The academic precariat.
In my last blog post, I wrote about a proposed book chapter we just submitted to the book "Academic flying and the means of communication". As it so happens, I also submitted a second book chapter together with historian Johan Gärdebo (he is the first author). Johan isn't a close colleague of mine but is affiliated with the KTH Environmental Humanities Lab. Four years ago I attended a workshop that he organized, "Fly or die" and I wrote a long and thought-provoking blog post about the workshop and I can very much recommend that text! It's also partially the case that our FLIGHT research project to some part came out of me and my colleague Elina attending that workshop!
I have bumped into Johan several times this past year and I invited him to be part of the concluding panel discussion in our (this year spectacularly popular) sustainability course just before Christmas where he did a great job! This is the first time we work/write something together and below is the abstract/proposed book chapter we just submitted. Also see the previous blog post to see the call for book chapters.
The academic petroleum precariat: unwanted flying in an age of uncertain employment
Johan Gärdebo & Daniel Pargman
Flying is often the single largest source of carbon emissions for aeromobile individuals. Academics are prime examples of this, not the least since they fly both as (relatively) affluent members of (oftentimes) affluent societies and as part of their jobs (for example to attend conferences and to disseminate research results). Decreasing carbon emissions entails limiting the amount of “unwanted” flying. While anthropogenic global warming in one sense makes all flying unwanted, we are in this context interested in flights conducted by junior researchers - the academic petroleum precariat - who due to precarious employment conditions are pressured to fly hither and yon whether they wish to or not.
In this essay, we argue that the significant driver for the aeromobility of the academic petroleum precariat are present-day academic (incentive) structures. With diminishing opportunities, e.g. fewer possibilities of tenure for a growing number of junior scholars, it becomes increasingly important to gain circulation. Apart from publishing texts, many attempt to increase circulation by physically placing themselves in strategic places of professional networks, where the action is. Flying is a means to quickly gain access to networks and contacts that can be used to increase the chance of texts being read and cited and to get access to valuable information about opportunities and offers.
We analyse petroleum combustion from flying as a response to academic precariousness. While ample flying is no guarantee of an academic career, at present it at least doesn’t hurt one’s prospects for it. The choice of staying on the ground (i.e. of not flying) might on the other hand easily hinder or possibly even ensure that your academic career will be permanently grounded.
Given that the skyrocketing CO2 emissions of Holecene higher education has to be supplanted by (CO2-stingy) Anthropocene academia, we end the text by elaborating on how the academic petroleum precariat is indicative of a set of challenges for the future of academia, for research(ers), and for the means of decreasing CO2 emissions in a knowledge economy.