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ERIC Number: EJ841198
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2003-Nov
Pages: 22
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 45
ISSN: ISSN-0010-0994
The Rhetoric of "Job Market" and the Reality of the Academic Labor System
Bousquet, Marc
College English, v66 n2 p207-228 Nov 2003
One way of describing the recent movement of thought about the academic labor system is as a series of waves. A "first wave" of labor consciousness emerged before 1970, propelling the self-organization of the academic work force, especially in public institutions, where more than half the faculty are unionized. This labor awareness was contested by the administratively oriented second wave, generally informed by a neoliberal ideology idealizing market epistemology and naturalizing market relationships. Sweeping to dominance about 1980, this wave has the virtue of focusing on the connection of graduate education to the larger system of academic work; nonetheless, in characterizing that connection primarily as a market relationship, administrative knowledge has been strongly contested by a third wave of knowledge produced by what is in North America a fifty-campus movement of graduate-employee unionists. In this essay, the author focuses on the emergence of the failed "market knowledge" of the second wave. Market language gives the impression that people have collectively decided to put aside the playfulness of cultural activities when talking about something as important as the situation that people also name the "job crisis." The rhetorical richness of this market language has had a profound effect on how people think about graduate education. In particular, the rhetoric elaborating the market-crisis point of view sustains a general consensus that the system of graduate education is producing more degree holders than necessary, and that this "overproduction" can be controlled "from the supply side" by reducing admissions to graduate programs. This common sense is deeply flawed, to the point where the author thinks people have to acknowledge that ""market knowledge" is a rhetoric of the labor system and not a description of it." Because the incoming flow of graduate students is generally tightly controlled to produce "just enough" labor, graduate departments really can't reduce admissions without making other arrangements for the work that the graduate students would have done. Since the restoration of tenure-stream lines is rarely a department-level prerogative, a department with the power to reduce graduate-student admissions will generally be driven to substitute other casual appointments. In terms of casualization, there is clearly no net improvement from this "supply-side" fix. These other modes of casualized work are filled by persons equally enmeshed in the system of graduate study. The system will continue to require "just enough" of these other term workers, all of whom will have had some experience of graduate education.
National Council of Teachers of English. 1111 West Kenyon Road, Urbana, IL 61801-1096. Tel: 877-369-6283; Tel: 217-328-3870; Web site:
Publication Type: Information Analyses; Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: North America