Everything is Copacetic

We again had some very interesting discussions about practicing and teaching Digital Humanities, and I was very happy to hear from classmates who’ve had some real world experience, and some strong opinions.  I am very excited that someone is working on a history of jazz slang, baby!  I’m down with that!  That’s real cool, man!  I am a big lover of jazz, and the culture that surrounds it, and emanates from it.  I’d love to come up with, or collaborate on a DH project along those lines.  Any ideas out there, please fire away!

From the readings, I thought Julia Flanders’ narrative from her own experiences was very revealing–how her work evolved through stages, and how her career took a shape that no one could have predicted, and how her work outside of her PhD program actually was more relevant to and prepared her more for the type of work she does as an academic, a para-academic, and a consultant.  Her thoughts on billing for hours spent working, instead of being paid for teaching hours and spending long unpaid hours preparing for those teaching hours shows an advantage to a consultancy model, although it must be said that many people get nervous when words like “efficiency” and “productivity” are flung about in relation to scholarly work.  Flanders acknowledges that this type of labor may be suggested to alienated, and exploited.  But for her the positives far outweigh the negatives.  Her suggestions for the academy ring true:

1.  Make it practically possible and professionally rewarding …for graduate students to hold jobs while pursuing                 advanced degrees…

2.  Devote resources to creating meaningful job and internship opportunities at digital humanities research                      projects…

3.  Encourage and reward coauthoring of research by faculty, students, and para-academic staff…(p 307)

These seem to be very positive suggestions which would enhance the quality of scholarship, and to give students valuable learning experiences.



2 Responses to Everything is Copacetic

  1. Anderson Evans September 25, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    I read the Flanders chapter to be an exercise in “real-world” constraints, which made it a difficult chapter for me to get on board with. I’ve read it and re-read it, trying to come to a decision as to how I feel about its message, and even now am having a hard time coming to a conclusion.

    The most positive points in the chapter, to me, involve the articulation of newer employable positions in colleges and universities and a call for members of the academy to take a closer look at how the employees in their community are organized; That quantification of the work done by non-tenured faculty is typically done erroneously, and deserves a closer look.

    What tends to bother me about the chapter is its disregard of idealism… and this is where I cannot decide if I appreciate the author’s frankness or if I believe there is room for some more progressive benchmarks. I don’t know that I really can decide, as there is the part of me that believes we can accomplish more if we set realistic goals that can actually be realized, while another part of me seems organically opposed to setting these goals using the language of corporate hierarchy.

    I can’t help but feel slightly queasy when I think about the intern to freelance to staffer scenarios I’ve seen at play in New Media companies in NYC. What they often lead to is free labor by 25 people while paying salary to person number 26 for the same job. This works for corporations in the digital space by inspiring initiatives of pay-by-promotion. If we can quantify the success of your work by “page views” and we make those views transparent, then I suddenly have initiative to hang over you, I can have you do my company’s necessary tasks without any actual cost. I can tell you that if your tasks receive a large enough viewer count that I have initiative to hire you, if they do not, then you do not have a high enough value for me to give you anything. WhileI have known several people that have been lucky enough (worked hard enough) to be that 26th person that gets the salary and gets the benefits, but often those interns below can be seen as fuel to light the salaried employee’s fire, rather than creating an all-are-equal collaborative team. These are real concerns when talking about academic initiatives that are based in a digital landscape.

    The only time I’ve held an academic job, I worked as an assistant to a professor at New School where my only job was to take a selection of DVDs and turn selected scenes into .AVI files that could be watched by students via the class wiki. This job did not pay much, but I was paid what I was owed (as it was a simple task for me) and I have something that I can throw on a CV and a professor that will be happy to say a good word about me. In this direct exchange of service for offered payment words like intern or freelancer or consultant were not used…

    When I worked at a certain company (I won’t name it here) I was hired on as freelance. There was no beginning to my tasks and there was no solidified end. I was maintaining a website for the company based on a style guide and instructions from salaried employees. I held this position for several months, often working 12 and 13 hour days for an hourly rate that came with no over-time. When they were done with me they thanked me, told me they may need me again in the near future. This farewell came unexpectedly, and for 2 months I was without a job before picking up some more freelance work. Now you might think “Well he could have been doing a poor job,” but I remain in good standing with this company and have been asked to come work freelance on projects as they’ve had a need. Projects I’ve not worked on because I have new work.

    Trying to come to a conclusion in this self-indulgent comment that is WAY WAY too long, and I guess it is just that I begrudgingly admit this chapter speaks to what I can only (at this point) assume are solid suggestions for fairer treatment of alt-ac professionals, while still holding my belief that it is a dangerous thing to use the language of corporate hierarchy in academia if happiness, longevity, and a diminishing of anxiety are as important to an institution as the production of Human Capital.

  2. Jonathan Knust September 25, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    Your comments resonate with me. As a free-lance musician, I have been asked to perform without compensation for “exposure”. My typical response was “people can die of exposure!” A recent example of this practice made the news recently during the summer Olympic games. In the corporate world, yes, people are taken advantage of in many ways and on many different levels. It really is troubling. In academia, grad students have often been used to teach large sections, and many view this as exploitation. I, too, am uneasy about the language of corporate hierarchy in an academic setting. I am not in total agreement with Flanders’ essay, but the part which makes sense is for Colleges and Universities to acknowledge the work that students do, to create meaningful work for them within the academy, in ways that will enhance their future prospects both inside and outside the academy, and to actually pay them for that work. I have said in a previous post that while digital humanities has opened up some real opportunities for real academic positions, there is a potential for new tools and technologies to be exploited for the further corporatization of the academy in the quest for efficiency. Words like outsourcing and privatization come to mind.

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