Anthropology: the major, the career

11 thoughts on “Anthropology: the major, the career”

  1. Cultural anthropology made its bed by knowingly recruiting far more Ph.D students than there were or ever will be academic positions for, and at the same time actively discouraged and denigrated students pursuing roles in business, government or other areas of the private sector. Newly minted PhD’s, you seem not to realize that just because you got a PhD at the academy, that the academy does not owe you a job. Like many other students in other disciplines, you chose to pay a lot of money in the hopes of getting a job in a decades-long over-saturated market. The radical end of Anthropology weighing in on this discussion on other blogs, treat the professional prospects of students as something of a right (given they often object to the notion that people have to work for a living at all) and object to the very notion that Anthropologists… just like everyone else, have to actually provide demonstrable value of they wish their dream to continue to be subsidized by the public. While I have never met someone that got into Cultural Anthropology for the money, that’s also no excuse for departments or students to feel like the rug is has been pulled out when colleges, universities, foundations and government grants cap or reduce their support to an over saturated market that largely exists to only train others to enter the over-saturated market.
    There are a lot of degrees out there with low outcomes for success: theater, poetry, English, literature specializations of all stripes, novelists, performance artists of all stripes, Juilliard trained musicians. But they are prepared for this eventually. They know they are going to be working some other job while struggling to get their break in the business and they know most never get that break. They did follow their passion into a degree, but you don’t hear a lot of shock that a job was not waiting on the other said or that the State somehow should be supporting their passion “just because.” Yes, shrinking budgets are causing a lot of problems, but be realistic about the root of this as well… just how many cultural anthropology positions do you think are going to be needed when it can be 20 to 30 years before a faculty member retires and move out or their office and position? Quite simply: what has the ratio of PhD students in the discipline of Cultural anthropology irresponsibly encouraged to pursue careers in colleges and universities vs. how many people retire/resign each year? 5 to 1? 50 to 1? 100 to 1? Are you seriously suggesting that the university system is obligated to hire as many anthropology students as get churned out every year into academic positions?
    If you are an adjunct, I have to admit I have only moderate sympathy. I have been an anthropology adjunct, as has another family member in another discipline. The market will always take advantage of those willing to work longer hours for lower pay and no benefits. It is a contract like any other: They offer, you negotiate, you accept or do not accept. When you accepted the contract, you knew what you were getting. God knows adjunct is far from a living wage and I would argue that anyone accepting an adjunct position is hurting everyone. It is hard to see it this way, but adjuncts are just a nicer way of breaking full-time workers. Just like scabs of the past, adjuncts believe in the idea there are paying dues now in hope of future employment. They are not. As an adjunct, you are allowing schools to get cut-rate teachers for pennies on the dollar. Why are you an adjunct? Because you bought into the “It’s a calling” story hook, line and sinker. It is not, it is a part time job with no benefits that pays less than minimum wage on an actual hourly basis. I know, you are doing adjunct to build up your teaching experience so you can take that 1 in 300 shot of a tenure tracked job, it is that step to being a “real” faculty member. Um hm… and how many other adjuncts do you know that have made that jump before getting out entirely? I thought so. Do you really want to fix the Adjunct problem in the US? All the Adjuncts need to quit. Granted, I seriously doubt that those adjunct positions will get backfilled, those courses will just get cancelled. But why on earth do Adjuncts feel some obligation to use their precious time in this world to subsidize college and university budgets for a couple of thousand bucks, maybe $12K a year and lord help you if you get sick. If you want better conditions, quit bloody working for the conditions you are in. You are right, you risk them realizing they can (and will) get by without you at all, but isn’t it far better to choose another path than remain in one where you are willing allowing yourself to be manipulated into poverty by being told it is “A Calling” by those that reap 100% benefit for stealing your time and education for pennies on the dollar? Really… just quit.

  2. There are not two camps, please stop trying to make this a conflict where none should exist. You’re framing the debate into terms that are completely irrelevant to the actual issues involved,neatly sidestepping a legitimate and very important conversation.

    “Contingent” faculty, or should I say part-timers, are an ignored and poorly paid aspect of working in academia – I know, I’ve been there, and since I have a visiting contract I may well be there again in time. Part-timers are your peers, have gone through the same rigorous training as you have,and now number more at many universities than tenure-track faculty. The work they produce is often roundly ignored by the larger community, their research is rarely funded because they have no permanent ties to an academic community, and in general (but not always), they are stuck teaching the same intro classes multiple times in multiple semesters, unable to gain experience in the upper level courses that would make them more appealing for hire.

    I cannot afford to attend the annual meeting now, I’ve graduated and my dues and the cost of attending are more than I can afford. It’s a shame, too, because I present almost every time I go, and thoroughly enjoy the opportunities to hear other scholars. While I appreciate the chance to see places like New Orleans and San Francisco, I can’t afford to stay there anymore since I can’t go with a group of grads and stay 8 people to a room.

    This is all in addition to the attitudes towards what work we produce being available to the public and to peers at institutions that can no longer afford to subscribe to the journals in which we are expected to publish. Much of the writing and research we do would be extremely helpful to the larger academic community and to the public at large, policy makers and non-profits, and they have no access to it.

    We are one camp – scholars and students who love what we do and share it. How that happens is what is up for discussion and, hopefully, a lot of change.

  3. Charles – I understand your frustration, but I don’t think what you are proposing is actually possible. How many people attend AAA each year? Smaller cities are unlikely to have a conference center that would have such a large number of meeting rooms. Also, the leadership doesn’t give a crap about adjuncts and independent scholars because they believe in the just world fallacy.

  4. Greetings, and thanks for posting these links. The above-mentioned anthropologists (myself, Ryan Anderson, Jason Antrosio and Sarah Kendzior) have penned the following response, which can also be found on Savage Minds and Zero Anthropology:

    We are gratified that the American Anthropological Association has taken note of our critical commentary on the vagaries of the academic career, and we thank fellow blogger Joslyn O. for publicizing our work on the Association website. However, we would like to clear up a few misconceptions.

    The AAA post suggests we represent two “camps,” but we share only one: a commitment to ending precarious intellectual labour. We protest the transformation of our profession into a swelling Hooverville congregated on the margins of universities whose dwindling tenured citizenry is bankrolled by our low-wage, low-benefit, low-security, low-respect work.

    The bleak future of the aspiring anthropologist is not a concoction rooted in cynicism. It is an empirically demonstrable, material condition that speaks its truth in the language of debt, dependency, discouragement, and occasionally, the dole. We queue up for the work time and again because we deeply value anthropology. There is little other reason to plough the terrain of a field whose prospects for success resemble a lottery more than a competition. But as the national belt tightens in the face of prolonged economic crisis, contingent workers are increasingly unable to afford to subsidize the discipline financially, however highly we regard it intellectually. And the dignity deficit takes its toll on us all.

    Anthropology is, and is not, “what we make it.” The most powerful producers of anthropological policy and practice seldom include the ranks of the precarious, yet even the privileged can lay no proprietary claim to a field whose fate, like that of its sister subjects in the social sciences, arts and humanities, rests at the mercy of profitability. Nonetheless, anthropology’s commitment to the science of social justice makes the studied ignorance of its own internal inequities insupportably ironic.

    The resolution of these contradictions is served by neither silence nor sympathy, but solidarity. An academy structured upon the division of a two-tiered labor market discourages such an alliance. Yet we hope that anthropologists will join together to fight for the value of our work beyond the barometer of the bottom line. We must, for the same structural forces that divide tenured and contingent faculty threaten to subsume us all beneath a wave of public retrenchment, whose end game will inter us on the same sinking ship if we do not turn the tide. While the reserve army may constitute the foot soldiers in this battle for survival, the generals are hardly immune to the war on intellectual value.

    The AAA can play a role in promoting solidarity. The first step is acknowledging that we are a house divided: not into camps which value, or do not value, the craft of anthropology, but into classes which are unevenly able to extract a living wage from that craft. The second step is to extend the professional respect and responsibility the Association demands for students, informants, the public and science itself to our fellow workers, within and without the academy. This solidarity is not only desirable but vital, for the future of anthropology is far more than academic.

    Ryan Anderson
    Jason Antrosio
    Eliza Jane Darling
    Sarah Kendzior

  5. The AAA leadership is out-of-touch with its membership, as recent articles in Al Jazeera and elsewhere again reveal. How do they justify holding the conferences in the most expensive cities in North America? Do they realize that most anthropologists cannot afford to spend a month or two of their salaries to attend? Apparently not. More importance is given to providing full entertainment value, i.e., lots of bars and restaurants, to the well-heeled than needed services to the increasingly indigent members of the profession. As chair of a department at a large private university, I can afford to show up in San Francisco or Montreal, so it’s not for myself I make these observations. But how does the AAA high command live with itself when its decisions disenfranchise and impoverish so many of its younger or less than fully employed members? When will spend less time on posturing about labor relations and more time helping the membership afford going to annual conferences? I wait for the leadership to make a solemn promise NOT to hold meeting in any city than exceeds the national city average for loding and food. That means considering holding the meetings in Topeka and Mobile, and not in Washington and San Francisco.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s