Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Hired Hands: Casualised Technology and Labour in the Teaching of Cultural Studies

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Hired Hands: Casualised Technology and Labour in the Teaching of Cultural Studies

Article excerpt

-INTRODUCTION

In the competitive marketplace of higher education, popular media technologies have been embraced for their transformative communicative potential in the classroom and beyond. These technologies promise to catalyse and democratise communications between the academy and its publics, not only as emancipatory teaching tools which tap into students' everyday habits, but as vehicles for publicity and markers of progress within institutions. At the same time as we are witnessing the uptake of new media technologies across a range of settings in the tertiary sector, pressures associated with the massification of higher education in Australia (and more globally) and shifts wrought by corporate management models are also having an impact on the ways courses are delivered. Alternative delivery methods and cost-saving labour practices are being explored and exploited in these contexts to the extent that a significant and increasing portion of academic work is now being effectively 'outsourced'. In this article we explore the uses of casual labour and new media technologies as factors that have critical impact upon practices of learning and teaching in cultural studies and related fields. In particular, we examine the uptake and application of one such technology (podcasting) at a contingent place and time-when the authors were both employed as casual tutors (among many) on large-scale first-year communications and cultural studies courses at the University of Western Sydney in late 2008. In that year, these courses began harnessing podcasting technology for the first time, essentially as a means to disseminate recorded lectures to the student body.

We argue that there is a parallel between the appropriation of podcasting technology into the university and the current system of casual academic employment in Australia, in that both the podcast and the casual academic represent 'new' interfaces of outsourced academic labour. As casual teachers in cultural studies we have written this article from an embedded perspective which conceptualises both the podcast and the casual academic in line with the most prevalent mode of their employment in the academy: as 'hired hands', appendages to traditional models of pedagogy. The hired hand is an appendage in this conceptualisation, that draws on its traditional definition as a hand maiden ('in the service of') but also turns on other usages such as 'in hand' meaning 'under control and subject to discipline'. The idea of the almost prosthetic 'hand' is that it has the potential to materialise as a cyborg, though in the teaching contexts we're speaking to in this article the graft or join is not integrated or seamless.1 The article maps out the limits of technological innovation within the teaching of cultural studies, as well as its limits in promoting the radical potential of a cultural studies approach. And it charts some of the effects and affects of an over-reliance on casualised labour, which we argue can have a profoundly destabilising and atomising impact on academic practice and student engagement.

-PODCASTING PEDAGOGY

In recent years, podcasts-audio media files that can be downloaded via the internet and stored on a computer or portable media device for playback-have been put to use in a range of pedagogical settings across the Australian higher education landscape and, increasingly, as a marketing tool. University websites feature podcasted public lectures and interviews with academics and students, which not only showcase talent, but also serve to differentiate a university from its rivals. Like other public institutions in the 'age of privatization, quasi-markets and private- public partnerships', universities have become 'increasingly promotionalized',2 to the point where 'the elements of challenging and asserting oneself against one's 'fellow players' are central to the functioning of academia'.3 Commenting on the high uptake of podcasts in the US academic context, Buxton et al. …

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