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Academic Craftwork: On Authenticity and Value in Academia

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Abstract

The work of scholars has been described as a kind of craftwork, driven by the value that scholars place on the conduct of scholarship itself. In this chapter, I explore the consequences of thinking of scholarship as craftwork for who are recognised as authentic scholars and what ideals are promoted in talk about scholarship. Often expressed in terms of a passion for academic work, the experience of moments of authenticity and inauthenticity in academia are closely connected to the temporal autonomy of scholars, privileging those who are able to represent experiences of craft time. The ideal of an academic worker as a craftworker is both gendered and classed, differentially shaping the expectations of different demographic groups. The self-management and ‘hope labour’ that is required of aspiring academics interpolates a middle-class masculine subjectivity, disadvantaging those who have or expect to have caring duties or who depend on their wage labour and less prestigious forms of academic labour. Collegiality in this context is bifurcated along classed and gendered lines, as the interests of academics are divided by a value system that favours temporally and financially independent, ‘passionate’ scholars. This chapter argues that the ideal of craftwork both privilages those with autonomy over the rhythms and pace of their work and can become an assumption of academic career planning.
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Pre-print of Cannizzo, F. (2019). Academic craftwork: On authenticity and value in academia. In F.
Cannizzo & N. Osbaldiston (eds.), The Social Structures of Global Academia. London: Routledge.
Academic Craftwork: On Authenticity and Value in Academia
Fabian Cannizzo
Abstract
The work of scholars has been described as a kind of craftwork, driven by the value that
scholars place on the conduct of scholarship itself. In this chapter, I explore the
consequences of thinking of scholarship as craftwork for who are recognised as authentic
scholars and what ideals are promoted in talk about scholarship. Often expressed in terms
of a passion for academic work, the experience of moments of authenticity and
inauthenticity in academia are closely connected to the temporal autonomy of scholars,
privileging those who are able to represent experiences of craft time. The ideal of an
academic worker as a craftworker is both gendered and classed, differentially shaping the
expectations of different demographic groups. The self-management and ‘hope labour’ that
is required of aspiring academics interpolates a middle-class masculine subjectivity,
disadvantaging those who have or expect to have caring duties or who depend on their
wage labour and less prestigious forms of academic labour. Collegiality in this context is
bifurcated along classed and gendered lines, as the interests of academics are divided by a
value system that favours temporally and financially independent, ‘passionate’ scholars.
This chapter argues that the ideal of craftwork both privilages those with autonomy over
the rhythms and pace of their work and can become an assumption of academic career
planning.
Academic work as craft and commerce
In this era of mass higher education, academic careers are assembled from diverse and
potentially conflicting motivations. Blackmore and Kandiko (2011) helpfully describe
academic life as an intersection between the intrinsic value of scholarship, monetary
economies and prestige economies. Both monetary and prestige economies imply that
academic labour and career planning can be motivated by external reward systems
whether in the form of financial gains or though ‘prestige rewards’, which may materialise
in the form of a spacious corner office, for example (Blackmore & Kandiko, 2011, p. 404).
The values associated with doing academic and scientific work are often presented as
opposed to the pursuit of external rewards. Davies and Horst (2015), for example, describe
the craftwork of group leaders and principle investigators in bio-technology laboratories,
which is invested with a great deal of care and careful work. The performance of craftwork
‘brings together skill, a focus on utility or purpose and a particular emotional orientation
(care, passion, commitment)’ (Davies & Horst, 2015, p. 376). This craftwork requires an
appropriate ethical disposition: to do careful work is to reflect on ‘good’ means and ends.
Instrumentalising academic craftwork, on the other hand, runs the risk of corrupting its
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intrinsic value. In the appendix to The Sociological Imagination, C. Wright Mills (1959)
describes academic labour as ‘the practice of a craft’, arguing that the work of a social
scientist as inseparable from their personal life. He claims that:
the most admirable thinkers within the scholarly community you have chosen to join
do not split their work from their lives. They seem to take both too seriously to allow
such dissociation, and they want to use each for the enrichment of the other…
Scholarship is a choice of how to live as well as a choice of career; whether he (sic)
knows it or not, the intellectual workman forms his own self as he works toward the
perfection of his craft; to realise his own potentialities, and any opportunities that
come his way, he constructs a character which has as its core the qualities of the good
workman. (Mills, 1959, pp. 195-196)
The form of labour control most appropriate to craftwork is one in which the skilled
craftsperson ‘establishes their own working conditions, protected by the quality of their
products, and limited access to their industry’ (Edwards, in Tancred-Sheriff, 1985, p. 380).
Tancred-Sheriff (1985, p. 371) notes that craftwork often allows for the development of a
kind of ‘personal style’ in how work is carried out. That is, ‘thinking and feeling are [both]
contained within the process of making’ (Sennett, 2008, p. 7). However, the personal
investment in craftwork jars against the monetary and prestige economies associated with
it in academic labour, or as Richard Sennett (2008, p. 9) claims, ‘the craftsman (sic) often
faces conflicting objective standards of excellence’ that include ‘competitive pressure’.
Tancred-Sheriff describes this tension in terms of the university’s role in academic
craftwork: while academics retain control of their work tasks, ‘the rewarding the
disciplining of craftspeople becomes the partial responsibility of outsiders(1985, p. 380).
Performance metrics and other means of representing the relative value of academic work
are hence central to the disciplining of craft, investing it with external incentives.
Motivations are important to craftwork, because craftspersonship requires a special space
and time to allow a worker to become immersed in craftwork. The call to slow down the
pace of personal and work life in the slow scholarship movement can be seen as one
expression of the desire for a temporality conducive to craftwork. In their book, The Slow
Professor, Berg and Seeber (2016, p. 17) claim that increased time pressures in the university
are detrimental to intellectual work, interfering with our ability to think critically and
creatively’. What is often overlooked in calls to slow down higher education and research
is that craftwork is not only a practice, but also an ideal that is shaped by gender and class
norms. Craftwork is not only seen as limited by the corrupting forces of external
motivations (i.e. performance metrics), but also by distraction (Sennett, 2008). Both
domestic caring responsibilities and concern for one’s (perhaps vital) salary may hence
produce inauthenticating experiences of academic work. Inequality is reproduced through
the use of casual academic labour here. Several studies have traced what May et al. (2013,
p. 264) describe in their Work and Careers in Australian Universities study as the
segmentation of the academic labour market, which stems from the use of informal
recruitment methods for casual academic staff in internal labour markets. Kimber (2003)
similarly claims that casual teaching work is bought in secondary labour markets, identifying
a division between the tenured core of ongoing academics and a tenuous periphery of
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casual teachers. Looking at this so-called periphery through the lens of craftwork suggests
that workplace marginalisation is enacted through the marginalisation of teachers and
carers with temporal experiences that diverge from the model of the craftworker.
The invisibility of casual workers, due to their absence in routine workplace forums, offices
and breakrooms, for example (Tweedie, 2013, p. 305), lessens their opportunities for
having input into organisational planning. This tenuous periphery of casual workers
experiences class subordination to higher education managers to the extent that they are
locked out of organisational planning and decision-making (Brown et al., 2010) and
professional development that would make them suitable for higher status positions (Ryan
& Bhattacharyya, 2012; Ryan et al., 2013). Disempowering contingent academic staff
through withholding opportunities for professional advancement is a form of opportunity
hoarding, which Wright (2015, p. 8) notes is a key strategy of middle-class exclusion.
However, an additional effect of this disempowerment is that casual staff are restricted in
where they may exercise ‘care’ in their work. Craftwork requires autonomy to ethically
reflect on scholarly practice and enact decisions. The development of a careful work ethic
may be stunted where casual staff feel that the responsibility for the quality of their work
rests with senior members of staff. Gottschalk and McEachern’s (2010, p. 40) study
highlighted that while a growing number of academics use casual employment as a career
strategy for seeking more permanent work, this option can become a career trap when
aspiring academics comes to be seen as a ‘casual workersand less attractive as a prospective
permanent staff member. Being seen as piecemeal workers rather than craftworkers may
contribute to their marginalisation, although as of yet there have been no empirical studies
exploring this possibility. Most casuals in Gottschalk and McEachern’s study desired to
progress to more permanent work, but found only ‘frustrated careers’ as they came to
recognise that their relationship with the university was ‘largely functional’; disillusioned,
they internalised their status as casual workers (Gottschalk & McEachern, 2010, p. 48). The
ideal that academic work is a kind of craft needs to be taken seriously to better elaborate
the cultural reproduction of these class relations.
Craftwork is also a gendered practice. Studies of the academic profession have identified a
number of gendered differences in both academic careers and beliefs about careers. Probert
(2005) notes in her study of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) that women did
not apply as often for promotion as their male counterparts, so despite roughly even odds
of being successfully promoted and were also more likely to be the primary carer for
children or elderly parents (p. 62). Using interview data, Probert determined that the
organisation of the division of household labour was perceived as a significant career
barrier for female academics, as participants had developed an ‘internalized understanding
of what senior academics should be doing’; that is, publishing, which often occurs outside
of workplace hours where it may encroach on other obligations (Probert, 2005, p. 69).
Further to this, not all academic work is rewarded equally. In a large study of Australian
and British academics, Brew et al. (2017, p. 3) found that a large amount of academic work
goes ‘unnoticed and unrewarded’, often misrepresented as ‘service’ in institutional
workload and promotion practices. They have coined the term ‘academic artisanal work’
to describe the careful labour necessary to sustain the university, such as coordination
responsibilities, curriculum development, student administration, professional
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development, outreach activities, and industry-oriented work (Brew et al., 2017, p. 7).
Academic artisanal work is vital to the smooth operation of universities, yet is often
overlooked because it is not captured by research and teaching productivity metrics. Recent
international quantitative studies have suggested that women take on more unrecognised
labour than their male counterparts (Aiston & Jung, 2015; Guarino & Borden, 2017),
making artisanal work an issue of gender equity issue for academics. Although this artisanal
work contains all the characteristics of craftwork (caring work, a personal style, standards
of quality), its lower status in comparison to other forms of work (and outputs) marginalises
recognition of its value.
Institutionalised assumptions about how ‘real’ academics approach work may also devalue
those with domestic and caring labour responsibilities. The barriers to gender parity in
professions have a normative dimension, making the provision of flexible workplace
policies a necessary but inadequate condition for addressing gender inequalities. If binary
gender norms still determine much household labour, then flexible work practices may
enable these norms to feed back into the organisation of workplace and household labour.
Or, as Bailyn (2003, p. 141) claimed in her study of MIT, if the ‘ideal worker’ continues to
be seen as having ‘no interests or responsibilities outside of work’ then practice will
‘continue to disadvantage women’, thus promoting a male model of the ideal academic (see
also Coate & Kandiko Howson, 2016). The risks of a masculine model for academic and
scientific careers is reflected in the empirically documented ‘tipping point’ around the age
of 35, where the average career trajectories of men and women diverge (Bell & Yates, 2014,
p. 13). The idealisation of academic work as a deeply personal and consuming practice
hence has implications for the classed and gendered reproduction of academic practice.
Having elaborated the gendered and classed features of academic craftwork in a very broad
sense, this chapter will now explore the role that assumptions about ‘real’ academic work
play in how academics recognise value. I use discourse analysis to explore conversations
with academics about career and life planning. While managerialism is often blamed for
perverting collegiality and scholarly values, I aim to demonstrate here that when planning
for their futures, academics already circumscribe what academics can and should be.
Idealisations of ‘real’ academic work and lives already make reference to status hierarchies
that privelage individuals with particular temporal experiences, marginalising those who
work between qualitatively different timescapes, such as individuals with caring duties and
academics employed on short term (and casual) contracts. But what are the characteristics
of authentic acadmic work?
Authenticity in the social and biological sciences
The idea of ‘real’ or authentic academic work is useful in identifying the norms associated
with the academic role. Real’ academic work is distinguishable from the subjective
experience of feeling authentic in a work role, which is sometimes discursively constructed
as being ‘passionate’ about work (James, 2015). While research participants did express
authenticating and inauthenticating feelings in relation to their work (see Cannizzo, 2018),
a second, more normative, authenticity emerged in talk. As discussed below, interviews
with academics elicited a variety of assumptions about what should be seen as legitimate
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academic work, what is valued about scholarly work, and what academics value in their
colleagues. These data were generated from interviews, lasting from approximately 45 to
90 minutes, with academics in eight Australian universities in 2014. Interviewees were
invited to participate from a range of university types, including the research-intensive
Group of Eight (3 universities), the Australian Technology Network (2 universities), the
Regional University’s Network (1 university) and unaffiliated universities that were located
in regional/rural areas (2 universities). Participants were purposively sampled to achieve
diversity across university types, career stages, gender, and working environments (both
monastic social scientists and laboratory-based biological scientists were sampled).
Table 6.1 Research participants (Total n=29)
Career Stage
Early-Career
Mid-Career
Late-Career
8
17
4
Disciplinary
Grouping
Biological Sciences
Social Sciences
11
18
University Type
Group of Eight
ATN
Regional
8
9
12
Duties Focus
Research
Teaching
Mixed
4
1
24
Contract Type
Continuing
Fixed-Term
21
8
Gender
Male
Female
16
13
In interviews, academics were asked about their entry into an academic role and scholarship
more generally, their roles in the university, their career goals, their approaches to
publishing and grant applications, goals related to teaching and research innovation, their
professional networks, their reflections on career planning activities, and their sense of a
future in academia. Participants were interviewed at a venue of their choosing and efforts
were made to establish a collegial rapport and respectful atmosphere for the interviews.
Perhaps because of the interviewer’s social status among employed academics, as a doctoral
student and casually-employed teacher, interviewees tended to offer career advice as well
as recount personal experiences. These interviews were conducted by a participant-
researcher with an ‘insider’ status (Corbin Dwyer & Buckle, 2009), affording access to
situated, in situ, talk about academic career planning and life between scholarly group
members.
Interviews were transcribed verbatim and a combination of open and closed coding
(Strauss & Corbin, 1998) was used to isolate instances where academics used both explicit
and implicit ideas about what constituted a ‘real’ academic or ‘real’ academic work. Open
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coding consisted of coding explicit statements and implicit schemas that academics used
to describe their careers and future planning. Closed coding was subsequently used to
develop sub-categories and to collate similar assumptions framing academics’ use of the
concept of ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ academic work and careers. Closed codes were constructed
for both explicit and implicit uses of the concept of authenticity, distinguishing where the
idea of ‘real’ work was used intentionally in discourse from the habitual use of ideas about
the ‘real’ that may occur in talk as an assumption that structures communication. Vaisey
(2009, p. 1687) discusses the distinction between discursive and practical uses of culture,
arguing that theorists who rely on the view that culture can only be used consciously, as
interpretive repertoires or discourses, ‘cannot rule out the possibility that deeply
internalized moral attractions and repulsions… are patterned in motivationally important
ways’. The possibility that cultural norms may come to structure behaviour and motivations
outside of discourse invites analysis of the assumptions that structure interaction, which
may never enter into conscious discourse. The appearance of assumptions about ‘real’ work
shaping talk were coded to contribute to an exploration of how such assumptions may
structure interaction. The discussion of ‘real’ academic work and careers below hence
presents an account of how academics can think about, talk about, and act on their work
and lives, while acknowledging that other stories, models, and plans of action are possible.
These discourses and schemes are common, but not necessarily hegemonic.
What is a real’ academic?
When talking about careers, Australian academics often described their ambitions and
expectations through reference to authentic work experiences. Twenty-two of the 29
academics interviewed expressed assumptions about what constituted ‘real’ or authentic
experiences of academic work and life. These assumptions were categorised into six groups,
each a distinct perspective through which academic work and life are spoken about.
The most common assumption of a ‘real’ academic is a concern with status: a real academic
is recognised as such among members of a peer group. Some participants in the present
study described status-seeking as a kind of ‘elitism’ that disadvantaged those marked as
outside the group. A number of categories were ‘marked’ by the in-group, such as persons
who: were on part-time or fixed-term contacts; had not completed a doctorate; were
parents or carers for older relatives; were in teaching-focused roles; did not desiring
promotion to Professor; were not vocal in lab meetings; and those who were not praised
by colleagues. The most common group to express the status-based definition of ‘real’
academic were early-career women. Status anxiety often intersected with managing non-
academic commitments such as maternity, as the following early-career academic describes.
Since I’ve had a baby I’ve come back 0.6 [of full-time equivalent work hours] but
that’s been a bad experience to be honest. So I’m actually negotiating. My partner
wants to go back to study, so what we’re thinking is that I’ll go back full-time next
year and he’ll study and be the primary carer of our little girl because there’s still that
sense of elitism that an academic is a certain thing. That it’s not something that you
can treat as a job and therefor do 0.6 of. The idea is that it has to be who you are and it
has to be your whole life therefor if your 0.6, you’re just a waste of space. You’re just
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wasting that a position that a whole academic could be taking There’s just this
complete illegitimacy about the concept of being a part time academic. Legally, it’s
fine. Like if you look at the enterprise bargain, it’s set up to be doable. But because
of how the culture and how people think about what an academic is, it’s not actually
possible to do it in my experience. (Belinda, emphasis added)
Being ‘a whole academic’ is conflated here with expressing ‘total commitment’ to the
academic role (Rafnsdóttir & Heijstra, 2013, p. 286), as if the labour of part-time scholars
is of less value than a full-time counterpart. Kandiko Howson et al. (2017) note that their
participants expressed anxieties about pursuing status recognition as female academics.
Some of their participants reported an ambivalence about status-seeking activities, which
were framed as both expected in an academic career, but also in conflict with aspects of
their professional and gender identities (Kandiko Howson et al., 2017, p. 7). In a previous
analysis (Cannizzo, 2017), I documented a range of different career aspirations held by
members of this sample group. While not every participant aspires to the same career goals,
there is a wide-spread recognition of the value of being seen as if professorhood is the
underlying objective.
The second most common assumption about real’ academics is that they live, and learn
how to live, with precarity. Early-career academics and especially contingent workers lack
several of the forms of labour security described by Guy Standing in The Precariat (2011).
Mid-career academics more often implied that academic authenticity was developed
through learning to manage the precarious aspects of their employment, most commonly
labour market insecurity, employment insecurity and representation insecurity (Standing,
2011, p. 10). For example, Harold describes a tension of feeling that his work contract has
prevented him from realising employment security.
Something that’s probably pretty important to talk about is my employment status,
which is still contractual. I am on a contract prior to that, I’ve had a number of
short-term contracts. I had a full-time contract and that was when I first
coordinated units and had the responsibility of teaching full semesters, whereas prior
to that, I was just doing tutoring and the occasional guest lectures. So that year helped
formalise my academic identity, but I was still doing my PhD Yeah, so, that’s
there’s probably more questions that pertain to this more closely down the track
that obviously impacts upon your sense of identity: when you’re work is not permanent.
You feel like there’s that until further notice quality and that sense of being here, but not
being here. (Harold, emphasis added)
By contrast, another mid-career academic who expressed greater confidence in his status
claimed that becoming an authentic academic was ‘about the flexibility’; that in career
planning one should ‘be flexible, be pragmatic… be Machiavellian: be strategic in your
approach’ (Thomas). Another manifestation of this approach are appeals to developing
‘resilience’: ‘I bounce back a lot, when I need to or even when there’s uncertainty in the
future’ (Whitney).
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Mid-career academics exclusively expressed assumptions about the degree of competition
that was expected of real academics (the third theme) as they spoke most about negotiating
the expectations of upper management some describing themselves as ‘go-getting’
(Lachlan) or, perhaps more critically, as ‘a good neoliberal subject’ (Harold) and ‘box-
ticking’ (Whitney). Less common than the themes described so far were the latter three
themes: that being a ‘real’ academic is about the expression of certain values (n=4), that it
is about establishing an identity (n=3), and that it is about recognition within a community
of peers (n=3). The low rate of mention of these themes is interesting, given that they are
among the most prominent descriptions that academics use to describe academic work and
life when asked explicitly about authentic academic experiences and managerialism within
universities (Cannizzo, 2018). In interviews, curiosity, passion, justice, and professionalism
were named as key values of ‘real’ academics; authentic academic identities were linked to
discipline, research program, institution, and celebrity status; and valued communities of
authentic academics included professional associations (such as The Australian Sociological
Association), the laboratory group, and mentorships. Overall, anchors of support and
belonging (values, identity, community) were less common than phenomena associated
with difficulties in performing academic work (status, precarity, performance). For many,
these challenges, and strategies for overcoming them, have come to define authentic
experiences of academic careers.
The gendered limits of real academic careers
Also present in academics’ talk about their careers are ideas about what might enable or be
a barrier to an authentic academic career. Enablers and barriers were described in terms of
real experiences that academics reported, but also from talk with colleagues and mentors,
from rumours and second-hand narratives, and less frequently from peer-reviewed
research. The truth-value of such statements was derived from their presentation as
personal testimony; the authority of personal experience. After coding every instance where
an academic described a phenomenon that disrupted the realisation of authentic academic
work, the three most common themes to emerge from this testimony were sponsorship,
maternity, and competition.
Ten of the 29 academics interviewed identified forms of sponsorship a person’s social
networks, friendships, mentorships and other informal relationships as being an
important factor in experiencing an authentic academic career. The most type of statement
here is that real academics need advocates in the current higher education system, to assist
in workplace socialisation, to put their names forward for opportunities, and to introduce
them to the academic community. The following early-career academic, who expressed
confidence in progressing within an academic career, describes mentorship in the following
terms:
even if you don’t know it at the time, they are giving you advice that will have those
long-term implications that it is difficult to perceive. I didn’t think much about career
early on in my PhD… So, I taught a lot, textbook, like three journal articles, and good
progress on the book that’s coming out this year. So, all that sort of stuff happened
that has worked out well for me now. But it is weird, thinking back on it: if I’d made
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different decisions, would I be in a position, or would I still be in that [non-academic]
professional job… I don’t know. You just got to choose your mentors and trust them.
(Iain)
Homophily may play a significant role in the informal academic labour market as in the
formation of social networks. Bagilhole (2007, p. 41) argues that where men dominate
departments or universities, they are more often tutored by other men and ‘have more
natural access to these support systems than women’. Such sponsorship can both allow
majority groups greater access to tacit knowledge within an organisation, such as the taste
of a group, its taken-for-granted worldviews, and socialised competencies and
consequently have positive effects on their self-esteem (Bagilhole, 2007, p. 41). To the
extent that ‘real’ academic work relies on sponsorship, it is open to being shaped by the
tastes of dominant groups.
The second most common theme was the perception that maternity and domestic care
labour formed a barrier to experiencing an authentic academic career. Respondents from
this category were nearly exclusively female and mid-career, suggesting an intersection
between the life course of many women and perceptions of career difficulties. The
work/life issues that participants identified here concerned their use of non-work time for
academic labour. Gail, a mid-career academic, describes a well-documented conflict time
pressure that particularly impacts academic mothers (Evans, 2010; Ramsay, 2008).
But I think it doesn’t matter how much you publish, you always want to be publishing
more. Things that have held that back a bit: obviously, starting teaching it takes a
huge amount of time. And having kids, you know, time out with maternity leave and
just being continually tired and instead of working on weekends and working until
late at night, you actually go home and play with your kids on weekends and
everything like that. It’s a reduction in the number of hours available to dedicate to
work, at the end of the day. If you’ve got kids, you have kids. (Gail)
Although most participants described publication metrics as a poor representation of the
value of academic work, ignorance of these measures was described as an existential career
risk. For example, for one early-career microbiologist, if she could not publish at a high
enough rate, ‘the plan is to leave academia’ (Danielle). Another academic with a large
teaching responsibility reported that she was leaving her ongoing position to care for a
parent who had developed a debilitating illness, abandoning what she perceived to be a
lifelong role. Agnes Bosanquet (2017) notes that the idea of an ‘early-career’ researcher is
not only a policy construct, but also a normative one: it assumes ‘steady employment and
continuous research and professional development’, which contradicts the experiences of
many ECAs (Bosanquet, 2017, p. 73). The use of extensive work hours from the career
development phase is part of an individualistic career strategy identified by Acker and
Armenti (2004) that is, working harder and sleeping less or what Clarke and Knights
(2015) have termed ‘careering’. The conceptualisation of care labour and maternity as an
individual choice, rather than a policy issue, both responsibilises mothers and carers for
their ‘performance’ in evaluations, but also is in tension with the ideal of the academic
labourer as a craftsperson, consumed by their work. In discussing their careers, academics
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in this study drew on assumptions about what constitutes ‘real’ academic work and
described gendered barriers to engaging in that work. ‘Real’ work here is not simply about
high citation counts or grant money, but about presenting oneself to others as a certain
kind of worker with particular kind of temporal autonomy and experiences.
Authentic work and the value of time
The impact of higher education policy changes to the academic profession cannot be
understood without considering how academics make sense of their careers and lives.
When seen as a kind of craftwork, academic labour is irreducible to measurement,
quantification and ‘athleticism’ associated with Taylorism (Gregg, 2017). However the
swelling metric tide (Wilsdon et al., 2015) of performance metrics that direct the
comparison of academic productivity in the UK and other countries would seem to attest
to the contrary. The measurement of academic productivity has been central to attempts
to transform the higher education landscape into a customer and end-user centred
economic model. However, Rob Watts (2017, p. 147) argues, that just because policy
makers from the 1980s onwards have claimed to transform higher education into
marketable good doesn’t necessarily make it so. He claims that their assertions entertain a
category mistake: ‘Higher education is an “experience good”: its value, point, and purpose
to say nothing of that evanescent idea of its quality, will only be revealed once the student
fully engages in the educational experience’ (Watts, 2017, p. 159). Knowledge and its use
in education have been framed in policy as market goods, being described as a ‘demand-
driven system’ guided by student ‘choice’ (Department of Education and Training, 2016,
p. 2), but do not resemble markets in practice. The managerial and policy solution to the
disjuncture between policy discourse and the reality of education and knowledge has been
to create proxy measures. What Watts describes as the ‘market-crazed governance’ in
higher education tends to ‘evaluate procedures rather than real consequence or to measure
“customer satisfaction” with “imaginary penalties” issued so that regulators can appear
“tough” on public issues’ (2017, p. 118). Knowledge production is also measured through
proxies such as journal publications, citation counts, h-indices, grant income and other
measurements of productivity associated with an audit culture (Burrows, 2012).
Because the economic rationalisation of academic work is limited to what can be measured,
and what is measured depends on measurement procedures and devices, this rationalism
depends on the will of academics themselves. Descriptions of early- and mid-career
transitions in academia in terms of temporal metaphors i.e. the tenure clock, the
publication treadmill suggests the psychological internalisation of the productivity
imperative of technologies of performance. However, Vostal (2015) has noted that the
pace-setting activities of university management notably the institutional drive to attain
‘excellence’ in international performance comparisons can produce a range of
experiences for staff. Time pressure is only part of the range of temporal experiences that
shape academic life. Vostal claims that academics experience ‘oppressive acceleration’ of
work when there is an involuntary increase in the pace of work activities, perhaps driven
by ‘the net of technologies, which monitor, measure and regulate late modern work’
(Vostal, 2015, p. 78). The experience of being harassed and harried that may result from
performance monitoring is not a problem of pace per se; indeed, Vostal (2015, p. 85)
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demonstrates that information communication technologies have allowed for positive
experiences of the speeding up of scholarship. Pace is not as important as the experience
of control of rhythm and congruence or conflict between different temporalities (Vostal,
2015, p. 86). Gail, above, described the pace of publishing as beyond satisfactory control
(‘you always want to be publishing more’) and therefore a double disadvantage for a
primary carer (‘If you’ve got kids, you have kids’). To cope with the demands of academic
publishing quotas and competition, extended, unpaid, work outside of the university is
widely assumed to be both normal and necessary amongst Australian early-career
academics (Cannizzo et al., forthcoming). This unremunerated work may be described as
motivated by the hope that future employment opportunities may follow a kind of ‘hope
labour’ (Kuehn & Corrigan, 2013). The perseverance of traditional gender roles in the
family lives of academics hence reproduce gendered assumptions about the ideal aspiring
academic and their motivations.
While slow scholarship advocates such as Berg and Seeber (2016) have pointed to ‘the
corporatisation of universities’ as producing ‘a sense of urgency’ in academic life, Vostal’s
(2015) critique of scholarship’s heavy focus on ‘oppressive acceleration’ raises the question:
What assumptions are being made about academic work here? If acceleration can be a
‘thrilling’ experience as well as an oppressive one, what temporalities facilitate ‘real’
academic work? For the Australian academics who participated in this study, authentic
academic work is committed work, it is felt to be insecure work (especially for contingent
staff), it is sponsored work, and it is time-consuming. It is not the kind of work that can be
readily recognised in productivity performance measurement, but rather through the
development of a craft. Craftspeople are ‘dedicated to good work for its own sake… their
labor is not simply a means to another end’ for Sennett (2008, p. 20). The ‘real’ academic
work described by participants has the qualities of craftwork: it’s temporality coincides with
the life-course (‘it has to be who you are and it has to be your whole life’ Belinda),
meaning that a lack of temporal autonomy is felt to be a threat to self-identiy (insecurity
‘impacts upon your sense of identity’ Harold). Set in our contemporary political economy,
this craftwork is faced with common challenges: to find sponsorship that enables an
apprenticeship in the craft (‘you just got to choose your mentors and trust them’ Iain)
and time amid other responsibilities (that might influence ‘the number of hours available
to dedicate to work’ – Gail). Craftwork has its own values that are distinguishable from the
metric evaluation of its products. Although a piece of research or educational course may
produce, for example, patents, publications, or student satisfaction scores, the craftsperson
values doing the work well for its own sake; consequently improving science, making a
more convincing argument, imparting knowledge or skills, helping other people and so on.
The mastery of an academic craft implies a different system of values to those expressed
in the production of measurable ‘goods’ for utilitarian exchange as well as the temporal
autonomy to enact craft practices.
Treating academic work as craftwork and as a means to some other end have different
logics of value. Craftwork thrives in the presence of a community of craftspeople and
practices of apprenticeship (Sennett, 2008). Value in craft is produced through contributing
to and mastering the activity itself. Performing work for its utility towards some other end
may incentivise compromises in the quality of work where the quality of work and attaining
12
the other end come into conflict. Academics contracted to provide consultancy for firms,
for example, may find their time constrained or their methods unsuitable for the service
that the firm has purchased. This distinction is part of the reproduction of both classed
and gendered divisions within academic communities and the privileging of those with
autonomy over the rhythms of their daily lives. The experience of autonomy over work
pace and rhythms has become central to whether faster paces have come to be experienced
as career barriers or opportunities to experiment with temporalities. Ylijoki (2005) notes in
her narrative analysis of Finnish academics that a sense of nostalgia was connected to a felt
loss of ‘freedom’. In analysing the meaning of the discourses of freedom and loss used by
participants, Ylijoki finds several very similar ideas of how freedom is expressed: as ‘the
academic characteristics in research work’ (p. 565), ‘the overall quality of research’ (p. 566)
and ‘contributing to the advancement of [the participant’s] discipline’ (p. 569). The sense
of a loss of ‘home’ expressed in Ylijoki’s study is for the freedom to immerse oneself in
meaningful work through focus on one’s craft; that is, to pace oneself. For academics who
have only ever worked on contingent contracts (casual, sessional, short-term, and
probationary), and for those with care labour responsibilities outside of the university, there
has perhaps never been a sense of temporal autonomy to mourn, but rather only a lingering
sense of inauthenticity an imposter syndrome.
Conclusion
The political implications of academic craftwork have long been acknowledged, but only
in a limited way. A long-touted discourse of the loss of academic freedom or a nostalgia
for a by-gone ‘golden age’ of scholarship has been circulated among an international
professoriate (Cannizzo, 2018; Ylijoki, 2005). However, transformations in the
demographic composition of the academic workforce, the massification of higher
education, and managerialism in universities have also seen some very old forms of social
division reconfigured. Although not excluded by policy or official rhetoric, women
academics face higher rates of attrition or career interruptions due to maternity and care
labour obligations (Bell & Yates, 2014). Additionally, the growing use of contingent labour
for both project-based research and regular teaching in universities since the 1980s has
produced a pool of labourers who feel and often are detached from their employing
organisations. Calls by advocates of slow scholarship, such as Berg and Seeber (2016, p.
89) to promote ‘the conviviality of thinking together’ already assumes a close comradery
and friendship between participants. However, the persistence of an ideal that academic
work entails a lifestyle that there is ‘real’ academic work – contributes to experiences of
inauthenticity, or what is sometimes described as imposter syndrome or toxic shame’ (Gill,
2010). Those seeking to build greater solidarity, community and collegiality between
academics from across disciplines may benefit from exploring how value is expressed in
academic everyday life. While all academic staff share experiences of organisational
transformation and narratives about the influence that corporatisation has had for scholarly
freedom, the working conditions of academics have not been affected equally. The status
distinction of real’ academic work is shown here to occupy a place in how academics
interpret and plan their careers through academia. A frank discussion of what ideals are
promoted in career planning in situ and in workforce plannings is needed to produce a more
inclusive and secure workforce.
13
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