My notes on Newfield, C. (2019). Unbundling the knowledge economy. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 1-9.

Far from being distinct institutions at a remove from society, this special issue explores their many interconnections with social and political life. Once we recognise the mutating character of the university, transforming and growing in a way which reflects wider social life, it becomes difficult to see what it means to defend ‘the university’. As Newfield writes, drawing on Jana Bacevic’s contribution to the issue:

In a sense there is no ‘university’ to defend from marketisation and splitting up. Teaching could be handled by online courses supported with course assistants who do not need expensive doctoral training. ‘Coding camps’ are the policy world’s exemple du jour. Research could be moved into the companies that benefit from it, supplemented by hospitals and national laboratories, who could also handle advanced research training. Civic education could be handled peer-to-peer by social media, and cultural education by our wall-to-wall visual media. Perhaps our real motto should be ‘shed no tears for the university. (1-2)

What does the tertiary landscape look like without it? As he writes on pg 2, “if we remove the university from the tertiary landscape, we are left with commercial publishers, ed-tech providers, think tanks, marketing firms, quasi-governmental agencies, ministries, supra-national advisory bodies, and technical service companies”. They have built up around supporting higher education and there is little reason to think they could provide it were universities to gradually dissolve.

Newfield suggests five basic features of university education: autonomy (in opposition to control by state or industry), self-formation, integrated learning, basic research (funded without promise of application) and public service. Each has private and public effects, as well as pecuniary and non-pecuniary dimensions. Unfortunately, discourses of higher education tend to focus on the private benefits and pecuniary dimensions to the exclusion of all else. However it has been estimated that private pecuniary benefits is only about 1/3 of the overall value, though the irony that this relies on placing a monetary value on non-pecuniary aspects is striking. Newfield describes this as ‘dark matter’ which is excluded by the aforementioned discursive narrowness (4). Pickering’s concept of ontological veiling could be usefully applied here.

Could the unbundled university still produce this dark matter? Or does the datafication at the heart of the project mean that a focus on the calculable private and pecuniary aspects would be the sole concern? Could post-university systems increase value in a way that would outweigh these losses? He argues that opening out this debate involves recasting claimed drivers (automation, digitisation etc) as uncertainties with contingent outcomes. Rather than being what Filip Vostal calls ‘mega forces’ which lead ineluctably to their outcome, they are factors which operates amongst others within open systems.

He ends by framing unbundling in terms of austerity. As he writes on pg 7, “every analysis of educational quality has been predetermined by constraints of cost”. The logic of unbundling involves extracting an element in order to maximise incomes and minimises costs, away from the messy interconnections which hinder this process. If I understand him correctly, he’s saying it’s a form of hyper-rationalisation which cuts out chunks out of an organisation in order to work on them in isolation rather than merely reconstructing an organisation piece by piece. He argues on pg 8 that ‘tech isolationism’ is a core problem which points to the sustained relevance of a humanities education:

the failure to integrate technological with sociocultural skills. In rea- lity, the world’s enormous problems require massive numbers of non-routine problem solvers. They must have higher order cognitive skills, be able to cross disciplinary and linguistic barriers, and be capable of continuous improvisation. They need what used to be called humanistic creativity, for the simple reason that every global problem had fused technical issues to extremely difficult socio-cul- tural challenges. You can’t have renewable energy conversion unless you can reduce environmental racism, for example: cultural knowledge workers will need to be seen as essential equal partners with photovoltaic device engineers. STEM education unbundled from the social sciences, arts, and huma- nities is the problem, not the solution.

This special issue of Discover Society collects articles from speakers at last year’s inaugrial Platform University conference at the University of Cambridge. It has been published to coincide with the release of the call for papers for the second conference, taking place in December at Lancaster University.

This is a fascinating analysis of demographic trends in the UK, considering the implications of a coming expansion of 18 year olds for UK higher education in the 2020s. Extrapolating forward from current application rates, 50% of this cohort will be applying to go to university and the system is currently ill equipped to absorb this expansion, particularly given that central planning has been precluded by the ‘reforms’ of recent years:

We will have two more sharp falls in the 18 year-old population of around 2 per cent – this cycle and 2020. Then the cohort grows again. This growth is strong, often 3 per cent a year. And it is consistent, up year after year. This matters, as it makes the cumulative rises large and unrelenting. The five-year rate of population growth increases reaches 17 per cent in the mid-2020s. Between 2020 and 2030 the population increases by 27 per cent. This trajectory equates to almost a million extra 18 year-olds over the decade.

My notes on Nash, K. (2018). Neo-liberalisation, universities and the values of bureaucracy. The Sociological Review, 0038026118754780.

It is too easy to frame neoliberalism in institutions as an outcome rather than a project. In this thoughtful paper, Kate Nash explores the space which this recognition opens up, the “competing and contradictory values in the everyday life of public sector organisations” which becomes apparent when we reject the supposition of “a fit between ideology, policy, political outcomes and practices” (178). Extending marketing competition into the university doesn’t automatically replace public goods, something which is important to grasp if we want to construct an adequate meso-social account of neoliberalisation. New Public Magement, as a theory of administration, might be explicitly opposed to bureaucracy but it is through a bureaucratic transformation that its tenets are woven into the fabric of an institution like the university. Nash begins her argument by revisiting Weber’s conception of the impartial promise of bureaucracy:

I adopt Weber’s definition of bureaucracy as enacting an ‘ethos of impartiality’, treating individuals as cases according to strict rules of professional and technical expertise. Each person in an organisation should follow correct procedures to guard against making personal judgements; to avoid using the authority of their office to exercise power according to their own personal decisions, whims or alternative values (Du Gay, 2000; Weber, 1948). For Weber, famously, instrumental values, the means rather than the ends, come to predominate in a modern capitalist economy and we are all caught in an ‘iron cage’ of technical evaluations (Beetham, 1987, pp. 60–61; Mommsen, 1989, pp. 109–120). (179)

However it is a mistake to regard bureaucracy as a totality, argues Nash, framing it as leading to the displacement of all values other than administrative efficiency. Rejecting this view allows us to distinguish between “different kinds of bureaucracy, that which undermines and that which supports education in universities” (179). It allows us to identify the values which marketisation entrenches (entrepreneurship and consumer choice) and find others to protect. The allocation of research funding (through the RAE/REF and individualised competitions) and teaching funding (through the student fees and student loans system) in UK universities reflects the entrenchment of these values. It is against this backdrop that collegiality, drawing on the analysis of Malcolm Waters, becomes interesting:

Collegiality, he argues, is relevant to university life in that, firstly, as academics we understand ourselves to be experts in our different fields, and therefore as possessing insights into knowledge – scientific, of the humanities, of the arts – on which there are no higher authorities. As such, academics have a degree of expert authority; we expect, and to a large degree we maintain, our ability to ‘have the last word’ on what counts as a university education in our specialised disciplines through procedures of peer and student evaluation. Secondly, academics tend to think of the university as a ‘company of equals’. Where knowledge is ultimately what matters, other markers of status, wealth and power must be irrelevant. As Waters puts it, ‘if expertise is paramount, then each member’s area of competence may not be subordi- nated to other forms of authority’ (Waters, 1989, p. 955). Finally, Waters suggests that the value of ‘consensus’ is a norm of universities: only decisions that have the full support of the collectivity ‘carry the weight of moral authority’ (Waters, 1989, p. 955). (181)

For Waters this is not necessarily a good thing, as collegiality brings closure i.e.the protection of insiders over outsiders, the defence of existing status against threats to it. This can make it appear to be a form of resistance to marketisation, but the intersection of the two can exasperate their existing problems e.g. superstar academics being able to exercise academic autonomy in a collegial mode, while others are left behind to aspire to collegial status (if I understand Nash’s point correctly). The fact that corporatism has displaced collegiality, to use McGettigan’s phase, doesn’t mean collegiality is a solution to the problem of corporatism.

Even if the rise of audit culture and end of contractual tenure have dented academic autonomy, there is still an entrenched expectation that we “should be free to research, to publish and to teach ‘the truth’, however inconvenient or troublesome for university administrators, governments and civil servants, without fear of losing our jobs”. It has the associated expectation that we will develop this by “reading widely, with curiosity, developing capacities to think through different meanings of concepts, challenge fundamental assumptions, and design and use systematic methodologies, as well as to uncover facts through scholarship and empirical research” (182). Meeting this expectation requires temporal autonomy in relation to free time in which nothing is being produced that can easily be registered.

Audit culture on Power’s account threatens this through twin processes: colonisation (transforming an organisation’s values through measuring its activity) and decoupling (the circularity of auditing which has paperwork produced for auditing as its sole object). The assumption underlying this is that “professionals cannot be trusted to do their jobs well; in particular, we cannot be trusted to deliver value for money” (183). However bureaucratic work is of the same kind and Nash draws attention to that we engage in outside of audit, including those activities which support education and resist abuses of collegiality and marketisation. Nash reminds us that “we should not see bureaucracy solely as marketising, nor only as imposed from above” (184). These are described by Nash as socialising bureaucracy:

Socialising bureaucracy regularises collegiality in that it helps academ- ics communicate what counts as good teaching and learning, what counts as research and learning that is of academic merit, and what assumptions and biases should not be allowed to make a difference in these judgements. It regulates collegiality in that documents and procedures help set limits on academics’ discretionary judgements. (185).

Against an exclusive focus on marketisation as a threat to education, Nash reminds us of those cases where professional power threatens it e.g. academics act in ways that serve  their own private interests rather than those of education. The first example she gives is formalisation of equal treatment where mechanisms ensure staff and students are assessed on the relevant grounds of academic performance and other criteria are excluded. The contractualisation of learning formalises the reciprocal expectations placed upon teachers and learners, mechanisms ensuring both parties have a working understanding of how the interaction will proceed.

Socialising bureaucracy in this sense mitigates the pathologies of both collegiality and marketisation. Recognising the critiques which see these mechanisms as killing spontaneity and charisma, Nash asks how we could otherwise secure the value for teaching and learning for everyone in a mass higher education system which has expanded dramatically over recent decades? Nonetheless distinguishing marketing bureaucracy from  socialising bureaucracy is difficult in practice. Both can contribute to the intensification of work and be experienced as destructive of autonomy. Furthermore, one kind of bureaucracy can stimulate the other

What’s particularly interesting for my purposes is Nash’s analysis of the grey area opened up between the two by intensified competition within and between universities:

It includes dealing with the paperwork associated with the explosion of publishing, showcasing and promotion of academic work – from reviewing articles for journals and book manuscripts and editing journals to organising and publicising conferences and seminars; the bureaucracy of applying for and dealing with funded research, which can mean managing a team; designing, developing and publicising popular programmes and courses; reviewing new programmes for other Departments and universities; acting as external examiner for other universities; and writing references for colleagues and students. In virtually every case, these activities require hours of meetings and emails, as well as filling in forms, and they often require producing online as well as offline materials. In addition, there are also meetings, emails and paperwork associated with running a Department and a university as if it were a business: writing and re-writing ‘business plans’, ‘job descriptions’, ‘programme specifications’, ‘strategies’ to promote research, enhance student experience and so on (188)

It strikes me that social media is part of this grey area but it also something through which much of the gray area is inflected i.e. it is an expectation in itself but also a way of undertaking these other activities. To use an example I talk about a lot: if social media makes it quicker to publicise seminars and conferences then why do we constantly assume it will be a net drain on our time? This seems like the theoretical framework I’ve been looking for to help make sense of the institutionalisation of social media within the university.

It seems passé to talk about the ‘big data revolution’ in 2017. Much of the initial hype has subsided, leaving us in a different situation to the one in which big data was expected to sweep away all that had come before. Instead, we have the emergence of data science as well as the institutionalisation of computational methods, albeit unevenly, across the full range of the natural and social sciences. Furthermore, addressing the challenge posed by early waves of big data evangelicism to established methodologies, particularly those with a critical and/or hermeneutic focus, has generated a vast outpouring of creativity with the potential to generate significant reorientations within these disciplines. The ‘big data revolution’ has proceeded in a much more constructive way than those early prophets of epochal change were able to predict.

However, we are still far from harmony within the academy. While the intellectual changes driven by big data are well underway, institutional changes of potentially greater importance are still in their infancy. This is how Susan Halford describes the politics of discipline surrounding big data:

How we define Big Data matters because it shapes our understanding of the expertise that is required to engage with it – to extract the value and deliver the promise. Is this the job for mathematicians and statisticians? Computer scientists? Or ‘domain experts’ – economists, sociologists or geographers – as appropriate to the real-world problems at hand? As the Big Data field forms we see the processes of occupational closure at play: who does this field belong to, who has the expertise, the right to practice? This is of observational interest for those of us who research professions, knowledge and the labour market, as we see how claims to expert knowledge are made by competing disciplines. But it is also of broader interest for those of us concerned with the future of Big Data: the outcome will shape the epistemological foundations of the field. Whether or not it is acknowledged, the disciplinary carve-up of big data will have profound consequences for the questions that are asked, the claims that are made and – ultimately – the value that is derived from this ‘new oil’ in the global economy.

https://discoversociety.org/2015/07/30/big-data-and-the-politics-of-discipline/

We can see rapid transformation at this level, with expertise in the social and natural sciences responding to the opportunities and incentives which big data has brought with it. The institutional landscape has begun to change, most notably around funding, with important consequences for how individual and collective agents plan their career-path through this environment. However, this is still unfolding within organisations that have not themselves undergone change as a result of big data. It is this which is likely to change in the coming years. As WonkHe reported earlier this week of the consultation on how the Office for Students will regulate providers of higher education in England:

The consultation will also be looking at the nuts and bolts of the OfS – how will it balance the demands of competition and autonomy while maintaining “proportionate” regulatory approaches? How will the remarkable new powers of entry (extreme audit?) be used? What sanctions will be available to the new regulator, and how will they be applied? Following strong ministerial direction, we can also expect measures on senior staff pay to feature prominently, but what form will they take, and will they have any real teeth? And how will approaches compare to other sectors?

Widely expected is an end to regular institutional visits – the “periodic review” is likely to be replaced by a new method for the OfS to use live data to monitor institutions. It may well be easier than the annual submission, but now is a good time to be a big data wonk, as new systems and process will need to be established in institutions to respond to a new approach.

This concern for real time metrics, institutionalising transactional data into the fabric of higher education itself, only seems likely to grow. What does this mean for the politics of discipline? My hunch is that the big data revolution within higher education has only just begun and that it’s eventual form will be different to that which most predicted.

From Making Sociology Public, by Lambros Fatsis, pg 240:

Having already introduced Cardinal Newman’s ivory tower conception of the university, and Minister Humboldt’s equally idealistic depiction of it as a hub of culture and academic freedom, Barnett’s (2013) anthology of epithets, each of which furnishes 240 a different vision of and for the university, is indicative of definitional pluralism as it is bewildering; there is the university as a feasible utopia, the entrepreneurial university, the commodified, the civic or public goods university, the accessible university, the university as a debating society, the anarchic, the borderless, the collaborative, congested, corporate, corrupt, creative, dialogic, digital, ecological, liquid, multi-nodal, performative, socialist, soulless, technologico-Benthamite, as well as the theatrical, translucent, imaginative, imagining, first class, edgeless, capitalist and even the university as fool (sic).

Alongside this admittedly fanciful parade of adjectives, as offered by Barnett (2013), stand other visions of the university as ‘global’ (Miyoshi, 1998), ‘postmodern’, ‘virtual’ (Smith and Webster, 1997), ‘enterprising’ (Williams, 2003), ‘corporate’ (Jarvis, 2001), ‘McDonaldized’ (Parker and Jary, 1995) ‘meta-entrepreneurial’ (Fuller, 2009), public (Holmwood, 2011), ‘without conditions’ (Derrida, 2002), ‘post-historical’, ‘in ruins’, conceived as a ‘community of dissensus’ (Readings, 1996), or a ‘site of activism’ (Lynch 2010), ‘in crisis’ (Scott, 1984), ‘for sale’ (Brown and Carasso, 2013), in need of ‘rescuing’ (Furlong, 2013), defined as a public agora (Nowotny et al. 2001), a cooperative (Boden, Ciancanelli, and Wright 2011, 2012), and even a ‘science park’ embedded in the life of the city (Goddard and Valance, 2013). Following this multiplicity of interpretations of what the university is, can be, may be, should be, or no longer is, reflections on its uses (what is it for) are equally varied and perplexing, making Derrida’s (2002: 213-4) overly confident view of the university as ‘autonomous, unconditionally free in its institution, in its speech, in its writing, in its thinking’ difficult to sustain pragmatically.

http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/51588/1/Fatsis%2C_Lambros.pdf

In the latest collection of talks from Audrey Watters, The Curse of the Monsters of Educational Technology, she addresses an uncomfortable issue in higher education: the unrealistic claims made about the transformative aspect of university attendance. From loc 397-413:

These questions get at what is an uncomfortable and largely unspoken truth about education. That is, education, for its own part, makes all sorts of claims—sometimes, let’s be honest, fairly wild and unsubstantiated claims—about amazement, achievement, and transformation. These promises may well reveal that our field is full of Sea Monkeys—colorful promises of becoming that we might not actually be able to or even intend to honor. As we reconstitute technology-enhanced learning, are we simply reconstituting Sea Monkeys?

This is one of those issues that fascinates me because I can’t help but see it in ambivalent terms. On the one hand, the relative advantage of a university degree is manifestly in decline due to credential inflation and opportunity hoarding, such that to deny this would be fundamentally dishonest. On the other hand, this point is often made in a way that reduces the value of higher education to instrumental advantage accrued by individuals. On the one hand, the interventions of the Competition and Markets Authority within higher  education further the commodification of universities in a way which corrodes the intrinsic value that can be found through participating in them. On the other hand, it seems absurd to suggest that students don’t have a right to expect that the understanding upon which they took a university place is accurate, particularly as participation becomes ever more financially and personally onerous.

The more diffuse promises of education are even more thorny. My PhD was a study of personal change (and stasis) in the lives of 18 undergraduate students across a range of disciplines, during their first two years of university. One of the most important findings I took from this research was how rapidly the evaluation of our own lives and aspirations can change, particularly as we enter a new environment into which we have invested our hopes. My point is not to say that ‘false promises’ made concerning the university experience is necessarily a problematic category, only that it becomes ontologically rather messy once we move beyond the straight-forward level of what students were told about courses, facilities and workload etc.

But it is nonetheless crucial that we have these conversations. What is the value of an undergraduate degree? What expectations do students have of it?  What qualitative and quantitative evidence is there to support those expectations? If expectations are inflated, can we identify particular groups who are perpetuating these and the interests at work in their doing so? I can’t help but feel that Watters is correct, higher education is full of “colorful promises of becoming that we might not actually be able to or even intend to honor”. We urgently need to learn how to counteract this while still resisting the commodification and bureaucratisation which action taken in the interests of the consumer will likely entail.

Based on the cases I’ve seen in person, I suspect there’s a growing subterranean practice in the UK of exploitative professors recruiting students to work as unpaid research assistants with the promise of a ‘letter of reference’ in lieu of payment. In one case that particularly bothered me, the first year UG student in question explained to me how the ‘research’ was tedious data entry and she felt she learned nothing from the experience. 

This is clearly wrong, but is it illegal? Apparently, it depends on whether the student would be classed as a worker rather than a volunteer. This is what Gov.Uk says:

2. Worker

A person is generally classed as a ‘worker’ if:

they have a contract or other arrangement to do work or services personally for a reward (your contract doesn’t have to be written)

their reward is for money or a benefit in kind, eg the promise of a contract or future work

they only have a limited right to send someone else to do the work (subcontract)

they have to turn up for work even if they don’t want to

their employer has to have work for them to do as long as the contract or arrangement lasts

they aren’t doing the work as part of their own limited company in an arrangement where the ‘employer’ is actually a customer or client

Voluntary workers

Workers aren’t entitled to the minimum wage if both of the following apply:

they’re working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund raising body or a statutory body

they don’t get paid, except for limited benefits (eg reasonable travel or lunch expenses)

Could anyone clarify about legality? My impression had been that complaining within academic structures was the best way to curtail this practice. But I wonder if it would be more effective to directly contact HR departments and ask them to confirm the role offered is actually legal.

This is the legal situation in the U.S., detailed on loc 1260 of Intern Nation:

The broad outlines of a broken paradigm are clear. Unless substantial training is involved, an intern is considered to be an employee, however temporary or inexperienced, and entitled to minimum wage and other protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the central piece of federal legislation that addresses the rights of American workers. It doesn’t matter whether it’s at a blue-chip company or a small business, whether it’s full-time or one day a week, whether the goal is academic credit or a midlife career change—by law, there are very few situations where you can ask someone to do real work for free.

November 30th t0 December 3rd 2016, Leiden University

From the 1980s onward, there has been an unprecedented growth of institutions and procedures for auditing and evaluating university research. Quantitative indicators are now widely used from the level of individual researchers to that of entire universities, serving to make academic activities more visible, accountable and amenable to university management and marketing. Further demands for accountability in academia can be related to general societal trends described under the heading of the audit society (Power 1997), and the evaluation society (Dahler-Larsen 2011). As part of broader transformations in research governance, indicators on publications and citations are now permeating academia: from global university rankings to journal-level bibliometrics such as the journal impact factor and individual measures like the h-index. Yet, it is only recently that considerable interest has been directed towards the effects that these measures might have on work practices and knowledge production (c.f. de Rijcke et al. 2015), and the role they might be playing in accelerating academic life more generally (c.f. Vostal 2016).

The Accelerated Academy draws together a number of cross-disciplinary conversations about the effects that acceleration towards metric forms of evaluation is having upon research, and the implications this holds for living and working in contemporary academia (Felt et al. 2009). Building on the successful maiden edition of the Accelerated Academy series in Prague in 2015, this year’s Leiden conference will be especially focussed towards the following questions:

  • What does acceleration mean in different research contexts?
  • What are the implications of digitally mediated measurement and tools for quantifying scholarly performance?
  • What are the knowledge gaps regarding the effects of metrics on scientific quality and societal relevance of research?
  • How can we harness the positive and minimize the adverse effects of performance measurement in universities?

Confirmed keynote speakers include Peter Dahler-Larsen (University of Copenhagen), Ulrike Felt (University of Vienna) and Michael Power (LSE).

We invite submissions for presentations of around 20 minutes. The deadline for submitting abstracts will be August 31st 2016. Please send two pages or 800 words describing your contribution including a short biographical note to: a.e.reyes.elizondo@cwts.leidenuniv.nl.

Conference organisers

Sarah de Rijcke, Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Leiden University
Björn Hammarfelt, University of Borås, Sweden | Leiden University
Alex Rushforth, Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Leiden University

Scientific committee

Mark Carrigan, University of Warwick
Tereza Stöckelová, Czech Academy of Sciences
Filip Vostal, Czech Academy of Sciences
Paul Wouters, Leiden University
Milena Kremakova, University of Warwick

Event registration will be free of charge. In addition, a limited number of travel and accommodation support bursaries will be made available for researchers especially inhibited by the costs of travel. Please contact the conference manager Andrea Reyes Elizondo  for more information.

Good news! This week it was learnt that CWTS will play host to the second annual conference ‘The Accelerated Academy: Evaluation, Acceleration and Metrics in Academic Life’. Generously sponsored by the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences, the event will take place from 30th November to 2nd December 2016 in the beautiful city-centre of Leiden, the Netherlands.

Theme of the Conference

From the 1980s onward, there has been an unprecedented growth of institutions and procedures for auditing and evaluating university research. Quantitative indicators are now widely used at various levels, from the level of individual researchers to that of entire universities, serving to make academic activities more visible, accountable and amenable to university management and marketing. The Accelerated Academy aims to draw together a number of cross-disciplinary conversations about the effects that acceleration towards metric forms of evaluation is having upon research, and the implications this holds for academic life more widely. Building on the successful maiden edition of the Accelerated Academy series in Prague in 2015, this year’s Leiden conference will be especially focussed towards the following questions:

  • What does acceleration mean in different research contexts?
  • What are the implications of digitally mediated measurement and tools for quantifying scholarly performance?
  • What are the knowledge gaps regarding the effects of metrics on scientific quality and societal relevance of research?
  • How can we harness the positive and minimize the adverse effects of performance measurement in universities?

Confirmed keynote speakers include Professor Michael Power (LSE), Professor Ulrike Felt (University of Vienna) and Professor Peter Dahler-Larsen (University of Copenhagen).

Conference organisers

Dr. Sarah de Rijcke
Dr. Björn Hammarfelt
Dr. Alex Rushforth

Scientific committee

Dr. Mark Carrigan, University of Warwick
Dr. Tereza Stöckelová, Czech Academy of Sciences
Dr. Filip Vostal, Czech Academy of Sciences
Prof.dr. Paul Wouters, Leiden University
Dr. Milena Kremakova, University of Warwick

A call for papers will be announced shortly. Event registration will be free of charge. In addition, a limited number of travel and accommodation support bursaries will made available for researchers especially inhibited by the costs of travel.

– See more at: https://www.cwts.nl/news?article=n-q2v2c4&title=2nd-accelerated-academy-conference#sthash.NGoOUKZY.dpuf

I asked this question on Twitter, offering a free copy of Social Media for Academics to the person who wrote the most interesting answer in two tweets or less. Here were the responses:

Notes for a panel I’m doing in April with Claire Aitchison, Inger Mewburn & Pat Thomson. The idea for the panel was partly provoked by this Discover Society piece.

I’m an enthusiast about social media for academics. But for all the examples I see around me of social media enriching and enhancing scholarly practice, it’s hard not to be concerned by the broader context within which this is taking place. These problems are hugely worrying in their own right: the casualization of academic labour, the ceaseless ratcheting up of the expectations placed upon academics and the replacement of professional self-regulation by hierarchical audit all contribute to an environment I’ve talked about elsewhere, with my collaborator Filip Vostal, as the ‘accelerated academy’. But what I’m increasingly preoccupied by is how social media for academics doesn’t just take place within this context but rather influence how academics, individually and collectively, shape this context through resisting or reinforcing these pernicious tendencies.

It’s easy to see how social media for academics might fit into the ‘gig economy’ which we’re seeking to explore through this panel. It’s straight forward to imagine how rootless and nomadic academics would make themselves available through their online presence and mobile technology. What was once loftily conceived of as a vocation, though in reality more often simply a career, instead finds itself reduced to an endless iteration of ‘gigs’. In a way, the only thing I find implausible about this Doonesbury cartoon is the lack of digital technology in the world of employment it represents:

Picture1

Digital technology further fragmenting the academic workforce, scattering overly earnest scholars who seek only to teach and research across the international system, measuring and scrutinising their activity as they are ranked hierarchically to determine who gets first access to gigs that are ever shrinking in number as MOOCs replace the bulk of university teaching. Is this the future we face?

There’s something dystopically intoxicating about this narrative. In fact that’s what makes me suspicious of it. The polarisation of the academic labour market was not something caused by digital technology and there’s no reason to assume it will be intensified by it. In fact, if we look at how doctoral students and early career researchers are using social media, we can see lots of examples of social media being used to enhance the autonomy of younger academics: raising their visibility, helping them create networks and sustain a sense of professional identity when their working lives are split across many institutions.

My point is not to counterpoise a ‘good news story’ to a ‘bad news story’. For what it’s worth, I do think the picture is pretty bleak. But if we reduce the uptake of social media by academics to an extension of managerial power then we’ll struggle to understand exactly what influence it is having. If we impute too much to the technology then we fail to do justice to the social processes through which any technological influence is necessarily mediated.

Much depends on how social media is taken up by academics. The potential outgrowths of it are diverse: everything from what I’ve elsewhere described as ‘networked solidarity’ (including, though not limited to, satire) to displays of academic incivility which can only fairly be described as ‘trolling’. The key question for me concerns which of these uses become more likely under present circumstances and how these influence might, in turn, feed back into changing that context or reinforcing its existing characteristics.

I wonder if the key issue might simply be why people are turning to social media. My fear is that we are seeing a growing sense in which people feel they have to use social media. There are many potential reasons why this perception might be becoming widespread:

– how central social media is becoming to debates about impact and public engagement
– the growing frequency with which training is offered in universities
– the message this implies about the desirability of engagement
– people seeking contributions for things like collective blogs
– universities, departments and research centres seeking contributions for such projects obviously has an additional dimension to it
– stories about career success founded on an online presence: a sense that this stuff is crucial for career opportunities, without anyone being able to specify quite why this is the case, perhaps propped up by a few mythical cases
– the anxiety about not missing out on opportunities which inevitably abounds within an unhealthy job market.

My fear is that if ‘social media is the new black’, something which everyone is expected to do, instrumental concerns will come to squeeze out the more nebulous joys and satisfactions which can be found at present.

Social media for academics might provide a framework within which the ‘Uberisation of Higher Education’ becomes entrenched. But it might also provide a bulwark against it, facilitating solidarity and collective action between those who are nonetheless dispersed across many workplaces. We simply don’t know yet. But that’s why we have to be careful about how we conceptualise these platforms, the tools they offer for academics and what it means for them to be taken up within a changing landscape of higher education.

Then read through the comments that have accumulated on this morning’s Anonymous Academic post on the Guardian. Or don’t actually. Perhaps I just want others to share in my misery after having read through the whole set. Possibly the most depressing thing I’ve read all year.

As I made my way to my office at 7.30am last Thursday, I noticed an A4 poster stuck to the lift door. Then I noticed one on the wall. And one on the notice board. Then one on my classroom door. In fact, they were tacked to nearly every available surface along the corridor. And they all bore the same statement: “All I’m asking for is a little respect seeing as I pay you £9,000 a year.”

I still don’t know what prompted this flyer campaign – rumour has it that it’s linked to a group of students who were denied assignment extensions – but I could not help but become annoyed at the blunt, consumerist language.

I started to think about the ways that my students act and speak, and the way I acted and spoke during my time at university. I will admit that I didn’t do all of the readings, and yes, I may have missed a couple of lectures throughout the year, but I completed all assignments, followed the guidelines presented to me and understood the consequences of disengagement, without expecting my lecturers to chase after me like I was back in school. I wish I could say the same for my students.

As I walked through the car park with a colleague at the end of the day, we discussed the unrest that the posters had caused: “If you ask me,” he said, “all universities are going to need a customer services department before long.” And there it was, plain and simple, the issue that I hadn’t been able to articulate: these young people weren’t behaving like university students, they were behaving like customers.

http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/dec/18/my-students-have-paid-9000-and-now-they-think-they-own-me#comment-65320043

Saved here for my own reference: