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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Continue reading What is Neo-Taylorism?

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.

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

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).

Continue reading A feminist student movement in Chile

Naidu, “Glaring invisibility: Dressing the body of the female cleaner”

I’ve been teaching more South African ethnographic work lately, and I just came across a great paper about outsourced campus cleaning staff at the University of KwaZulu Natal. Maheshvari Naidu‘s 2009 Glaring invisibility: dressing the body of the female cleaner is a particularly rich feminist ethnography of how black African women cleaning staff relate to their mandatory work uniforms. The bottom line is easy to convey: They don’t like them. Yet they are required to wear them.

Continue reading Naidu, “Glaring invisibility: Dressing the body of the female cleaner”

Academography year three

The Academography project began in late 2016 and now it’s almost March 2018, so it seems as good a time as any to take stock of our progress.

Globally speaking, as far as I can tell, higher education has not changed enormously in the past sixteen months. It continues to be a highly contested space whose history is inseparable from all the other major global processes. I’m thinking of things like the evolution of neoliberal governance, the progress of decolonizing projects such as Transformation in South Africa, the ongoing conflicts about immigration and racialization, the resurgence of ethnonationalisms notably under Donald Trump, antisexist projects like #metoo, and ongoing debates about precarious labor.

Continue reading Academography year three

Interview with Gina Hunter (Ethnography of the University Initiative)

Gina Hunter is an anthropologist teaching at Illinois State University, in the Midwestern United States, and a longstanding participant in the Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI). The EUI, which we’ve written about before, is an institutional initiative housed at the University of Illinois which aims to support reflexive student research projects about higher education. The project has been around since 2002, and Hunter was its co-director from 2006–2014. She generously took the time to answer a number of questions about the project, its politics and context. The interview, if I may say so, is particularly relevant for teachers thinking about the politics of students doing critical research on their own educational institutions.

Eli Thorkelson: Can we perhaps start by talking a bit more about the internal history of the project? I know the project was initiated by Nancy Abelmann (whose 2009 book about Korean American college students I really loved) and Bill Kelleher, but I’m wondering how you yourself came to the project? How has its organizational atmosphere changed over the years, as it has gone from novel experiment to a more durable part of the institution?

Continue reading Interview with Gina Hunter (Ethnography of the University Initiative)

Goodman, “Acts of Negotiation”

I’ve been interested lately in a stream of new work coming out on language politics in global higher education. Yesterday I came across a new paper on English language instruction in Ukraine: Bridget Goodman’s “Acts of Negotiation: Governmentality and Medium of Instruction in an Eastern Ukrainian University,” just published in Anthropology & Education Quarterly. It’s a fine-grained ethnographic analysis of what’s at stake in teaching in multilingual situations.

Continue reading Goodman, “Acts of Negotiation”

On campus ethnography: the Columbia “Sex Study”

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education had an unusually detailed article on the Columbia self study of student sexual behavior.  For those with access to the Chronicle, see https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Sex-Study-That-Could-Alter/242484.  Various attempts to attach this here as a pdf failed. Sorry.

Aside from the politics of research which are fraught, the study is interesting both in content and also for the contrast and comments made by Elizabeth Armstrong, whose work I greatly admire.  After reading this and thinking for a moment, I am amazed that anyone is surprised at what is happening. We herd together 18-21 year olds without parental supervision and with some spending money in intimate environment in which liquor and drugs are easily available and then say we are surprised when, in addition to liquor and drugs, they do “that”.  Are we as foolish as we seem to be?  Are we willing to change campuses to the point necessary to change this social environment? I doubt it.

 

The wreckage

For those who have not seen it, this piece from Inside Higher Education on the personal and professional consequences of “precarious” is unflinching in showing the costs of the neoliberal university in both personal and professional terms.  https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/02/13/historians-quit-lit-essay-rejects-notion-leaving-higher-ed-equals-personal-failure

I particularly like the call for those who made it to tenure to reflect on this.  My own career, despite all the hard work, was significantly built on chronological luck of entering the professoriate when it was a possible vocation and not a fee-for-service job overseen by armies of non-academics.  What obligations do the tenured now have to the “wreckage”? If there is an obligation, how is it to be met?

Davydd