The growing Occupy Wall Street movement heartens me. I’m not quite as optimistic as some about its likely impact, and am thus probably aligned with Zizek’s pessimism: “The only thing I’m afraid of is that we will someday just go home and then we will meet once a year drinking beer and nostalgically remembering what a nice time we had here.” Nonetheless, I’m heartened to see people taking to the streets in large numbers, finally, over the obvious injustices endemic to our plutocracy.
Ideally, the Occupy Wall Street movement would simultaneously expand into an Occupy Academia movement. This makes sense on a number of levels. Rule by Wall Street has ravaged the public sector, including higher education. Universities operate more like corporations, as made crystal clear by Marc Bousquet in his must-read, How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation. And, finally, a good chunk of the OWS protestors are graduate students and tenuously employed academics whose very existence is evidence of the tight causal connections between Wall Street misrule and an insecure academic labor market.
Thinking in bold political fashion about how to transform academia is much more interesting to me than discussing the depressing details of the so-called academic labor market and other mundane professional concerns. I hope I am not alone in thinking that this blog, our conference, and S-USIH did not come into being in order to make U.S. intellectual history more professional. I despise the hyper-professional turn academia seems to have taken as a symptom of a larger crisis. Rather, we sought to create space for discussion of U.S. intellectual history, from an academic perspective, to be sure, but not solely on the hyper-professional terms of academia.
And yet, the sad state of the job market is something that smart and well-meaning people seeking gainful academic employment must pay attention to, on its own awful terms no less. Thus, it is also something that an academic society like ours must turn its attention to. In short, my ideas on how we need to “occupy academia” is my roundabout way of qualifying, rationalizing, and apologizing for the need to discuss what might seem like more mundane concerns, although they are anything but mundane to those seeking jobs.
In this light, I pose this question to those of you on the market: How is it this year? Any better or worse than the past few, which have been described as the worst since the early 1970s, if not worse than that? My cursory examination of the listings at H-Net and AHA lead me to think it’s fairly sparse in most areas. I only count two jobs specifically directed at U.S. intellectual historians, one for an intellectual/cultural historian, and one for an intellectual/religious historian. So how else do you all sell yourselves? For now, cultural and social history, focused on gender, race, and ethnicity, and sometimes religion, seem paramount in the discipline, as they have for decades. I assume those of you who consider yourselves intellectual historians also, then, consider yourselves cultural historians of a sort, for reasons necessarily professional? (Not to discount good epistemological reasons!)
How do we create what Pierre Bourdieu called “cultural capital” for our sub-discipline of U.S. intellectual history? Perhaps S-USIH might act as a beachhead in this endeavor. At our second conference, Thomas Bender speculated that intellectual history might be the wave of the future, based on the enthusiasm for it shown by an increasing number of grad students and junior scholars, on display at our conference, among other places. If so, we might expect intellectual history positions to be explicitly listed with more frequency at some point in the not-too-distant future. If so, how much lag time should we expect? I offer up this post as a discussion board for these issues.
Now, back to fighting the plutocracy!