Extreme Work-Study, or, The Real “Kid Nation”

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Marc Bousquet


The book—and the founding of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor itself—originated in my own experience as a graduate student employee, and the struggle to reach the one indispensable awareness of the student worker: that we were not merely preparing ourselves for future employment, but were in fact employed already. As I’ve written elsewhere, one dizzying realization that comes with completing one’s doctoral education is that for many of us the award of the Ph.D. announces the end and not the beginning of a long teaching career. This means that the holder of the Ph.D. is not the “product” of the labor system, but its byproduct, or even waste product. The system prefers to employ graduate students, or former graduate students—those who left early, or those  who are still on a long, long trajectory to the doctorate—those who cashed out with an M.A., or  ABD. The system perhaps especially prefers those who consider themselves failures or less qualified and therefore “deserving” of the low wages and systematic degradation associated with the contingent appointments held by the overwhelming majority of faculty. The true “products” of the academic labor system in this sense may well be the eminently useful, cheap, docile, and defeated persons who consider themselves an academic failure.

In this context, it took me far too long to consider how some of the same principles at work in the exploitation and subjugation of the graduate student employee might apply to undergraduate employment. This excerpt begins to consider that question.

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