Bousquet, Marc. “The Rhetoric of ‘Job Market’ and the Reality of the Academic Labor System.” College English 66.2 (November 2003): 207‐228.

  • One goal of this piece is to address how the Bowen and Sosa 1989 job  market report Prospects for Faculty was so incredibly erroneous in its sunny projection of future faculty jobs throughout the 1990s.  B. claims that the report failed because it imposed “market ideology on data about the structure and relations of academic labor” (208).
  • Another goal of this article is to try and explain how the “idea of the job market came to acquire so much reality” in the academy.  B claims there have been three waves in the academic labor system:

o    Before 1970: a wave of labor-consciousness that saw roughly 50% of faculty unionized

o    1980 – 2000: a counterwave of neoliberal ideology that idealized market epistemology, this movement focused on the connection of graduate education to the larger system of academic work.

o    2000-?: Graduate-employee union movement (GEU) that attempts to counteract the neoliberal movement.

  • In this essay, B. concentrates on the second movement to demonstrate how a “failed ‘market knowledge’ claims that to address the glut of graduating Ph.D.’s you need to constrict graduate admissions.  B. claims this simply isn’t true; in fact, he claims that the “market knowledge” is actually a rhetoric of the labor system, not a description of it (209).  B. claims that if you reduce the number of grad students in the system you’ll have to fill those spots with other forms of contingent faculty. . . yielding no actual “supply-side” fix.
  • B. recognizes that Fordist articulations of the need for more graduate educations in the post-WWII period were incredibly successful – as long as the “demand” for more graduates was healthy then the expansion of Ph.D. programs continued.
  • B. traces the job scene at/through MLA to demonstrate how the faculty exchange of the 1950s and 60s became “informationalized” in such a way as to grant itself autonomy – the MLA was no longer the job interview site; rather, it simply served as a location where the external system of force (the job market) made itself felt (213).  This was the literalization of the job market – it was no longer a metaphor but a real thing, an empirical reality that the market had invaded higher education (in other words, from the point of view of the employer this was a wonderful situation – it modeled private industry at large; however, from the perspective of the employee, a person who “traditionally seeks collegial participation in determining the size, compensation, and composition” of the workforce it was antithetical and damaging.
  • Key point:  by reorienting the jobs discourse toward the management of the supply-demand toward faculty higher based on demand, Orr’s report deflected attention away from the real problem: “demand” can be met by utilizing nondegreed flexible labor instead of degreed persons in jobs (215).  In other words, I think B. is claiming that by orienting the hiring discourse (and grad education discourse) toward the management of Ph.D.’s to ensure against overproduction the talking heads were able to use the excuse of overproduction to integrate contingent faculty models – models that operated to the detriment of all parties involved: students, contingent faculty, graduate students, and tenure-line faculty.  Who wins?  Administrators and market logic.
  • The neoliberal second wave of academic labor theory actually “no longer knows any exterior to market ideology” (217).  This means not addressing the structural forces that create or constrict demand – it simply means meeting demand in the most efficient way.  This perspective results in the neoliberalization of the academic department: cheap, contingent labor utilized to maximize efficiency and profit.  Cyclical market logics reinforced this perspective (markets fluctuate, we’re in a down cycle) and publications like MLA reinforced this through lots of chartsengrafs.
  • B. highlights that the current system actually prefers folks without Ph.D.s because they can afford to actually pay them.  Further, because the typical Ph.D. takes a much more critical approach to education (education as embodied human practice that is dialectical and dialogic) they are hindrances to the information transmission model of education (corporate education (223).
  • Fantastically, the retraction of university administrator’s concerning Bowen’s report actually (paradoxically) reinforces the flawed market logic: wow, Bowen’s predictions were wrong. . . the market really is very, very volatile.  We just need to protect ourselves against it!
  • A proposal on fixing:  “What if, instead of constantly adjusting ourselves (and our compensation) to ‘meet the needs of the market,’ we started to adjust or regulate the ‘market’ to meet our needs?  This would mean as a matter of course that faculty would have to take more control of their workplaces and, rather than lower faculty wages to the leve of graduate employees and adjunct instructors, raise the wages of graduate employees and adjunct instructors to the level of the faculty” (225).  This would result in graduate programs becoming more expensive to their deparments . . which would (in theory) increase the quality of education.  This would amount to something of a “correction of the market.”

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