neoliberalism and self-exploitation in academia

Laurence Trying to find time to make a contribution to this alongside the million other fragments of academic life: organising a journal, preparing a class, writing references, printing off documents needing a response, sorting out child care. And feeling deep depression about the lot of it.

Contemporary academia looks for us to be endlessly creative, constantly coming up with new projects, not simply to get on the wheel in the sense of getting the more or less stable jobs, but also to stay there. In capitalism, these are relatively good jobs: well paid, some autonomy and control over one's work, and so on.

But as Aileen's research on computer workers highlighted, those same features that make it attractive (the autonomy, the creativity and so on) are increasingly the mechanisms used to raise productivity or, rather more ideologically, to keep up the simulation of an ever-expanding market of ideas, projects, proposals all in fact operating within a state-funded education system, but as far as possible fragmented and speeded-up to simulate the world of capitalist middle-management.

Of course, it helps that there is an increasing stratum of academic managers whose raison d'etre consists precisely in being able to take new initiatives that will shake up academia and push it in the "right" direction.

Solidarity and cooperation, like this blog, are good things, and one of the potential rewards of academia. One of the difficulties is that disciplinary and theoretical fragmentation has proceeded so far that there is often very little of substance shared, just the feeling that it would be good to be working together (and the reality that it is better than working in isolation or working with people whose goals are radically different to our own).

In late capitalism, intellectual community, like any other kind of community, is something which can only be established through lengthy struggle. The more resources we have within such systems, the more attractive it becomes to look after ourselves individually and sink or float as the tides rise and fall.

Don't get me wrong: this is the kind of thing we should be doing. But we are doing it against the background of so many counteracting pressures, and with so few collective resources (as against the individual ones) that the blog - the isolated individual, or handful of individuals, sending out their message in a bottle and being read by equally isolated individuals - comes to seem a natural form for our activity.

Tellingly, Web 2.0 is massively more popular in those countries where individual isolation is most advanced - particularly post-Thatcher Britain and post-Reagan USA, and Celtic Tiger Ireland. Which doesn't make it a bad thing: as human beings, we try to connect even in the most extreme isolation. It's part of the species. But that is about all it can be.