Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

"It's like Writing Yourself into a Codependent Relationship with Someone Who Doesn't Even Want You!" Emotional Labor, Intimacy, and the Academic Job Market in Rhetoric and Composition

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

"It's like Writing Yourself into a Codependent Relationship with Someone Who Doesn't Even Want You!" Emotional Labor, Intimacy, and the Academic Job Market in Rhetoric and Composition

Article excerpt

Humanity and its soul are produced in the very processes of economic production.

-Michael Hardt, "Affective Labor"

O ver the last decade, a series of shifts in the economic and technological realms has had critical implications for academic workplaces. Such shifts include the rise and fall of the for-profit college and the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession. The corporatization and neoliberalization of higher education has also led to changes in the cost structures of academic institutions, such as reductions in federal support of public institutions, decreasing faculty salaries, growing salaries for chief executive officers, increasing numbers of contingent faculty, and decreasing numbers of academic staff at public research universities and community colleges (Barnshaw and Dunietz; Desrochers and Kirschstein). While staff and contingent faculty are in particularly vulnerable positions during periods of institutional restructuring, tenure-track faculty have been subject to layoffs as well (Flaherty; Hammer; Huckabee; Jaschik; Mytelka; Woodhouse). During the period coinciding with the 2008 financial crisis, the Modern Language Association reported a 39.75 percent decrease in academic positions advertised on their Job Information List, going from 1826 positions in 2007-2008 to 1100 positions in 2009-2010.

It is within these material and economic conditions that hundreds of job candidates work to secure work. What's more, these economic conditions have occurred alongside technological shifts that have impacted the ways in which we communicate. For instance, the growth of crowdsourced and user-generated content, the monetization of virality, and the entry of clickbait into the vernacular suggest a stylistic and affective shift in Internetdistributed content. These economic and technological changes, together, have corresponded with a shift in the rhetoric of the academic job market toward a rhetoric of emotional crisis. Headlines like "Update: The Job Market for Academics Is Still Terrifying," "Job Market PTSD," "When the Job Market Seems Hopeless," "Academic Job Hunts From Hell: Inappropriate, Hostile, and Awkward Moments," and "Why Your Cousin with a Ph.D. Is a Basket Case" pepper social media (Weissmann; Kate; Vick and Furlong; Perlmutter; Schuman). The Academic Jobs Wiki, often described as a site to avoid altogether if you are to maintain your composure on the job market, has its own "Universities to Fear" and "Universities to Love" pages, where candidates are able to share, on either end of the emotional spectrum, their most loathsome or most delightful experiences on the academic job search. Indeed, informal conversations surrounding the academic job search are inundated with the language of feeling. The experience is, for many, a time of excitement, hope, fear, and dread, oftentimes all at once.

This essay considers the affective experience and emotional labor of candidates on the academic job market. In invoking the term emotional labor, I draw on the work of Arlie Hochschild, who defines emotional labor as "the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display; emotional labor is sold for a wage and therefore has exchange value" (7). At the same time, I draw on Michael Hardt's conception of affective labor, which he describes as immaterial and corporeal labor, with intangible products, whether "a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, passion-even a sense of connectedness or community" (96). Certainly job applicants, whether they do so consciously or not, hope to produce such affective connections, even community, with search committee members and faculty from hiring departments. To do so, applicants labor to research institutions and faculty, compose cover letters, interview with search committees, prepare and present research and teaching talks, and engage in less formal conversations as they meet and dine with faculty. Using Hochschild and Hardt, together, enables me to account for the sorts of emotions and affects that exist at both ends of the production cycle, including the emotional labor needed to produce particular affects, which then serve to elicit particular affective outcomes. …

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