Lepore and Bosquet

Of course when I responded to Robert last night and mentioned how there weren’t any other posts up, I didn’t realize that I was responsible for provoking this week! So sorry for the delay.

I already summed up some of my thinking about the Bosquet and Lepore readings on Robert’s thread, so rather than repeat myself, I thought I’d cut right to the chase with some questions.


  • Lepore traces the history of theories of change, from divine providence to historicism, progress, evolution, growth, innovation, and now disruption — “a theory of history founded on a profound anxiety about financial collapse, an apocalyptic fear of global devastation, and shaky evidence.” One historical theory of change that Lepore leaves out is Marx’s, which in some ways borrowed from Darwin’s evolution, but as we know from our reading and David Harvey’s lectures, relied on a dialectic of many other components. How might we use Marx’s ideas about how societies change to help us understand disruption’s popularity, or to help Lepore debunk it?


I’m making lots of Marx connections today. Bosquet focuses on changing labor relations in the academy, writing: “Late capitalism doesn’t just happen to the university, the university makes late capitalism happen. The flexible faculty are just one dimension of an informationalized higher ed — the transformation of the university into an efficient and thoroughly accountable environment through which streaming education can be made available in the way that information is delivered: just in time, on demand, in spasms synchronized to the work rhythm of student labor on the shop floor” (44). 

  • Bosquet’s notion of disruption is far different then Christensen’s — he’s writing about grassroots actions that adjuncts and graduate students might take to raise consciousness about and organize for better working conditions, higher salaries, and tenure. What role might stronger unions and this form of disruption play as universities seek to address “the crisis of higher ed” through tech innovations, as described in the other readings?
  • We extended Marx’ analogies about the machine, the tool, and the power source to computers a few weeks ago in class. How might Marxist ideas about the role of the machine and technology come in to play in thinking about the mechanization of university teaching and learning? To what extent does the analogy hold? Where might it break down?

2 thoughts on “Lepore and Bosquet

  1. Mary Catherine Kinniburgh

    Thanks to both Sara and Teresa for such thought-provoking comments! They have certainly got me thinking…

    Teresa’s zoom-in on academic labor and the “job market theory” as Bosquet describes it highlights a key point of Bosquet’s argument: if there is increased awareness of the adjunctification of the university, and if more people inside and outside of academia–including adjuncts themselves!–know just how much influence adjuncts have, this will initiate a shift in the current balance of institutional power. I deeply appreciate the efforts of unionization, particularly at places like CUNY, and it’s evident that unions continue to be at the forefront of labor advocacy in institutions.

    Beyond teaching labor, Bosquet also notes that institutionalizing career centers for “alternative academic,” or alt-ac positions, also in fact institutionalizes the fact that the university is no longer required to make reforms that would change the labor structure of higher education instruction. That is, administrative approval for alt-ac results more from a desire to preserve the status quo of adjunct labor, rather than change the ideas of career success for doctoral degree holders. I can’t say whether either extreme is true, but it nevertheless suggests that it is not just teaching labor that shapes the university as an institution, but all labor. That is, the efforts of career centers, the doctoral student revising her resume for industry and participating in networking–all these forms of paid and unpaid labor help to constitute the idea of the modern university.

    This is embarrassingly obvious when stated, but is nevertheless an important undercurrent to Bosquet’s argument and an idea that I think of often: labor within universities produces the current structure of universities. Because of this, I’m not necessarily convinced that solving the adjunct crisis (and a crisis it is) resolves other labor practices at universities that recruit academics, graduate students, and even undergraduate students to perform tasks that ultimately work to uphold and reinforce the current university system. For instance, organizing conferences or editing for a journal is often unpaid work, but is undertaken by academics to provide forums for academic discourse (to give shape to the field) with certain institutional affiliation (to define the field according to an institution’s authority). These “good samaritan” activities ultimate produce institutional prestige and shape academia as a system that requires labor across departments, in research, publications, teaching, and “service activities” (don’t even get me started on that term!) as lesser-known requisites, beyond “research and teaching,” for entry. One might argue that tenure-track rates of pay more than compensate for labor, but it seems that overall, academia has a labor problem in that there is almost no moment of not working. This is explained as a quirk of the job, a “do what you love and you never work” rationale, but given our recent discussions of Marx and labor, it seems that the current labor structure of academia that requires endless participation in unpaid conferences, meetings, workshops, journal reviews, and even publications ultimately closes the doors to the Ivory Tower to anyone who either does not have their entire life to dedicate to work, or chooses not to, even when adjunct status is transcended.

    With apologies for how these ideas aren’t quite fully formed or articulated yet, I think I’m trying to say:

    Beyond adjunctification, which has justly received the most press for the horrendous labor conditions it reinforces, the labor structure of academia which requires nearly round-the-clock participation in activities that ultimately uphold idea of the university deserves rethinking along the lines of privilege and diversity–and the way that the current labor structure reinforces the former and undercuts the latter.

  2. Teresa Ober

    Thank you, Sara, for posting your provocation despite having addressed the readings in an earlier post! I wanted to reflect on your second prompt, that which deals with the mechanization of teaching and learning at the post-secondary level. In Bosquet’s critique of “job market theory,” we see much of the same issues of labor and demand that drives industry and the factory system during the time that Marx wrote “Kapital.” Here, however, we see that it is the increase in skilled individuals that actually drives a demand for more opportunities for labor. This excess of a highly educated labor with a specialized expertise is what seems to result in such an imbalance in the job market, especially for those who seek the amenities of a tenure-track position. While it may be hard to believe that anyone would argue that more tenure-track positions should be widely available to individuals who might minimum qualifications for scholarship and teaching, there seems to be a disproportionate teaching load placed on part-time adjunct instructors (estimated between 50-75% of faculty placements nationwide), many of whom are full-time students and balance multiple responsibilities. In terms of a market within the field of education, this relationship creates what Bosquet refers to as a “byproduct” of the graduate student education, where such students are treated almost more as consumers of higher education, than so much as employees, despite the instruction they may provide to undergraduate students.

    In light of the notion that up until the 1990s students at major private universities throughout the country could not be considered as both a student and an employee, it seems to demonstrate how tightly controlled such institutions have been by market principles. The breakdown of the “causalization of faculty” may occur when universities recognize the impact that part-time instructors may have both in shaping their future and the reputation of the university, but perhaps even more directly, in shaping the educational outcomes of those they themselves teach.

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