On working for free (academic labour – Part 2)

I wasn’t going to return to the topic of academic labour so soon but a couple of things prompted me to do so – first was this twitter conversation about training and if people should attend for free (no, it’s immoral to ask people to attend work training for free) and then this article today in the Guardian about choice.

What’s the relationship between the two? In my first blog about this I discussed the economic reasons for not doing this but I’ll tackle it from a slightly different angle. As the guardian article makes clear:

That wasn’t how endless choice was supposed to work, argues American psychologist and professor of social theory Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice. “If we’re rational, [social scientists] tell us, added options can only make us better off as a society. This view is logically compelling, but empirically it isn’t true.”

Academics are faced with endless choices but limited resources in terms of times, energy, existing commitments. There are  internal pressures to do research, teaching, service and there are the external pressures of actually having a life. Many academics react to the first by not having the second. We know that female academics feel pressured to put off or carefully time when they have children to fit around things such as their REF submission.  

My choice was slightly different in that having come from industry and doing a PhD part-time I never got the graduate school indoctrination because I rarely mixed with other students. I therefore saw my job as something I do from 9am-5pm Monday to Friday (and actually that is what I am contracted to) and nothing happened during my PhD to change that view.

The problem therefore came up – how do I match the fact that I’m not willing to work all hours with the fact that there are endless potential decisions to make as an academic? I needed a rule or heuristic that I could use to aid me in my decisions and “you have to pay me for this” principle seemed the most straight forward heuristic to apply. Moreover it fit in with my world-view having grown up on a council estate and there being a strong principle that work is something you get paid for. 

 I quickly found that the decision making process was actually quite straight-forward. You want a freebie? that’s a no. You will pay? Good so now I can pay someone else to take care of x (generally teaching). Decisions are easier because I have limited the number of possible outcomes at the start.

Have I missed out on some opportunities? More than likely but so what? there are always more opportunities than hours in the day. 

This does however lead to some uncomfortable conversations – I don’t do peer review for journals because I cannot see why I should prop up some multi-nationals with fat margins in my own time. Now the response to that is – ‘But you expect others to review your stuff?’ If academics undervalue their own labour, how can I stop them? Why should they? Who am I to force my radical position on them (and that’s the nonsense -asking to get paid is the radical position in the academy). 

Operating profits - taken from https://alexholcombe.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/scholarly-publishers-and-their-high-profits/
Operating profits – taken from https://alexholcombe.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/scholarly-publishers-and-their-high-profits/

Oddly academics who campaign for restaurants to pay the minimum wage and make sure staff keep their tips see nothing incommensurable between that position and providing their intellectual labour for free to an equally profitable large multinational. 

Have a nice weekend. 

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