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The Precariat, Ph.D. : On disposable academics and the university system

Mauri, ChristianORCID: 0000-0003-3245-1044 (2019) The Precariat, Ph.D. : On disposable academics and the university system. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Teaching academics are typically in possession or pursuit of a Doctor of Philosophy, which is the highest level of educational attainment. However, the employment and work situations of these highly specialised individuals have been deteriorating, both in Australia and abroad, as universities adapt to the conditions of neoliberal higher education. In the higher education and sociology literature, this has been framed in terms of increasingly bifurcated and insecure workforces. Drawing on Standing’s notion of the “precarious proletariat” or “precariat”, this thesis contributes a conceptual analysis of the structural conditions, situations and views of sessional teaching academics. This is done using a neo-Weberian approach to class analysis, which treats the precariat as an ideal type for analysing groups operating in contemporary organisational contexts based on broadly shared characteristics. Such academics are precariatised, insofar that prevailing university structures see them routinely seeking work through informal and unreliable processes, in which the academics in more secure positions operate as proxy-employers. Although these situations offer little in terms of security, opportunities for advancement and institutional recognition, reports from academics reveal the value placed on lasting academic ideals and the pressure to remain in academe. This class-based analysis is then linked to an analysis of neoliberal higher education using a systems approach adapted from Luhmannian social systems theory. Here it is argued that universities are distinct insofar that they are academic institutions that explicitly produce their own future professional workforces, with the PhD serving as both a formal credential and a broad means of socialisation into academic values. However, universities have responded to the neoliberal environment through corresponding processes of differentiation that have seen the priorities and operational conditions of administrative sub-systems rise to prominence, according to which the unbundling of academic roles and the precariatisation of academics is viewed as a rational response to unavoidable environmental conditions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Creative Media, Arts and Design
Supervisor(s): Northcote, Jeremy
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