May 14, 2015

Do you do zombie solidarity?

It is so well worth reading that I am reposting below (with her permission) an entire post by Ann Deslandes, who regularly writes great pieces on solidarity issues.

I'm not sure I really want to think of myself as a zombie, or what I do as ever a form of zombie solidarity (I like to think of myself as fully alive and I am trying to be more and more awake!), nevertheless the concept is intriguing and she has a fantastic collection of examples to learn from here.

Zombie solidarity

Kristian Adamson and I wrote an essay for the forthcoming book Zombies in the academy: Living death in higher educationYou can read a pre-publication version here.
We use the term “zombie solidarity” to describe certain practices of refusal and reconfiguration of power on campus. Zombie solidarity is affiliated to working to rule, go-slows and work bans, but has a more latent and perhaps less recognisable character when it is in action.  For example:
“Salaried academics who hire casuals might commit to ensuring that they are contracted and paid properly and that their conditions are monitored even where that, as it often seems to, involves frustrating and/or lengthy interactions with the appropriate people in financial or human resources administration on campus.
Senior, tenured and/or salaried academics could contribute to a fighting fund that would pay the wages of casuals for a day or a week of mass strike action. Under current conditions it is not widely considered as realistic for casual staff to join a union, and it is not realistic for them to participate in strike action. However, a mass strike of casual staff would doubtless have an effect, given that they now perform 50 per cent of university teaching (Jonas 2009; see also Bexley et al. 2011).
‘Zombifying’ audit measures might be refused as a measure of academic productivity and value. Sympathetic consortia of academics might decide to cease reporting audit points or decide among themselves which journals they believe are worth publishing in for the reporting of research and promulgation of ideas.
Staff might opt to do their own cleaning and catering on occasion – by way of providing relief to precarious and low-paid workers, or to demonstrate the refusal of a class designation whereby such work is not considered to be appropriate for a person at that level of the social hierarchy.
At the behest of leaders in departments and schools, ‘administrative’ and ‘academic’ tasks and skills could be shared more equitably. Collaborative management of this kind is particularly apt given the number of so called ‘general staff’ who hold academic qualifications. Such a program may also assist in making visible the widely reported shortfall across the system of funds required for effectively administering universities.”
Two articles in our patch of the cloud particularly helped our meditation along:this primer for the book, which appeared in The Australian, written by the book’s editors; and this spray on the Times Higher Education blog by a UK-based professor. We wanted to reflect on the power that tenured academics in particular have to intervene in (indeed, to notice) the features of power relations on campus associated with audit culture, casualisation, impossible workloads, the consumerisation of students and other processes at work as higher education becomes increasingly corporatised; the yokes of which many feel unable to resist. Turns out Romero’s zombie (among other zombies) was also able to help.
Since writing the essay we’ve started using ‘zombie solidarity’ in conversation with each other and our friends to describe certain events and practices that we see around us, as people with an extensive combined experience of student, adjunct and administrative university work. This has included the manycampaigns and projects promoting open access academic publishing, including those that make closed-access publications available. The united front at LaTrobe University to claim unpaid casual wagesThe English Department at UC Davis openly supporting the call for Chancellor Kathei’s resignation over her actions towards protest on campus. Dean Spade’s public reflection on drawing an academic salary. Yvonne Hartmen and Sandy Darab’s “call for slow scholarship”Diane Nelson’s public thanks to Duke students for paying her salary.  Hugh Gustersen’s entreaty to ‘just say no’ to the prevailing model of academic publishing. Melissa Gregg’s encouragement of “strategic complacency”, and her continuing work on the ‘contract careers’ of newer university workers as cultural workers (see also her quotation from Ruth Barcan’s forthcoming book on “the need for senior scholars “to be aware of the power of what they embody.” “). Projects like Review my Review and UWSDissenter. ‘Means-based’ fees for academic conference participation. The borrowed university login that has enabled many aspects of this post.
There are examples in other industries too, such as the realisation of demands, advanced by the Precarious Workers Brigade, to make visible the unpaid labour of art workers as well as interns and other students. Then there’s “[the] small number of graduates from the Design Futures program” profiled by Linda Carroliat placeblog. These graduates “have made a promise to themselves and each other to opt out of the prevailing employment and workforce regime to, as one person explained, adjust their expectations about income and lifestyle to dedicate and rededicate to the project of sustainment…”. As Carroli explains, this “challenge is not so literally about risking your life but facing fear; to create and nurture conditions whereby doing that has more complexity and vitality than the apparent banality and monotony of faith or sacrifice.”
A few quotes from our reading, over the course of our writing:
“We repeat the primal scene of academic formation, and need to keep proving our being smart… Smart is an assurance of our intrinsic merit, to explain our class distinction to ourselves, perhaps to explain why our brothers and sisters or the people we grew up with and went to high school with might be waiting tables, or driving trucks, or shingling our roofs, or teaching our grade school children. That is, it dispels our class guilt, providing a rationale for why we have attained and deserve our class position—which for many of us, is a rise, or if hailing from the middle class, an anxious prospect to be assured. Or, for the less abject, it connotes class pride, providing a rationale for why we have superior positions (tenure, time off, etc.) and why others have less privilege.” – Jeffrey J Williams, ‘Smart’
“Tenured professors enjoy the strongest speech protections in society. It’s time they started using them.” – William Deresiewicz, in The Nation
“if the future is kid stuff, the zombie precariat does not disavow it so much as disembowel it and play in its entrails.” – Jack Halberstam, ‘Bullybloggers on failure and the future of Queer Studies’
We’d love to know what you think about the essay. And stay tuned for the book, it’s going to be gorious.

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