Work, Lives, Adjunct status

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Fri, 9 Feb 1996 17:34:05 +0900

John Stevens writes, "Our work labels us, although
one (or even a life's) work cannot sum up our
interests, positioning, or knowledge. What my work is
going to do "out there" is of paramount importance to
me, because that's how I perceive the duty of an
intellectual/scholar/social critic."

Yes, this is a position I can share wholeheartedly. As
someone who has written about the details of a minor
Taoist exorcism, I would, however, be the last to
despise, "A Foucautian analysis of tropic
inconsistencies in Bongo Bongo laundry songs."

The serious question for me would be whether that
analysis leads to insights that transcend their
immediate locus and speak to larger issues. As
Geertz points out (for example in the introduction to
_Islam Observed_) the anthropologist's intensive
interest in the local concerns of the paddy field or
blacksmith shop are in themselves no warrant of any
larger value. That comes when we test whatever we
take to be our insights against the work, not only of
our fellow anthropologists working in other fields, but
also that of other scholars whose disciplines offer
other perspectives.

It is in this spirit that I would like to praise Mike
Cahill whose recent posts seem to me to epitomize in
both spirit and substance the best that our debates
can offer. Who else among us has both (a) observed
that the growing role of adjuncts in academia is only
a example of a larger process of downsizing and
outsourcing that affects a far wider range of people
than those in the professorate and (b) supplied us
with serious data on the segment of this population
with which we ourselves are most intimately

Mike asks in one post if similar processes are at work
in Japan. Yes, indeed they are. Restructuring is very
much on people's minds here, since Japanese
companies have already eliminated much of the "fat"
from entertainment, transportation and promotion
budgets, put a hard squeeze on overtime, and shifted
as much of the burden as they can to suppliers
further down the food chain. The middle-aged baby
boomers of whom I am one are next in line. The
trauma will be severe. When I ask Japanese
colleagues about how "salarymen" will cope with
losing their jobs, a common answer is that 90% will
simply be unable to cope. The Japanese system's
emphasis on generalist company men has left most
white collar workers with no specialist skills to find
them new places in the job market. Perhaps 10% will
be able to do what outplacement agencies recommend
and rise to the challenge of seeing defeat as an
opportunity to do new things with themselves.

Returning then to the adjunct issue. Here I offer my
own, intensely personal, slant. I know full well the
shock of discovering that becoming a tenured faculty
member is not on the cards. In retrospect, it strikes
me that clinging to adjunct positions as a way to
make a living is highly unhealthy dependent
behavior. People smart enough for graduate school
should be smart enough to do better than that.

As an older person, who has found a living in the
business world, I now see becoming an adjunct as an
opportunity to renew my intellectual life on
something more like my own terms. It is, I would like
to demonstrate, still possible to be a self-supporting
anthropologist, intellectually respectable but not
dependent on the whims of academic bureaucracies
for how I make my daily bread. Increasingly I suspect
that the future of intellectual life is here on the net
and in adjunct-style arrangements that allow those of
us who live outside the ivory tower to bring our
thoughts and experience to the great debates that
now o'erleap its walls.

John McCreery
February 9, 1996