Putting the Alternative Academic Back in Alt-Ac

When I left IHE and started this new “blogging” space, one of the things I wanted to get away from was the reactionary hot-takes post that had fueled my writing for so long. I was exhausted from the cycle, which the inevitable counter-reactions I would get. I also wanted a space for longer, slower posts on whatever I wanted to write about.

And I think that I’ve accomplished that.

But sometimes, you just have to get back to your roots. Sometimes, you read something and you just have to bang out a couple hundred (maybe 1000 of them, because, I’m still me) in response.

I grew up in Quebec, where everyone smoked. We were one of the last places to ban smoking indoors at restaurants and bars.When smoking became increasingly taboo, it was also a marker of both class and language; the québécois working classes smoked. Most of my friends in college smoked. It’s not a coincidence that the majority of my classmates were from poorer, working class families and communities from across the province.

We also love our unions. Hourly smoking breaks were sacrosanct, a win for worker rights. Every hour on the hour, everyone would go outside for their 10 minute smoking break. I didn’t smoke, but quickly learned that these were spaces where community and connections were formed. We spent most of our days in our little cubicles working away, eating lunch at our desks, but every hour, we all got to get up and hang out, 10 minutes at a time. These same unions, of course, also led the charge to ban smoking in workplaces for worker health and safety, but still preserved the right of their members to have their smoke breaks.

So when I read this piece earlier in the year, it really resonated with me. Allow me to cite a large selection of the opening paragraph:

Anti-smoking legislation is, and always has been, about social control. It is about ratcheting up worker productivity and fostering class hatred, to keep us looking for the enemy in each other instead of in those who are making a killing off cigarettes and anti-smoking campaigns alike. It legitimates the privatization of public space, limits popular assembly, and forces the working class out of political life into private isolation via the social technology of shame. It whitewashes the violence exacted on the poor by the rich to make it all seem like the worker’s own doing. It is, in short, class war by another name.

The piece, and its arguments, came back to me when I read Alt-Ac Conversations and Social Media as the New Smoking, which, I think, equates alt-ac conversations on social media to those same smoking breaks we used to all take.

To which I ask, is that a bad thing?

Look, I remember being one of the only non-smokers at work, and so feeling left out and excluded from that community. Lunch plans and after-work plans and other kinds of machinations were made during these smoke breaks.

And that’s why on social media, I work really hard to be an includer, someone who wants to build the community. Because when I was alone and stuck and out of options, I found the alt-ac community. I found the adjunct community. We found spaces outside of the academy where we could talk about those things we were told we weren’t allowed to talk about or weren’t able to talk about. Graduate programs didn’t want to hear about alt-ac paths, because those were failures. Being an adjunct means no offices, no access to shared spaces, running between campuses where forming community was impossible.

So we took to Twitter. And blogs. And alternative publishing platforms. And even “legitimate” journals. There is not just a vibrant social media community, but a growing body of scholarship and writing about “alt-ac.”

Because we are academics. The term exists because we wanted to emphasize the academic nature of our work, even if we’re not in “traditional” academic roles.

Which is also why we go to conferences.

It takes a great deal of privilege to shrug your shoulders and admit that you go to conferences because you don’t know what you’re doing. But to then assert that it’s why all of us go to conferences?

I go to conferences because I am still an academic. I go to conferences because of the community. I go to conferences because I want to learn and participate in important discussions. I go to conferences because I want to make more visible the career path I ended up on. I go to conferences because I want to collaborate.

There may not be an “alt-ac” conference, but like Audrey Watters, I want to resist disciplining something that by its very nature is transdiciplinary. I don’t want to recreate the same systems that sought to exclude me and so many others, leading many of us to seek alt-ac work in the first place.

There is also the POD Conference. And ELI. And HASTAC. And DLF (seriously, a lot of these questions and hand-wringing we’re doing have already been done by librarians and they write really smart things about it). And AAC&U. This doesn’t even include disciplinary conference, like MLA and AHA, who are increasingly including panels and sessions on alt-ac employment. There is no alt-ac conference because increasingly, they are all alt-ac conferences.

I go to conferences because I have a tremendous amount of privilege in my job.

Trying to resist recreating the same systems of reward and privilege is why I still blog, why I haven’t given up twitter, why I write for alternative publications instead of traditional peer-reviewed journals. I believe being an alt-ac demands of me that I be an alternative academic in all of its forms, from my professional title to the ways I practice being an academic. I do the work that I do because I want to provide resources and opportunities and paths for those graduate students, adjuncts, and others who do not have the same level of privilege as I do.

The academy has long shamed the use of social media, of blogs, of alternate forms of scholarship, publication, and social gathering and organizing. We are not a discipline and we have resisted being disciplined. I firmly believe that we are also important catalysts for any real and lasting change in academia moving forward.

I know exactly what I’m doing. I’m being an alternative academic.