Some Brief Spoken Comments on Comp/Rhet, Academic Labor, and the Future of English Studies

Brian T. Hill:

FFor the time being, I’m going to talk about material realities shared by comp/rhet and its others, rather than their differences.

There are all kinds of things I could say about the disciplinary and labor crises in our field, but for now I will focus on an interrelated set of areas with some brief comments, criticisms, or proposals for each: academia’s prestige economy, organized labor, graduate admissions, advisement, the “star system,” and, last and most importantly, undergraduates. Some of these thoughts and recommendations are very small, and some are quite a bit larger.

For starters, campuses, programs, and departments have few if any internal material incentives to make transformational structural changes to the existing divisions of labor. The current arrangement exists for a number of interrelated reasons, but surely one of the most pertinent reasons is that it’s economically beneficial for institutions to organize labor in a tiered wage and title system, with no-contract or low wage or no-benefits work, with labor delivered ‘just-in-time,” etc. Hence the enduring importance and prominence of labor strikes as one of the few bargaining tools still available to workers.