The Proletarianized University Graduate: A Paradox of Knowledge Economies

Monday, July 14, 2014: 8:45 PM
Room: F205
Distributed Paper
James COTE , Sociology, University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada
The results of studies in many countries suggest that the time investment necessary to earn an undergraduate degree has declined over the past few decades to the point where full-time university students need only to treat their studies as a part-time commitment and they can still obtain high grades and graduate. At the same time, other studies find that great proportions of these graduates are seriously underemployed. These trends present a paradox in societies officially deemed “knowledge economies” by their governments, which also promote their mass universities as the drivers in the creation and management of new knowledge and thus economic growth. This phenomenon is not explainable by conventional liberal or conservative sociological theories. However, it is argued that a political economy perspective, in which mass-university graduates are seen to constitute a white-collar proletariat, explains why governments would turn a blind eye to both to low academic standards and high levels of graduate underemployment while still touting the mass-university degree as a social equalizer and economic driver. The implications of this paradox are discussed in terms of the economic utility of the prolongation of youth for Capital.