Hired Hands: Casualised Technology and Labour in the Teaching of Cultural Studies

Posted on | April 2, 2012 | No Comments

Cross-post from Sydney MACS

Preparing for a talk later this week, I have just been reading this article by Kieryn McKay and Kylie Brass published in the September 2011 issue of Cultural Studies Review. The authors, both graduates from PhD programs in Sydney, draw ‘a parallel between the appropriation of podcasting technology into the university and the current system of casual academic employment’. Their argument is that ‘the podcast and the casual academic represent “new” interfaces of outsourced academic labour’ (141), and that this poses a similar problem of isolation for academics and students.

The article is a textured and mobilising account of the material pressures on sessional staff, who share ‘an overarching experience of disenfranchisement’ (148). It highlights the consequences of a university sector that is apparently content to allow what is effectively a ‘simulacrum’ of both the traditional academic employment relation and the student experience – all in the name of flexibility.

What is all the more fantastic about the piece is that the authors use a mix of foundational cultural theory (Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’), higher education research and current industrial campaign material to make their point. It is just the kind of activism fitting an increasingly professionalised discipline.

One of the reasons I started MACS was to provide a space for these kinds of debates to gain traction. Current working conditions in academia rely on the isolation of students and sessionals to continue. So if you have thoughts to share in response to the article, please do so here, or get in touch.

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