Bousquet, Marc

Assigned: Bousquet, Marc. From “The Waste Product of Graduate Education: Toward a Dictatorship of the Flexible” (2572-85). Also read the editors’ introduction (2569-72).

From The Waste Product of Graduate Education: Toward a Dictatorship of the Flexible (2002)

1. On 2572-74 (“Like many scholars of my cohort…”), what was the basic prediction set forth by the 1989 Bowen report regarding the near-term availability of traditional (i.e., “tenure track”) professorships? What mistakes in this report does Marc Bousquet initially point to, and how does he characterize the ideological bias (i.e., neoliberalism) involved in the making of such erroneous predictions?

Theorizing Blockage

2. On 2574 (“Under the general neoliberal onslaught…”), Bousquet suggests that rejecting the neoliberal “job market” analytic method for a more traditional “labor monopoly” description might be useful. What use, then, does he make of the latter form of analysis? Why does the professoriate fail to achieve the kind of “labor monopoly” that some other professionals have achieved (doctors, dentists, etc.) even though it has control over who will be granted advanced academic degrees?

3. On 2575-77 (“Indeed, the inescapable observation…”), Bousquet asserts against the “job market theory” (which assumes most graduate students are actually being trained to become tomorrow’s full professors) that “the doctoral degree is the ‘waste product of graduate education…’” (2575 top). How does he go on to explicate that startling claim? Why are graduate students and “ABDs” (those who have completed all work except their dissertation) far more employable as college teachers than holders of the prestigious Ph.D. degree (philosophiae doctor, in the Latin original)? In Bousquet’s view, to what extent is this state of affairs, this “casualization” (2576) of academic work, the result not of some malfunction or misunderstanding, but rather the product of a “smoothly functioning new system…” (2576)? If that is the case, what, then, is the real purpose of “doctoral education” (2577 top)?

4. On 2577-78 (“Any real examination of graduate education…”), Bousquet introduces what he calls an “excrement theory” (2577) to help explain how the academic labor system works. How does he explain this theory, and how does it allow him to challenge the claim by neoliberal “job market theorists” (2577) that there are simply too many graduate students being admitted, thereby creating an excess of available labor? Moreover, what does Bousquet suggest graduate employees need to realize about their true situation—what insight or opportunity is lost if they stop at the level of feeling that they are being “treated like sh*t” (2578) rather than taking the full measure of the situation?

5. On 2578-80 (“There are obviously many ways…”), Bousquet raises the prospect that intensified labor unionization might significantly improve the situation of graduate employees. All the same, in what sense, according to him, have “faculty unions and disciplinary associations” (2579) failed to counter a situation that is clearly disadvantageous for many graduate instructors and holders of the Ph.D.? How has the failure to understand the “waste” status of Ph.D.-holders kept almost everyone involved from accurately appreciating the bad effects of the current neoliberalized state of academic employment? (2579-80)

From “I Feel Your Pain” to “Oh, Sh*t! Your Problem Is My Problem!”

6. On 2580-84 (“In recognizing that their work is…”), what hope does Bousquet place in the unionization of graduate students and other such employees? What four “important realizations” (2581) does he say will come about with increased consciousness of worker-status among graduates and consequent attempts to write this “we work” (2581) insight into law and social policy? Summarize the four realizations and go into further detail about at least one of them. What additional light does the realization you choose shed on the academic labor situation?

7. On 2585 (“Moving from the discourse of…”), what final thoughts does Bousquet offer regarding the best way to improve the dismal state of affairs he has described in academic labor? What responsibilities does he assign to “graduate employee unions,” and what burden does he lay on the professoriate (i.e., tenured and tenure-track professors) in bringing about the improvements he considers necessary?

8. General question: If Marc Bousquet’s analysis in “The Waste Product of Graduate Education” is correct, humanities departments have strong reasons not to tell incoming graduate students the truth about the gap between their hopes for a future professorship and the stark reality of the “casualized,” neoliberal marketplace for college teachers. What do you suppose would be the result if those departments issued acceptance letters that served up the obligatory “Congrats!” sentiment and then revealed Bousquet’s blunt truth about how administrators (and even some professors) really regard incoming graduate students? Do you think the recipients would reject the offer? Why or why not?

9. General question: In “The Waste Product of Graduate Education,” Marc Bousquet discusses mainly the plight of the untenured, “casualized” Ph.D.-holder and of the temporarily useful (but entirely replaceable) graduate-student teacher. There are, however, still some tenure-track professors and fully tenured professors in the system. What function would you say they fulfill in the academic labor environment? Why are they needed at all? Is it solely that they are able to teach graduate seminars, or is there more to it than that? Explain.

10. General question: In “The Waste Product of Graduate Education,” Marc Bousquet places a lot of faith in the unionization of the graduate-student and more broadly non-professoriate-based labor force in academia. Many will surely regard this as cogent advice since unions can measurably increase the bargaining power of workers who belong to them. However, is the success of the unions’ plans possible without the enthusiastic support of the general public? If improvement isn’t achievable without that, how do you assess the current state of public opinion about teachers in higher education, and about teachers’ unions (at any level)? Do you think the public has an accurate understanding of the conditions such teachers work in, and a sufficient degree of empathy that would lead them to support a graduate employee union’s efforts at improving the lives and careers of its members? Why or why not?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake