A colleague from another institution emailed me after I retweeted a sharp critique of the #omla project, to ask what I found so distasteful about it. I thought I'd share roughly what I said to him. (Another asked if we weren't all feeding the trolls. I think in fact that the overall community, while disappointed and offended, seems to see this as a "teachable moment," and that's the spirit in which I'm offering these comments.)
* * *
"Distasteful" (I wrote) was not my own word -- I was re-tweeting Whitney Trettien's commentary on their recent statements about "labor" & "suffering" with regard to long nights spent working on a dissertation in the stacks:
They have also said that they did not so "labor and suffer" just to be stuck with an #alt-ac job (like mine? for which I turned down tenure-track positions and prestigious research funding?), or to have to teach lowly freshman comp, which many people have remarked is an unpleasantly entitled kind of thing to say.
I agree with Whitney these are poor rhetorical moves to make when the overall #occupy movement is addressing more acute labor and suffering among people much less privileged than your average English PhD. Surely there are better ways to build on and participate in the larger movement.
I did call @occupymla out yesterday morning for statements that seemed to devalue and insult the "alternative academic" community. The group never addressed or acknowledged what I had to say, but my exchange with , who was already staging a little intervention, set off the current Twitterspasm. You can catch up on a small corner of it here:
For me, it started with Occupy MLA's tagline. "Stick your alt-ac advice squarely in your variorum. TENURE TRACK NOW" (since removed from as the banner under which the Twitter account chose to march) seems to me to be a simplistic and needlessly antagonistic binary. I encouraged Occupy MLA to know their enemies. The #alt-ac community includes people laboring tirelessly to remake scholarly communications systems (publishing, libraries, etc.), to reform grad training so that people have more viable options and so that that the next generation of faculty are better informed & equipped to remake their institutions, and working -- from the inside -- to embed core humanities values and knowledge into academic structures and policies. They do not deserve to be reminded by the very people they are trying to serve, and serve alongside, that they are considered to be tenure-track wash-outs and second-class citizens.
This morning's apparent #omla change of heart with regard to #alt-ac is nice. Raising awareness of problems like student debt, overproduction of PhDs, under-preparation for ther realities of the market, exploitative labor practices, and the corporatization and adjunctification of our universities is the way to go. I think we could use a hopeful vision as well, of the universities and colleges we'd like to operate with and within.
But I still think Whitney's critique is spot-on. Watching the relatively privileged co-opt Occupy Wall Street activist rhetoric in support of what comes across as bourgeois wish fulfillment ("I deserve a higher social status in the academy!") is pretty ick.
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Mostly, I look at the whole trainwreck with sadness. A generation of emerging scholars & #alt-ac knowledge workers must remake the professions, together, and in constructive partnership with our scholarly societies. Taken together, recent statements by AHA and MLA leadership on de-stigmatizing #alt-ac and reforming employment conditions for humanities faculty are hugely heartening:
Know all your enemies. These aren't among them.
I've only been a mid-level university administrator for a few years, but that's been long enough to see how self-defeating it is, from the local to the national level, when humanities scholars respond to economic stress by doing three things: close ranks and assert that everyone on the outside is an enemy or a fool; engage in the kind of infighting that assumes our game is zero-sum; and voice their worries about the future of the profession and the academy in personally aggrieved tones that come across as elitist and uninformed and internally inconsistent (rather than richly polyvocal).
Good luck, Occupy MLA. For what it's worth, here's a smattering of the stuff I've written, created, or co-created over the past few years to raise awareness of aligned issues (many from my perspective as a digital humanist) and to do concrete good (sometimes local, sometimes nationally & internationally) for the humanities, for emerging scholars, and for undervalued academics and the tenuously employed. Hey, that's you.
I did ask Victorian Poetry during our negotiations if I could put a copy of my article online, and they said no, and I agreed to publish with them anyway. I can't recall if I asked and/or was allowed to put it in an institutional repository for archival purposes, though I could look that up. I wrote a bit about that article's not being open access in an MLA presentation titled "Your Twitter Followers and Facebook Friends Won’t Read Your Peer-Reviewed Article if They Have to Pay for It, and Neither Will Strangers," freely (of course) available at http://amandafrench.net/blog/2011/01/07/twitter-facebook-article/
What I'm wondering now is whether, as a rather lame but sincere act in support of open access, I should post the full text of that article online. It doesn't really bother me that it's not free online, since it's just a revised chapter of my dissertation, which IS freely available online, but I kinda feel like setting a good example of open access dissent.
Of course that article isn't indexed by JSTOR yet and won't be for at least five years, since that's the "moving wall" in JSTOR for Victorian Poetry, and as I've said before I certainly don't think JSTOR is the enemy, and neither are smallish scholarly journals such as VP. But it nevertheless seems to me that if lots of scholars agreed to break the terms of their contracts with publishers by putting their articles online for free, that'd be a great blow for open access -- disobedience that I could get behind.
Portia: "Then must the Jew be merciful."
Shylock: "On what compulsion must I? Tell me that."
Portia: "You just don't get it, do you? The quality of mercy is not strained."
At least, that's what it sounded like she said. And then I was preoccupied with trying not to laugh aloud. I blame this video.
"You Just Don't Get It, Do You?" - A Montage of Cinema's Worst Writing Cliche
Some of you may have heard of the Megaupload video which Universal Music Group has had removed from YouTube. Megaupload claims it is entirely their property. UMG seems to believe it viokates their copyright and has twice ordered it removed from YouTube.
On Tech News Today we exercised our fair use rights to comment on the story by playing some of the video. Our episode has now been removed from YouTube at UMG's request.
Even if UMG does have a copyright issue in the Megaupload video, they do not have the right to silence commentary on their actions.
We are filing a counter-notice and will see what happens.
This is the blocked video:
Tech News Today 391: Where Do You Park Your Jet?
The uncensored episode is here: http://twit.tv/show/tech-news-today/391
In fact, if anyone wants to Skype in beforehand with their thoughts for inclusion in the podcast, I'll fire up the VOIP recorder starting around 8:15am. My Skype handle is amandafrenchphd. Can't promise what you say will make it into the podcast, but we'll see. Please do only call if you're willing to be broadcast -- anonymous is fine, though. You could also record yourself and send that to me at email@example.com. Or even just email me about it.
I'm curious as to what people think, and I'm desperately curious as to what people know.
Not sure what party that makes me.
As for the flat tax, I oppose it now (in my flaccid aesthetic way) not only for the reason you state, (I'm pretty sure that's why someone argued me out of it) but also because OMG can you imagine how many people whose job it is to explain the tax code would be put out of work by a simple taxation system?
- Center for History and New Media, George Mason UniversityScholar, present
- University of Virginia
- North Carolina State University
- New York University
- George Mason University
I consider myself a member of the community of practice known as the “digital humanities,” which means that I think hard about how the study of literature, history, and philosophy has been and is being and might be changed by computers and the Internet — but I don’t limit myself to thinking; I get my hands dirty, thus causing some of the very change I think about, in an inexcusable breach of objectivity.
I am currently THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) Coordinator at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Before that, I was an Assistant Research Scholar in the Archives and Public History program at New York University, where I helped develop a model digital curriculum, and where I developed and taught the graduate course “Creating Digital History.” Before that, I taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Victorian poetry and poetics, Victorian literature, and academic research methods for the digital age as a Teaching Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University. I held the Council on Library and Information Resources Postdoctoral Fellowship from 2004 to 2006.
At the University of Virginia, while earning my doctorate in English, I encoded texts in first SGML and then XML for the Rossetti Archive and the Electronic Text Center. I also spent three years as a Teaching + Technology Support Partner training faculty in the English Department to use technology in their teaching and research. My 2004 dissertation is a history of the villanelle, the poetic form of Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” Named by the Chronicle of Higher Education in April 2009 as one of “10 High Fliers on Twitter,” I am currently at work on a book about the poetics of Twitter.
I also write poetry and songs, notably and most recently (though not very recently) the mildly viral song “All My Internet Friends.”
- University of VirginiaEnglish, 1993 - 2004
- University of Colorado at BoulderEnglish, 1987 - 1992