Welcome to Academography!

There’s more and more great ethnography of higher education, but so much of it is hard to find.

The point of this project is to bring this set of work together. We think that both newcomers and established researchers could use help keeping track of everything that’s happening in the field. If you’re just getting started, our developing pedagogy section might be especially helpful.

It’s an extremely diverse set of research. It comes from people in all sorts of fields, from many different continents, from many different political perspectives, from different institutional positions. It overlaps with what’s lately been called “Critical University Studies,” but also includes work in science education, policy studies, critical sociology, educational anthropology, higher ed research, anthropology of knowledge, history and sociology of science, laboratory studies, reflexive cultural studies, and no doubt others.

The project is sponsored by the Committee on Postsecondary Education at the Council on Anthropology of Education, but anyone is free to get involved. We’d love to hear from anyone working in the field or just starting out. Especially let us know when you come across new research we should write about.

We can be reached at academography@gmail.com. You might also want to sign up to be notified when we publish new content.

Resources for Resistance: A politically engaged reading list

Maximillian Alvarez kindly offered to let us repost his short bibliography of Resources for Resistance, which affords a great, broad introduction to recent critical writing on higher education. (Much of it is U.S.-oriented; it also includes reflections from Canada, Britain, Australia, Mexico, and some more transnational cases.)

We’re borrowing the list from the end of Alvarez’s manifesto last year in The Baffler, Contingent No More. The manifesto is well worth reading for its general reminder that organizing against precarity should also be about organizing against the academic star system and against the dominant structures of academic knowledge.

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Critical Philosophy and Anthropology of Education Syllabus

For our continuing collection of syllabi, here is the syllabus for an undergraduate seminar that I taught in 2016 during my postdoc at Whittier College (a small liberal arts college in Southern California). Its mission was to put critical ethnography of higher education into dialogue with critical philosophies of education (from Plato to Freire, essentially).

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Politics of the University in the Global North Syllabus

A note from an Australian colleague just reminded me that we still need to flesh out our collection of teaching materials in Critical University Studies and critical ethnography of higher education. I do have a few things I can contribute from my own teaching practice. I’ll start here with a reading list that I wrote in 2013 for a class on the politics of universities in the Global North. It is mainly about the United States, with a bit of comparative work from other places, particularly France.

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Critical Point 2: The return to political economy

This is the second post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

I was saying in the last post that Gusterson smuggles in his own preferred theoretical approach beneath a set of ostensibly neutral epistemic criteria, such as “systematicity” and “self-awareness.” His preferred approach is, in substance, a contemporary version of political economy. So let us take time here to see what Gusterson’s political economy looks like.

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Critical Point 1: The aesthetics of good and bad ethnography

This is the first substantive post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, Gusterson’s paper calls for what he pictures as a more “systematic” anthropology of the university. It is worth revisiting his initial formulation in detail:

Some good ethnographic studies of aspects of university life have been written, but it must be said that, after three decades of “repatriated” anthropology (Marcus and Fischer 1986), the anthropological literature on universities is, taken as an ensemble, underdeveloped, scattered, and riddled with blind spots. And in this literature universities tend to be treated as spaces where particular phenomena, such as ethnic or gender relations, can be studied, but not as institutions to be theorized in and of themselves. (435)

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What does a critical ethnography of the university look like? A critical reading of Hugh Gusterson

Last year, the anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, known for his book on nuclear rituals at the U.S. government’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, published a sort of manifesto in American Ethnologist entitled “Homework: Toward a critical ethnography of the university.” It is the most prominent statement on anthropology of universities to emerge from U.S. cultural anthropology in recent years. I wanted to write up some thoughts about its argument, which I think deserves to be considered carefully.

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Furner, “Advocacy and Objectivity: A Crisis in the Professionalization of American Social Science, 1865-1905”

Eli asked me to review one of the major books on the history of the social sciences in the United States, Mary Furner’s Advocacy and Objectivity: A Crisis in the Professionalization of American Social Science, 1865-1905. The book was originally published by the University of Kentucky Press in 1975 and a new edition with a long and interesting preface was published by Transaction Publishers in 2011. The current edition was published by Routledge in 2017 and there is a Kindle edition. Since the Kindle edition is what I used, all quotes will be to Kindle locations rather than page numbers.

Why bother with a 43 year-old book by an American historian in a blog on the ethnography of academia? For one thing, the level of ethnographic and behavioral detail Furner is a nuanced tour de force. Despite its compelling qualities, the book completely fails to capture the issues uniquely affecting American anthropology and therefore sets us a task that has yet to be addressed. The book remains, however, the most detailed and sustained treatment of the passage from political economy as a combined analytical/social reform effort to a set of academic disciplines called the social sciences that have mostly abandoned social reform and even abandoned the discussion of social reform issues in anything but veiled terms. The cases of the rebels she so vividly documents, and the controversies they created and how they were settled, rewards a close reading for the clues they provide to the present passive, defensive, and inert postures of most of the non-STEM fields.

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What is Neo-Taylorism?

Morten Levin and Davydd Greenwood, in their book “Creating a New Public University,” put a lot of emphasis on what they call Neo-Taylorism. This is their general term for the corporate organizational form that dominates most contemporary universities. While everyone reading this has likely heard the expression “neoliberalism,” most people won’t have heard of “Neo-Taylorism.” So I wrote up a little primer in Q & A form.

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Madden, “Reflections on Teaching in a For-Profit College”

Radical Teacher has just published a very interesting auto-ethnographic piece by Jaime Madden, called “Instructor or Customer Service Representative?: Reflections on Teaching in a For-Profit College.” I wanted to pick out some important moments from it.

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A feminist student movement in Chile

I don’t know of any new ethnographic research on Chilean student feminism, but the media is reporting on a significant feminist protest movement that has been going on for a month in Chilean universities and schools. The watchword seems to be “Against macho violence” (contra la violencia machista).

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