Talking Back: Resisting Neoliberalization in the Academy through Feminist/Womanist Lenses

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 33 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Margaret TALLY, State University of New York: Empire State College, USA
Dianne RAMDEHOLL, State University of New York: Empire State College, USA
Jaye JONES, Lehman College Institute for Literacy Studies, USA
One of the recent areas where the concept of precarity has become particularly meaningful as an explanatory idea is in terms of thinking about academia in higher education, where the move from public funding to more neoliberal economic landscapes, what Briony Lipton has described as the move from an “ivory tower” to “Enterprise University,” has created a fertile field for a precarious labor force.  Writers like Rosalind Gill, in addition, point out that as academics with oftentime precarious job situations, we have turned ourselves into neoliberal subjects who are endlessly adaptable and “flexible”; our very subjectivities have become, as Skeggs points out, “the living embodiment of capital.” (Skeggs 2)

Challenging Simon During’s reading of this movement solely in terms of neoliberalism, scholars like Lipton and Fantone also note that while precarity has often been a function of women’s labor, it is only when it effects the worklife of male academics who have become vulnerable to falling into the academic “bourgeois precariat,” that it is highlighted as an issue.  Because of the privatized, individualized nature of  academic work, it is difficult to trace the ways in which this precarity is happening to academic workers. In this paper, we unpack this dialogue about ways in which current trends in higher education have contributed to an increasing sense of precarity that is intensifying the gender inequality in the modern university. By sharing our own positions as three female academics of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, we draw on the tools of auto-ethnography to map out what has increasingly become an endemic feature of modern university life.  From here, we articulate the ways in which our work as feminist knowledge-workers can be used to critically engage other academics in solidarity and incitement to challenge forces of precarity within universities.