Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sharecroppers, Migrant Workers and Adjuncts?

An interesting opinion piece here.


  1. This (the general topic of "adjucts ~ slaves/sharecroppers/etc.") discussion seems hollow and cheap to me. The authors recognize some of it, but fail to notice one obvious point. Slavery, migrant workers, even sharecroppers are all categorized by a birth factor: race and/or national origin. If you're born black/in Mexico your life is going to suck no matter how hard you try (more or less). I can't help but notice that adjuncts made choices to get where they are. Were they possibly mislead? Of course. But there are lots of people in non-professional jobs that have some semblance of job security. So I have a hard time swallowing the notion of adjunct professors as being the next civil rights battle front and I can't help but think that draping themselves in terms like "migrant worker", "slave", or "sharecropper" only gives deans more assurances that they don't need (deserve?) additional benefits.

  2. Hey Peter. Sorry so long in responding. This, in part, stems from how the subject - the metaphorics of agrarian slavery - is at the heart of my dissertation, and so I'm apprehensive to say much of substance (even to myself!). That said, a couple of points:

    First, yes, do check out the essay "Adjuncts Aren't Slaves" by D. Leonard that registers the feeling of "hollow and cheap" you mention. That said, note how he and you (and everyone else) make the next step to define exactly what slavery, cropping, etc. REALLY IS. This is the move that interests me: the delimiting of a space for the proper, literal and true meaning as opposed the literary, figurative and merely metaphorical meaning. Why, in other words, do folks feel the need to deploy such rhetoric in the first place? Why did Locke and other early moderns invoke the metaphor of slavery to develop a theory of liberal freedom? Or, more provocatively, were slaves themselves merely slaves? Is Orlando Patterson's definition of actual, historic slavery as "social death" merely a metaphor?

    Second, regarding the "choice" young academics make to get them into the adjunct dead-end career track: simply writing such folks off as having made "bad" mistakes seems too cheap to me. Provocatively, it seems akin to saying women who get sexually assaulted at a frat party shouldn't have been drinking and wearing suggestive clothing at a party. You see what I mean? Surely, my decision to follow a girlfriend back to Arkansas and not pursue a PhD at Cambridge was such a poor mistake; I would, like many of my colleagues there, most likely be employed at the moment. But this does not address the real structural issues at work with the contemporary neoliberal university. There are too many PhDs from too many mediocre programs, etc.; schools have truly fucked up priorities, etc.; and so on. There's much written about this specific problem without the rhetorical hyperbole.

    Finally, for now, I return to metaphor and slavery. Let me humbly suggest that what's going on here is the relationship between slavery and capitalism. It's not, in short, that adjuncts are the "new" slaves, but - as they correctly point out at the end of the first article - adjuncts are simply coming to the realization they are just like (i.e., equal to, isomorphic with, etc.) all the other workers under capitalism. Capitalism, in short, is the "new" slavery -- or, as I put it, capitalism is "recombinant" slavery.

    Thanks for reading....let's get a beer soon!


  3. Here's the link to the essay I mentioned:

    And another nice blog, The Poetic Labor Project: