Academic Precarity Now

I collected several testimonies online regarding the difficulty of getting a stable academic job in the USA (and English-speaking world in general). While this is news for none of us, I find these testimonies deserving of attention. The source is the academic wiki “venting_page.” Most of these are from a while back (I assume venting moved somewhere else (I read a stable flow of it on Facebook and Twitter).)

1) “First off, I’m really thankful for having a job and being able to use my training, because, as most of you know, there are so many people who are overqualified for the jobs that they have, they’re working in another industry just to survive, or they’re struggling to get by on unemployment. That being said, it’s frustrating to know that even after spending four years on the market and landing the coveted tenure track job, in many cases you will be struggling just to make ends meet and living like a college sophomore. No one goes into academia (at least not people in the liberal arts) expecting to make a corporate salary, but there’s definitely a bit of a sticker shock when you realize that you’ll need to live with a roommate and sell your car just to make rent every month. Maybe this is simply a case of supply and demand (universities and colleges know that they can always find someone willing to take your job) or a state of the post-post-Boomer economy, but as a young first generation working class kid, I was led to believe that a university professor was a highly esteemed middle class, white collar profession. I’m supposed to be the one who “made it” in my family, but I’m embarrassed to say that nearly every day I regret my decision to have pursued this career path.”

2) “Perhaps I am naive but in my field (in the arts) it seems a little easier to get a job than in many other, more academic or research oriented fields (this based on observations of friends/colleagues getting positions). I came so close last year only to watch one position go to a friend, another (for which I was told an offer letter was on its way) go to someone else, and a third never schedule the on-campus interview with me. I’m currently working professionally in my field and supporting myself with a day job. I watch traffic on my portfolio site every day and I can see that a lot of places are looking at me, some multiple times. I’m trying to be patient, I know the process takes a long time, but it’s hard. One university in particular…the job was perfect for me, the description just seemed to have been written with my CV in mind. I hope every day that they will contact me but I know that the reality is that there are factors (like the expense of bringing me in as a candidate from across the country) beyond my control. I’m trying very hard to come to terms with the fact that it may not happen for me this year either. I might be facing another year of day jobbing. How can I stop the obsessive need to have THIS YEAR BE THE YEAR, and be ok if it eventually doesn’t pan out for me?”

3) “I’m an academic historian married to artist. Arts jobs, in our experience, are just as hard to get. The numbers are similar–my wife has been a finalist for jobs that had more than 700 applicants, and I don’t think I ever faced such odds. The arts are also inherently more subjective (though, admittedly, not much more). Even in positions that advertise “Painting,” whether you are classical, observational, post-modern, conceptual, and so on–according to someone else’s definition, mind you, and depending on the preferences–will get you culled or advanced automatically at most jobs. Don’t forget, also, that “MFA, Yale” trumps a whole lot of other factors. My wife has not landed a TT (in fact, I just landed my first ever TT position a few weeks ago), and she is probably leaving academia. She applied very selectively, but in the end it comes down to the fact that she would rather be making her art than teaching, anyway.”

4) “Academics, forgive me! For as bad as you all have it, I have it much, much worse. I am the spouse of an academic. Is there anything worse on this planet to be?

My spouse has been on the market, in one form or another, for the past decade. She has applied for TT positions, and only gotten nibbles at non-research institutions (she’s in the sciences). She tried one — which involved a move of 2,000 miles — only to find out that there were so many politics that she had no hope of surviving with her research intact. She fled and landed in a non-TT location with great research facilities but no TT prospects, and has spent the past six years working, publishing, and looking for work.

And now, now she gets the call from a university only 150 miles away. Hooray! Ha. So now we interview, and we interview again, and we interview a third time, and we follow up, and we send updated CVs with new publications, and we provide proof of grants, and we do just about every damn thing in the world….

And now we are down to two candidates, and so, every day, I get to come home, after working 12 hours to support this insane career of my spouse, and my spouse cries inconsolibly and informs me that there has been no news, which can only be bad news, and that her job will probably collapse.

Think about this: I’ve moved 2,000 miles twice for her job. I’ve given up a decade of my life to support her. There seems to be no endgame, no end, just do this until finally I collapse from exhaustion, and I can’t work any more.”

5) “It’s my last year on the job market in the humanities — if I don’t get a TT position this year, I’m out. My fellowship is ending, my book is coming out, and I can’t keep wasting my time working and hoping for a job that will probably never materialize. It’s so demoralizing to still be on the market with a CV that got people in my PhD department tenure, and so frustrating to be ineligible for big grants for my next project, etc, because I still don’t have a TT or permanent position. I’m ageing out of postdoctoral roles, in career stage terms, but nobody wants me for anything else. Ugh, ugh, ugh.”

Source
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In the photo: the ladder to the top 
(Photo was taken by me during one of my travels, in Irkutsk)

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My New, Image-Centered, Website, and Other Events

Yielding to the ever-increasing pressure of taking care of the self-representation online, I have opened a website. The difference of this website from my other web-incarnations is that finally the photograph, the image, moves at the center of attention pushing the previously-reigning text to the margin. And although this shift is deceptive (since the text is still a leading figure in every image / word struggle), it, nonetheless, has happened there.

Here is the link: https://vasilinaorlova.weebly.com/ Please include it into your bookmarks; I am going to enrich the website, this blog, and the plenitude of my other projects, including articles and essays, with new and new images and episodes. I am writing my way towards telling a big story of the place and time.

I am particularly excited at finding a way to reflect on motherhood and how it affects one’s perception of the field: https://vasilinaorlova.weebly.com/research-assistant.html, but I also for the first time publish the portions of my CV and make public more details on my current project that I insofar did.

The Spring semester of 2018 I am a TA for the course Photographic Image. Professor Craig Campbell teaches it. All things visual anthropology happen to happen to me lately, and I greet them all.

Commisioned by a Russian publisher, I spent the winter break on putting together a book of my Siberian travelogues in Russian. The book is titled Antropologia povsednevnosti (Anthropology of the Everydayness), and it is a literary pursuit more than a “scientific” one. As I had an opportunity to argue already (here and here) the ethnography and the travelogue are literary genres, and, as such, a good execution of any of these forms is also a good literature.

In the photo: a fragment of the interior in Valentin Rasputin’s house in Atalanka. I visited the house in 2013, and was endlessly impressed with its supreme austerity

116th American Anthropological Association Meeting in Washington, D.C.

This year’s anthropological meeting was productive; I like big gatherings; usually, I receive there notes and feedbacks that I am able to incorporate in my work because they are dense, to the point, and affirmative. Anthropology and science in general, particularly social science, but also its humanitarian incarnation, the socio-cultural anthropology, tend to come to any fruition (if they do) as collaborative processes, despite their continual stressing of the role of the author. We’re still privileging the singular, sole author, as opposed to some other branches of anthropology that are more explicit in doing things collaboratively–the socio-cultural anthropology is no exception; it is also a 100% collaborative process.

I participated in the 116th AAA with two projects that are linked in ways more numerous that I will be able to articulate in this quick blog post. It will suffice to say for the time being that they should end up as parts of my dissertation. Both these projects emerge out of my Siberian explorations; my interests in the phenomenological side of the materialities of the world; my suspicion that such materialities are mutable and multiple; and also from my interest in people and from me asking and re-asking the questions: How do I tell stories? How do I convey things I saw? How do I transport this audience, this group of people, this listener, this reader, into my own world, which incidentally, at least in part, is an unequivocally Siberian world?

My first presentation came out of the episode which I had been hoping to run in a group of anthropologists for a while. I wrote it down almost entirely right after these episodes had transpired. Yet it took me two years to work through some theory pertaining to that day, to two episodes / two encounters. The theory is there to make it all make sense, as it were.

The piece is about a never-completed architectural project, the Palace of Pioneers in Bratsk, and fantasies and ideas unfolding around it and in proximity to it. Two years is not the end of thinking about one day; this piece continues to be a work in process.

The piece is titled In Proximity of Ruins: Haunted Space and the Mutant Fantasy.

Here is the link to an MP3 recording of the presentation.

(The first one minute and a half of the recording is a lovely murmur of papers and a little bit of commotion; I considered cutting this part but then decided to leave it as is for the sake of a sensorial affect of presence).

The panel where I gave this presentation, is the result of a much-cherished friendship of mine–of an intellectual partnership, a connection between my colleague, the anthropologist Rick Smith and me. The panel was titled Summoning the Past: Contestations of Matter, Space, and Time in the Reproduction of State Power. The concentration on summoning, bringing together matter, space, and time, all in a focus of how the state uses these parameters of the “reality” in view of the reproduction of state power, had allowed us to bring together scholars from different, sometimes perceived as far-flung, wings of the discipline. I find such get-togethers particularly generative in terms of ideas and in terms of acquiring the new angles on the same matters.

We were extremely lucky to have Doctor Eben Kirksey, whose presence as a discussant on our panel was very welcome. Dr. Kirksey was extremely generous in providing the much-needed feedback.

It was an honor to present alongside with Rick Smith, Magdalena Stawkowski (whose work I use in my piece), Mary J Weismantel, and also to have Joanna Radin on our panel, who regretfully could not grace us with her physical presence, but whose amazing presentation Dr. Kirksey delivered himself. I am looking forward to seeing, reading, learning always more about, as well as celebrating the works, of all the participants on our panel.

picturebyCraigCampbell

Craig Campbell took this snapshot, a photographic evidence of the (already) past. In the picture: Dr. Rick Smith and I

My second presentation at AAA 2017 was titled Life and Death in a Siberian Village, and this is one of my favorite projects.

Here is a link to an MP3 recording of this presentation.

I will not upload the visual component of this presentation as I am going to convert it into a photo essay.

This is a project of handwriting that my scientific advisor, anthropologist Craig Campbell, prompted and encouraged me to do.

The curatorial collective Writing With Light put together a two-part roundtable. A diverse group of artists, photographers, visual and multimedia scholars, and anthropologists presented their projects where text and photography, sound and image, language and… language–come together to generate a bunch of different, often complex and ripe with tensions, relationships. It is with great interest that I observed the photo-essays in progress by participants of the roundtable.

I am grateful to Kate Schneider and Camilo Leon-Quijano for their insightful comments on my essay.

Photographs Taken During the Partial Solar Eclipse 8/21/2017 in Austin, Texas

As solar eclipse approached, I was thinking about making an exit, an escape out of it, into the city, in hunt of the everydayness, the experience where the mundane collapses and coagulates with spectacular. There were gazers in Austin that did not make it into my objective; they were exchanging eclipse glasses, and one young pregnant woman stood with her swollen belly, bared, offering it to the sun obstructed by the moon, perhaps in search of some sort of connection for her unborn baby with the forces of the universe far exceeding the limits of our imagination and knowledge, with forces non-human, powerful and divine.

I was looking at the familiar space of the city that has been hosting me for the last six years, and these six years were a pinnacle in its existence: during this time Austin rapidly grew and skyrocketed to the first positions of all kinds of ratings, from most-desirable-cities-to-live in America to cities-that-offer-the-best-ratio-of-entertainment-fun-and-prices-for-rent, or so I’ve been told. Austin is continuing growing and will do so in the observable future, but it is no longer the pioneering city in terms of exchanging comfort for money or best prospects for young professionals. Austin is still one of the desirable place to live but its paradise-like attraction is nearing the end as it is gradually taken over by corporations and undergoes yet another after another wave of gentrification.

I am planning to document through photography several streets in Austin that encompass its spirit best, and I open this project with this series of photographs: Austin during the partial eclipse. The eclipse span nearly three hours, from 11:41 AM to 2:39 PM, with a pinnacle at 1:10 PM.

I enjoyed the light on this day, which seemed unusual to me–and finally I was able to free myself from the idea that I observed a partial solar eclipse before. If I observed the eclipse before, it was not during this earthly life (not that I believe in this shit).

Pink Girlhood (Stenography of the Itinerary 83)

Connection between the mother and the daughter is a special connection, full of warmth, hope, and care. In the pink room that Catherina created for her daughter with a rare, mellifluent name Evelina, all dreams should come true. Fairies, unicorns, barbies, princesses, and all the inhabitants of the world of wonder, world of fairy tales, would witness the growth and development of the happy Evelina’s life.

The girlhood. The desire that the happiness would come true, is so pronounced.

The soft light envelopes the tiny figure on a toy horse. And it seems like all the pink shine in the pink room emanates from this source of light.


The pictures are taken by the author in the village of Anosovo, Siberia

Narcissus Taking a Selfie

I posted on academia.edu my short playful writing on selfies. it is currently under consideration in one new anthropological internet venue; I have not heard from them for a while. I first presented my selfie project at John Hartigan’s class last year as a talk, and here is finally a writing:

Selfie in the Interior: Narcissism and Its Cultural Critique

“Persistency of mirrors is known to everyone as a quality of re-demonstrating a looker, always, to the looker. Narcissism, “destined to oneself” (Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, 1968, 249, quoted by Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind, University of Chicago Press, 1993), is the plague of the modern times, critics fear. Self-portrait in the time of proliferation and ubiquity of technology emerges on a verge of narcissism and cultural critique of narcissism, as [that] what appears to be a result of the collaborative struggle between two discourses, disproving and supporting each other. The cultural critique of narcissism is a Narcissus itself: it is undetachable from the object at which it looks. Whenever Narcissus turns, it is always Narcissus that he sees. Whenever the conversation about selfies starts, inevitably someone points out or implies that it’s a morally questionable enterprise. (“Self portrait of NN knows it,” Derrida would have said.) Yet… What is there to be painted except for self-portrait? What is there to be taken if not selfie?”

Selfie is an ideal ruin. For tomorrow self is dead.

To the Problems of Visual Anthropology

I published on the academia.edu our project Ryzyka: A Curated Conversation, created in co-authorship with Irina Oktyabrskaya, Valeriy Klamm,  and Craig Campbell. This work came out on the website of Cultural Anthropology. This is the opening entry of the collaborative project between Cultural Anthropology and Visual Anthropology Review, titled “Writing with Light” and meant for publishing photos(+)texts. My contribution as I saw it, was to ask on the ethnographic Siberian material, or rather “to continue to ask,” to use the Derrida’s expression, the question: What is the difference between photo-essays and visual (anthropology) essay?

“In our framing of this photo-essay, we let our conceptual approach revolve around affect rather than historical meaning. We are interested in situating the reader in the midst of a carefully assembled collection. We want to invite her to navigate an assemblage that renders multiple superimposed stories of life, that neither subordinates the rich complexity of the world made visible through photography to a single hermeneutic goal nor abdicates the role of critical description. Historical frames are hinted at, but are ultimately secondary to a visually rich narrative of everyday life that punctures through the social orchestrations of annual festivals and holidays. In addition to its focus on affect, the photo-essay composes a kind of story that refuses any attempts to extract form from content: neither is available for perception, as it were, without the other element.”

Selection of Photographs: Process

Today I will have the first bunch of Siberian photographs printed. Looks like I won’t be able to go through all folders, like I planned. I am getting tired from skimming photographs.

I always wanted to go through all of them and make a “final selection,” to divide good from bad. But it is impossible, it turns out. There will always be omissions, and always selection will be not final / not draconian enough.

Each carries a memory, but also photographs enigmatically record and carry memories of how one looked at them before. It’s endless layering of memories.

I have selected Siberian photos before for different websites, but in my previous selections I was greedy. I chose one photo out of each series, because I wanted to preserve the event. But photography is impressionistic media; it’s not about information, it’s about impression.

Siberia 2006, 2013, 2016 (a selection of fieldwork photographs)