Notes on Studying Precarity

The University of Southern Denmark is offering applications for a three year PhD fellowship on Literature, unemployment and precarious labor. Advertised on The Chronicle of Higher Education, the fellowship seeks to explore the social uses of precarious literature, specifically, “forms of empathy, recognition and attachment.”

If there is no empathy for the precarious worker, then do readers have a black heart? When Duquesne professor Margaret Mary Vojtko, through circumstance and choice, dies alone on the street through a combination of systematic abuses of the system, gender bias, and her own pride, do we all merely sigh and say, so it goes? After so many years of adjunct confessionals, are we in the professoriate desensitized to the precariat story?

The only current peer reviewed article on adjunct labor is the famed,  “Estimating the Cost of Justice for Adjuncts” article by Brennan and Magness, which claims saving adjuncts is too little too late.  Professor Rita Felski’s project is risky and I applaud the guile it takes to approach the precariat with an academic eye. Yet, my lingering question remains: is the system so broken we must study it instead of trying to change it?




  • Really interesting. My thought was, will such a fellowship help them get a tenure track job, as fellowships are generally thought to do? or will someone who already does some form of labor studies in the tenure track get such a position?

    I’m composing an email in response to a colleague’s invitation to join another working group called THRIVE in which group members are supposed to (without compensation) work on any and all issues that would help students succeed. No where are the problems with with faculty mentioned. I am too busy to take on another committee beyond the three I focus on; however, I do want to make a point to my friend about the economic and social system under which we are supposed to spend more time helping the university to retain and graduate more students.

    • It’s the business as usual model, recruitment and students bring in a certain dollar amount. This is part of a PhD program, so what interested me is that this fellowship is inadvertently preparing PhD students for adjunctification.

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