The University as an Ethnographic Question

The American university as a financialized institution within late capitalism and the American university as a site for scholarship have long been at odds, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many of these tensions into stark relief. Faculty have been asked to reimagine the pedagogical mission of the university, while contending with a changed landscape for both research and resources -- libraries closed, offices locked, laboratories diminished, travel restricted, immigration statuses threatened, and fieldwork halted. Staff and contract laborers are facing layoffs, furloughs, and pay reductions and in many universities hiring is at a halt. Graduate students, caught between the push to graduate and pandemic related interruptions to research, as well as postdoctoral fellows and untenured faculty face heightened precarities, most obviously in the form of a devastated job market. As abrupt as many of these changes may seem, they in fact are unfolding in keeping with a set of deeper and more longstanding dynamics that define the contemporary American university, including the changing value of academic labor; the flexibilization and ballooning administration of academic work; the deep institutional racism structuring the university and the role of “diversity” talk in its whitewashing; and the opaque yet spectacular financialization of the university. 


The 2020-2021 seminar series is anchored in these critical themes: participants are encouraged to engage creatively with the conditions of our scholarly labor and turn ethnographic attention towards the university itself. The series will be conducted online, moving away from the traditional lecture followed by Q&A and towards more dynamic event formats that can encourage virtual participation. This year's theme is a necessarily interdisciplinary conversation, and we invite attendees from across academic fields to join us. 


Unless otherwise stated, all events take place at 3pm EST.


Past Events 

Feb 22: A Conversation with Anand Pandian & Ryan Jobson (Meeting Recording)