[URBANTH-L]Political Economy of Academia (especially with regard to Social Sciences and Humanities)

John McCreery mccreery at gol.com
Sat May 5 13:11:15 EDT 2007

> From: Eric Charles Thompson <socect at nus.edu.sg>
> With the dominance of neo-liberal economic hegemony (as opposed for
> example to state-mediated distribution of and support for social goods,
> such as education and medicine), the problem faced by social sciences
> and humanities in particular is that there is not a clear economic
> market for anthropologist or English literature majors or PhDs.

Eric's analysis is certainly consistent with my own experience and
observations of academia since my own booting out of the Ivory Tower in
1976.  What surprises me is still, however, the lack of reference, except
for the now obligatory buzzword "neoliberal," to the larger processes of
which the situation of untenured faculty is only one of numerous examples.
The underlying process of increasing polarization of winners and losers in
free market economies has been well-understood economist Vilfredo Pareto
conceived the Pareto curve sometime around 1906. The proposition that
post-Fordist organizations are tending toward the configuration of a core
group of managers and a floating periphery of temporary workers to whom
tasks are outsourced is the heart of David Harvey's argument in _The
Condition of Postmodernity_(1990). The exacerbation of this tendency and its
effects on U.S. workers in particular is analyzed in former Labor Secretary
Robert B. Reich's _The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century
Capitalism (1991). Essentially the same argument appears in George Ritzer
_The McDonaldization of Society_ (revised edition, 2000). To which I can add
a fading memory of an article a few years back in the Chronicle of  Higher
Education in which the author observed that American higher education was
going the way of American department stores, with a few high-prestige places
(Neiman-Marcus, Saks, Nordstroms=Harvard, Yale, Berkeley) doing well on the
high end and a proliferation of community colleges (=discount malls/fast
food outlets) on the low end, while the state universities and colleges
(=Sears, Montgomery Wards) created to serve the mass middle-class baby
boomers get squeezed from both sides. The question is, when will academics
caught on the wrong side of these growing divides look beyond the academy
and discover  solidarity with other workers who find themselves in similar

John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324

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