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Academic Labor

February 23, 2010

I get frustrated when people drool over the fact that academics get summers off (as well as spring breaks, winter breaks, etc.). “Must be nice to work only 2/3rds of the year,” they seem to suggest.

Let me be clear: I don’t object to the idea that there are some disproportionately “cushy” aspects to academic positions. I don’t want to suggest that if we add it all up that I work just as hard as those in a 9 to 5 grind. I probably don’t.

However, the idea that we only work 2/3rds of the year masks a lot of our labor. An even assessment of academic labor should consider the labor performed “on holiday,” as well as the grading done on evenings and weekends. People who critique academic labor should ask themselves this: “Am I willing to (or do I even desire to) take Anthony Giddens to the beach with me?” Or this: “Am I willing to read Foucault’s corpus and Bourdieu’s corpus, sort out the subtle differences between them, write up the differences in a 30 page paper, and then submit it to journals so it can be rejected four times in a row?”

I hear lots of people envy academic labor, but I don’t think many of them would actually be willing to swap their 9 to 5 job in order to read up on how Hegel’s theories contributed to colonialism.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. larry c wilson permalink
    February 23, 2010 9:11 pm

    Who in their right mind would want to read a 30-page paper on the subtle differences between Foucault and Bourdieu. If they’re interested, they should read the original work and make up their own minds.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    February 23, 2010 9:16 pm

    Right, cause secondary literature is never useful …

  3. larry c wilson permalink
    February 23, 2010 10:19 pm

    It seldom is…and even if you read it, you must return to the original source and make up your own mind as to the validity of the secondary source’s interpretations..

  4. Erica Martin permalink
    February 23, 2010 11:01 pm

    I ditto you missivesfrommarx! As an educator at a public school I am often baffled by the idea that people have that we do nothing during the summers or breaks. Perhaps true of some people in the academic/teaching professions, but a person who strives for excellence and has a passion for their subject and students and colleagues is constantly consuming and processing information, whether it’s secondary literature on Hegel or the latest pedagogical approaches or the latest methods for integrating technology and citizenship into a curriculum already jammed with state mandated content, the job of an educator worth their salt is never done, though sadly, many do check their brains at the door of their educational institutions. And even if there is the perception of cushy positions, a quick reminder that the industry of education did not bankrupt the country and does not receive 6-figure bonuses. Most educators count themselves lucky to have a job that pays mid 30s even when 95 percent of our students pass the state exams.

  5. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    February 24, 2010 10:50 am

    Larry, I learned a lot about Fichte and Schelling by reading Hegel’s book on the difference between the two. In fact, so did Fichte and Schelling: they didn’t realize how different their work was until they read Hegel’s book comparing them. It caused a break-up, even.

    I similarly learned a lot about Rousseau from reading Derrida’s book on Rousseau—things I would never have gotten from reading Rousseau alone. Commentators often see contradictions, implications, etc., that authors themselves never see.

  6. February 24, 2010 11:14 am

    This whole notion of ‘secondary’ literature is problematic as ‘secondary’ texts become sources of original thinking like Kojeve/Marx/Lenin’s reading of Hegel. Or Ms Marx’s comment above that presents the relationship between Fichte & Schelling as an 18th century bromance. Besides, you haven’t experienced Shakespeare until you’ve read him in the original Klingon

  7. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    February 24, 2010 11:27 am

    I agree that the idea of “secondary” becomes problematic, but I think the point stands that reading “secondary” literature (of whatever sort) is often rewarding.

    Klingon, eh? I hadn’t seen that before.

  8. February 24, 2010 6:35 pm

    it seems rather arrogantly conceited to deny the value of secondary literature. Is there really no value in conversation? Is one’s own interpretation really all one needs value? pffft. Of course we return to the original source but what is that worth if it doesn’t inspire conversation?

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