Behind the Seen: Understanding Academic Work on the Neoliberal Stage
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Neoliberalism has increasingly gained traction with United States-based social-science researchers, economists, and even politicians in the twenty first century. Neoliberal ideology has affected the way Americans think about work, production/productivity, and job security (Giroux, 2005; Fish, 2009). New managerialism (Deem,2004) and the tenets of academic capitalism (Slaughter and Rhoades, 1997), specifically, can be considered alongside neoliberal ideology when studying the restructuring of higher education and consequently academic work. This study focuses on these shifts in work and how faculty experienced and negotiated those shifts. I employed qualitative methods of interviews, document analysis, and open-ended written questionnaires to collect narrative data from 24 faculty-participants. There is inherent value in considering the narratives of a population of laborers (i.e. college and university tenured faculty from across the U.S.) whose own work is defined by their ability to observe and theorize around social and scientific phenomena (Gill,2009). I considered how conceptions and performances of academic work were actively and consciously shaped by neoliberalism in top institutions of higher education. I examined the way that Liquid Modernity (Bauman, 2000) and notions of invisibility (Derrida, 1999; Gordon, 2008) operated through academic workers in the space of the neoliberal university(Peters, 2005, indelibly marked by academic capitalism and new managerialism. I examined the ways academic laborers leveraged their gender and class locations in response to the rapid restructuring of the American university system. This study not only considered the perceived accomplishments and hardships of faculty in top institutions, but also deconstructed those narratives to trace them back to the language and ideologies of neoliberalism itself, namely that of luck and meritocracy. Ultimately this dissertation argues that faculty used their class and gender locations to oscillate between conflicting narratives of what it means to be an academic laborer in the “new economy” (Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004). These conflicts and contradictions in their narratives show the potential to subvert polarized understandings of institutional structures as well as the potential to expose and claim the invisible or invisible labor of academics. The recognition of invisible work can work toward securing more equitable compensation for work performed, stronger support structures to match increased labor demands, and justice for the disenfranchised members of the professoriate.