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.

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.

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:

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:

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:


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.

Saved here for my own reference:

Via Janice Malcolm:


To submit CLICK HERE

Submissions are due by Friday 15 January 2016.  


The conference welcomes submissions from staff and students (especially collaborations among students, and between staff and students), across the full spectrum of disciplinary lenses on the themes described below. We are especially keen on receiving submissions that address or re-work the themes below drawing on arguments about Indigenous knowledges and southern theory. Please note that the questions at each theme are intended as prompts only:

  • Teaching, learning and curriculum: How are changes to teaching, learning and curriculum shifting the identities of staff and students? What kinds of ‘welcome’ and ‘questionable’ identities, roles, and practices have emerged in the measured university for staff and students, and with what consequences? What sorts of theories, approaches, and evidence are now needed to confront and re-work teaching, learning and curriculum in the measured university?
  • Research & research education: What are the pleasures, paradoxes, and politics inherent in measuring research? How does the curriculum of research training / doctoral education prepare research students for engaging with (or speaking back to) the demands of the measured university? How do we form and sustain communities that nourish our identities and practices as researchers and scholars?
  • Service: How does service manifest in the measured university? What has driven the transformation of ‘service’ into administration/bureaucracy? What are some innovative examples of the recognition and reward of service in the measured university?
  • Community engagement: How do staff and students take up the desire by universities for increased community engagement? How are staff and students renewed by their participation in community engagement activities? In what ways does the increased focus on community engagement relate to the demands of the measured university?
  • Academic careers and promotion: In what ways has the measured university helped, hindered and shaped the nature of academic careers? What does the emergence of new third space/para-academic roles tell us about the changing nature of the academic workforce in the measured university?
  • Leadership: What is the intellectual role of the professoriate in the measured university? What forms of disciplinary and departmental leadership are needed for academic work in the measured university? How do we understand the relation between the restructuring of academic labour and university leadership?
  • Governance: In what ways is the measured university transforming academic governance structures? Are we in a time when data has replaced discussion? Does data develop dissent or compliance? How is an understanding of what counts as data informing shifts in academic governance? What is the future role of collegial governance in the measured university?
  • Ideas about the university under the conditions of measurement: In the measured university, what languages of description have we become lumbered with, and enabled by? How do practices of care, kindness, critique, and pleasure play out in the measured university? How do we continue to be committed to the idea of the university despite its reputation for being a ‘greedy institution’? What can be done to act both with, and against, the drift, scale, and reach of the measured university? Is it possible to redirect the measured university to different ends? If so, what might those ends be and how shall we go about it?

Submission types

We welcome four types of conference submission. No matter which type you choose, aim to prepare no more than a 500-word submission (which should include no more than five scholarly references). The references should be included in your word count.

Paper/Symposium (30/60/90 mins)

Single-paper presentations explore one or more dimensions of the conference themes. The goal of these sessions is to share work-in-progress and engage in dialogue with conference participants, so timing should be balanced between presentation and discussion (20m+10m is optimal). You should also aim to demonstrate how your paper/symposium contributes (or is likely to contribute) to the existing body of scholarly research. Where presenters have two or three thematically linked papers, you may propose a symposium with a maximum time of 90 minutes. In that case, you need to give an overarching abstract for the symposium as a whole, as well as titles and reduced abstracts for each paper within the symposium. Please nominate a contact person for the symposium.

Roundtable (60 mins)

Roundtable discussions provide the opportunity for a lively discussion around a particular topic or area of research. They are an ideal opportunity for networking and for building collaborations. If you wish to propose a roundtable discussion, the submission should include an overview of the topic, and pose some critical questions that the roundtable discussion will explore. These sessions will be chaired by the person who proposes the roundtable.

Performance (30/60 mins)

Performance-based presentations provide an opportunity for presenters to draw on forms, expressions and traditions of arts-based inquiry as a vehicle for exploring the conference themes. We welcome performance in all its variety. Some possibilities include: readers’ theatre, performance ethnography, and poetic representations of research. If you wish to propose a performance, your submission will need to be strong in both the idea (related to the conference themes), and in the description of the type of performance. If the performance involves audience participation, you will need to indicate that as well in your submission.

Pecha Kucha Forum (30 mins)

Presenters show 20 slides for 20 seconds each, giving a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds for each presentation. The aim is to exchange ideas in a concise and stimulating way. Presentations are image based, which keeps them engaging. Each forum will have three pecha kucha presentations followed by time for group reflection and discussion. Individual and group proposals are welcomed.

Review criteria

Each submission to the conference will be double-blind peer reviewed according to the following criteria:

  • It responds and contributes to the conference theme.

  • It is connected to, and in conversation with, appropriate scholarly literature.

  • It demonstrates how and why it is of interest to the intended audience.

  • It is well written

An interesting blog post by Nick Osbaldiston, reflecting on a study they undertook into the working lives of academics. The original focus was quantitative, with some of the findings detailed in the post:

• Academics in our study (n=155) reported working on average 9 hours per day
• However, Full-Time Ongoing Academics reported an average of 9.24 hours per day (9.36 for fixed term employees)
• Interestingly, casual/sessional academics were reporting an average of around 6 and a half hours – but we were unsure how much they were employed to do here.
• Research only academics were working the most over teaching/research and teaching only academics
• All cohorts (Full-time through to Sessionals) were reporting workingsometimes on the weekend
• Academics in our study reported around 2.79 leisure hours a day – however see below – with no differences in gender at all
• When controlling for caring duties and gender, we were surprised to see nothing significant in reporting of leisure hours (again see below)
• We found a weak correlation (r=.181) between work hours and publications reported to us in the study (still significant at p < .05)
• Most participants agreed with the statement that they feel more pressure to work harder and were mostly in disagreement with the idea that the university provides good options for work/life balance (though parents were a little more ambivalent here).

However they go on to point out that this is complicated by the fact that it’s “hard to ‘switch off’ as an academic because your identity is fused with it in so many ways”. The quantitative data on workloads is important but it doesn’t tell the full story because the work/leisure distinction on which it’s predicated often won’t map onto occupational realities very neatly. Take this blog post as an example: I’m writing it at 8:15am, I’m enjoying writing it, it’s something I’m undertaking voluntarily, it’s a distraction from work I am being paid to do, no one in relation to whom I am an employee will either praise or criticize me for having written it. But it contributes to preparation for a book I’m writing and surely the book is part of my work? Nonetheless, no one is paying me for the book, I have no part of my labour time allotted to it by an employer and any contribution to my career ensuing from the book exceeds formal structures of reward and recognition within institutions I’m part of.

Ambiguous features like this make work/life balance a tricky dichotomy. It makes sense within a structured career, where rewards and recognition are formally incentivized through an institutionally defined trajectory. People might move jobs but the career structure is something that carries between institutions. However the less structured this career becomes, the more activity that feels like ‘work’ (such as the self-development and self-promotion that become more crucial as a corollary) escape the formal institutional sphere of work. Throw in a portfolio career, all the more so if it’s motivated by ‘passion’ and the work/life balance dichotomy comes to seem remarkably crude. But there are institutional hooks, organisations still capitalize on personal motivation even if the biographical embedding of an individual within institutions becomes profoundly messier than it once was. As Nick argues, “if we overdo the idea that being an academic is a lifestyle and vocation, that we legitimize the intensification of workloads and pass on the need to ‘balance’ to individuals – all part of the neoliberal responsibilisation of the person“.

Therefore I’d like to understand the complexity of what I see as the intensification of work in terms of the multiplication of roles. Roles are, as Margaret Archer puts it, greedy: we can always do more and a crucial part of our everyday reflexivity involves negotiating between the competing demands of roles when we have finite attentional, temporal and emotional resources. In this sense, we can see the intensification of academic labour in terms of the decoupling of multiple roles from particular organisations (e.g. my role as an academic writer exceeding my connection to a university that employs me) and a growing greediness of those multiple roles which leads to a pull away from non-occupational roles. It’s a much more complex process than can be captured in terms of the blurring of boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘life’.

Here’s a link to the podcast of an invited talk I did at the Society for Research Into Higher Education last week: Surviving life in the accelerated academy: prospects and problems for digital scholarship

In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the stress and anxiety of academic life. This developing discourse has an ambivalent relationship to digital technology: it has been facilitated by the uptake of blogging and micro-blogging amongst academics, yet social media and other digital technologies are involved in many of the facets of academic life that are seen as sources of stress and anxiety. This talk uses the notion of ‘social acceleration’ to address the changes taking place within higher education, as well as the role of digital technology in their emergence and the difficulties they create for academics. It considers the significance of digital scholarship within this context, arguing that its institutionalisation will profoundly shape the conditions under which people aspire to be academics and to do academic work. I make the case that there is an emancipatory possibility inherent in the uptake of digital scholarship by academics but that this risks being lost, as a narrower managerialist conception of digital scholarship begins to take root within higher education.