Thursday, June 16, 2005

The self and the market

The previous post asks "to what extent does an academic self control its narrative?" I think this a good question, and I don't want to undermine it. However, I just logged on to pose a similar question, but perhaps also slightly different: "Doesn't the academic self always remained, at least to a certain degree, determined by the job market?" Let me explain, but let me also say that I think what I have to say on this may be something that is more acute in humanistic and other disciplines where it is widely perceived that there is an oversupply of Ph.Ds (or in the case of the previous post, of MFAs). I wonder if it would be the same in disciplines where PhDs felt more secure of their chances of employment.

Starting with Hall, even he frames his own narrative of the development of his academic self around his experiences on the market, first as a candidate, then as someone who hires. Speaking for myself, when I started to define myself professionally as a graduate student, I always did so with some awareness of the impending job search. Choosing fields of interest was staking out a territory, which is not to say that I didn't like the territory, but rather that I knew I had to find territory to stake. And of course, my major statements of self-definition have been related to employment: those job letters I labored (and labored) over, the interviews, and then the set of statements I developed more recently for tenure.

I was thinking of this last night when Pylduck suggested that we post snippets of our professional statements here. I actually started to poke around in my research statement for tenure (which I am happy to send anyone, anyone at all, who would actually want to read such a thing) for good paragraphs. I found a few, and was just about to paste them into Blogger, when I remembered that the professional statement that I thought was most sucessful was actually something else I wrote about the same time: a three-page job letter. (My grad school mentor even commented to me that I defined myself with particular clarity in the letter.) And I thought, what does it mean that my best statement of who I am as a professional comes when I am considering myself as a prospective employee?

My point is that the job market saturates our thinking about our professional selves. I think to some extent that Hall wants to try to reverse this by suggesting that we rid ourselves of a hierarchy in which there are only a few "prize" jobs and the rest are drudgery. On the one hand, I wonder if that's enough; on the other, I am not optimistic that even that is possible.