzz word’-y: making a case for speaking the same language.

I’m in the process reviewing my chapter on Google and I continue to find myself hitting a wall with two radically different ideological realities between the geographer’s cry of neoliberalism and the libertarian cry of open source. It feels patently clear to me that these two ideas and their respective successes have a symbiotic relationship, but what is also clear is that neither discipline has been able to get a ‘little air from the outside’, to recall a perfectly articulated sentiment from AO.

I recently ran across one article from two Poli Sci PhD students at Berkeley that conducted a study on the use of neoliberalism. While their findings were interesting (generally negative connotation or equally neutral connotation, there were very few ‘positive’ uses of the term), what I found more interesting was their disciplinary scope of the project, making claims that in general, there were no ‘definitions’ given by people using it in relation to empirical studies. What was missing was any nod to the plethora of geographers that have engaged neoliberalism- ( I would argue, almost ad nauseaum… sorry)- in the past 15 years, many of which have become quite established as key thinkers in a variety of specialty areas.

I think that sufficiently substantiates my suspicion about the lack of acknowledgement of the compatibility between open-source and neoliberalism. I cannot find a link, primarily because those writing about open-source are generally positive (blanket statement, I know; there are some defectors) and neoliberal literature is not part of their ‘scholarship’ they draw from. In fact, there is little mention of the economic/business environment, other than it stands as a positive alternative to ‘business as usual’.  Geography seems to have a certain positive relationship to ‘web 2.0’ technologies and participant potential, which likely keeps the ‘neoliberal’ analytic off the table and instead, opts for a more feminist or foucauldian framework. Within the more critical work, surveillance of the subject becomes the focus. Neoliberalism is one of Geography’s specters of evil, and seems to provide a ‘satisfactory’ explanation of the contemporary milieu, regardless of the ‘crisis’ examined, but I haven’t found any economic geographers that look specifically at open source.

Maybe it just isn’t spatial enough?

Regardless, I see some real missed opportunities to place these two concepts into conversation. As part of my convoluted dissertation, I have begun to do just that. Post degree, however, it feels like a pretty fruitful to continue to build on this symbiotic condition with a critique or interrogation that, following Manovich in Software Takes Command, seems to be missing from our use of software and the role it plays in our daily lives.