how is the job market defined

Sara sent me this great Inside Higher Ed article Call to Arms for Academic Labor about Marc Bousquet’s recent book How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation. From the IHE article:

In the book, Bousqet doesn’t just lament the situation facing those on the job market, but questions how the market is defined. Just looking at jobs being filled and new Ph.D.’s entering the market, he writes, ignores larger realities: the way graduate students perform work for years before they are counted as “in the market,” and the differences in the qualities of the jobs being filled these days with those envisioned in the 1989 report. As a result, even generally optimistic reports about the job market miss the point, he argues.

Holding a doctoral degree in many ways represents a “disqualification” from academic work, Bousquet writes, because these degree holders’ post-Ph.D. employment is working as an adjunct without the possibilities of working on research, having health insurance or enjoying job security — which they may have (in varying degrees) as grad students.

I find Bousquet’s argument convincing (without having read the book), but I also like what Tim Mayers has to say in a comment on the article:

Much of Marc Bosquet’s analysis is astute and provocative. But with regard to one important aspect of the labor situation in college and university English departments, that analysis is sorely lacking.

Ph.D.-granting English departments nationwide contine to churn out specialists in literary interpretation; the number of such specialists is staggering in comparison to the number of specialists in writing and/or rhetoric. Yet most of the “cheap labor” provided by graduate students and adjuncts involves teaching writing, usually first-year composition. The issue, then, is not merely that so many college writing instructors are paid little and have no benefits and no job security. It’s that a stunning number of college writing instructors are unprepared and unqualified to teach writing. And many of them, quite frankly, have no real interest in teaching writing either; they do it to remain in academia while hoping they might eventually find “real” jobs as literature professors.

Behind all this lies the persistent bias of the MLA (and most English departments) that literary study is the fundamental focus and reason-for-being of English studies. A concerted effort to redefine English studies around literacy (as opposed to literature) is what’s needed. But that will take decades, if not longer.

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