Author: Laura Sell

Publicity and Advertising Manager, Duke University Press

In Conversation: Cait McKinney and Courtney Berger

We hope you enjoy the latest video in our In Conversation series, which features Cait McKinney, author of Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies, speaking about the book with Executive Editor Courtney Berger. In the book, McKinney traces how lesbian feminist activists in the United States and Canada between the 1970s and the present developed communication networks, databases, and digital archives to use as a foundation for their feminist, antiracist, and trans-inclusive work.

In Conversation: Race and Performance after Repetition

We are excited to announce the launch of our next video in the In Conversation series, featuring editors and contributors to the new book Race and Performance after Repetition. Soyica Diggs Colbert, Douglas A. Jones, Jr., and Shane Vogel  discuss the major themes of the collection with contributors Joshua Chambers-Letson, Tavia Nyong’o, and Elizabeth W. Son, exploring how theater and performance studies account for the complex relationship between race and time. Enjoy!

Editorial Director Gisela Fosado Speaks Out About Jessica A. Krug

I spent last Thursday and Friday reading and processing the many stories shared on Twitter about Jessica A. Krug’s decades-long fraudulent and hurtful appropriation of a Black and Latinx identity. I have been sickened, angered, and saddened by the many years that she deployed gross racial stereotypes to build her fake identity, and the way that she coupled her lies with a self-righteous policing of racial politics within the Black and Latinx circles that she intruded upon.  

My interactions with Krug, who authored a book with Duke University Press, were limited. The first time she lied to me was in an email exchange in 2017. I had asked her how to pronounce her name. She answered, “Thanks for asking about my last name. It’s actually ‘Cruz’ and is pronounced as such. Long story, and when we meet up in person, I’ll tell you.” As an acquisition editor, I often present information about our authors and our books to colleagues across our departments, and, as someone whose name is often mispronounced, I work hard to get names right. From that point forward, everyone across our Press dutifully pronounced her name as “Cruz.”  When I met her in person for the first time the following year, shortly after her book was published, she told me the fictitious story of how her grandparents came to this country from the Caribbean and how immigration officials made a transcription mistake on their last name. She also repeated other details that I now know to be false about her identity and her past.

Those of us who are connected to Krug and her scholarship, and especially those of us who are people of color, are grappling with several layers of anger and hurt. There is the personal pain of having someone impersonate your own identity in the most racist way possible, through caricatures and stereotypes. There’s also the shameful sense that, as someone who labored to support her work as her acquisition editor, I helped publish the work of someone who, early in her career, took funding and other opportunities that were earmarked for non-white scholars. 

Many of us who promoted her work in one way or another have also struggled in trying to consider the relationship between Krug’s scholarship and her wrongdoing. There are times when a scholar does harm that can be seen as unrelated to their scholarship. In this case, Krug leveraged her deception to enable and promote her work, in ways that are not quantifiable or always specific. As others have pointed out, Krug’s scholarship may not have ever existed without the funding that was inseparable from her two decades of lies. 

What are we then to do with her scholarship, which, as it happens, has been widely praised and recognized as important? Many scholars and scholar-activists have continued to push for a focus not just on content of scholarship, but also on context, methods, ethics, and politics—often promoting decolonial approaches. These are the conversations and movements that can lead us forward. I hope that we can all muster the strength to lean into these conversations, even though they will challenge us all. 

Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about Krug’s book has asked about profits from her book. The truth is that the book, like many monographic scholarly works, did not generate a profit—its expenses were more than its revenues. Despite that, Duke University Press is committed to moving all proceeds from the book to a fund that will support the work of Black and Latinx scholars. Our conversations and deliberations about other actions will continue.

Courtney Berger on Our New Political Science and Political Theory Titles

SocialMediaforConferences_Blog_APSA

Our editors look forward to meeting their authors at conferences every year and are sad to be missing out on that this year. The annual meeting of the American Political Science Association would have taken place September 10-13 in San Francisco this year. We know that many of you look forward to stocking up on new books at special discounts at our conferences, so we are pleased to extend a 30% discount on all in-stock books and journal issues with coupon code APSA20.

CBerger_webInstead of greeting Executive Editor Courtney Berger in person this year, check out her recommendations for new titles in the discipline and a great round up of other ways to learn about all the new scholarship that was to be presented at the conference.

I first started attending APSA in 2004, just as I was beginning to build a list in political theory. Over the years it has become a bit of a second home for me, disciplinarily speaking, and I’ve spent many a Labor Day weekend enjoying the camaraderie, intelligence, and wit of the APSA community. (Heck, I spent the night on the Marriott lawn with many of you in 2014, so I feel like we’re pretty close now.)  I am especially sad that we won’t be seeing one another in person this year to celebrate new books, talk about projects in the works, and catch up over coffee or cocktails.

I am grateful, though, that we will still be able to convene through the virtual conference. I typically don’t have a lot of time to attend panels during an in-person conference. But this year my calendar is packed with panels on Indigenous political thought, abolitionism, racial violence and grassroots insurgency, data politics, and climate crisis. Now more than ever we need politically engaged scholarship that will grapple with questions of racial justice, violence directed at trans and queer folks, gender inequities, the ongoing legacies of colonialism and Indigenous dispossession, and the uneven effects that war and climate change have had on human and more-than-human worlds. Scholars at APSA are poised to offer important insight on these urgent issues, and I am eager to hear what you have to say.

Resource RadicalsAnd, of course, Duke has plenty of new books that attend to these concerns. One of the real pleasures of the in-person conference is that folks have the opportunity to pick up and handle our books and, perhaps, encounter something unexpected. This year, you will need to admire them virtually, but I hope that you will still find a moment to browse and perhaps purchase some books (at the conference discount, of course).

Theft is PropertyThere will be Author Meets Critics panels on two remarkable new books that address questions of Indigenous dispossession, resource extraction, and the logics of capitalism: Robert Nichols’ Theft Is Property!: Dispossession and Critical Theory and Thea Riofrancos’ Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador (both of which are in the Radical Americás series edited by George Ciccariello-Maher and Bruno Bosteels).

Some more must-reads for the theory-minded among you: Jane Bennett’s Influx and Efflux: Writing Up with Walt Whitman, the much-anticipated follow up to Vibrant Matter; Louise Amoore’s Cloud Ethics: Algorithms and the Attributes of Ourselves and Others; Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics; Cressida Heyes’ Anaesthetics of Existence: Essays on Experience at the Edge; and Hagar Kotef’s forthcoming The Colonizing Self. We also have some innovative new books in Black studies I encourage you to check out, including Ashon Crawley’s The Lonely Letters, and Katherine McKittrick’s forthcoming Dear Science and Other Stories.

Savage EcologyFinally, a hearty congratulations to Jairus Grove, whose book Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics at the End of the World received Honorable Mention for the Foundations of Political Theory First Book Award. This is a sharp and timely book (viruses, war, and environmental apocalypse, anyone?) that offers an oddly hopeful pessimism for the future of our planet.

Be well, everyone, and I’ll see you online.

If you were hoping to connect with Courtney or another of our editors about your book project at APSA, please reach out to them by email. See our editors’ specialties and contact information here and our online submissions guidelines here.

In addition to these books, don’t miss valuable new content from the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law that addresses the COVID-19 pandemic, analyzes the Affordable Care Act 10 years on, and offers insight into the politics of the opioid epidemic.

We invite you to peruse our online catalog of political science and political theory titles.

And finally, we really miss one of our favorite conference traditions, the in-booth photos of authors with their recent books. Please check out our album of author selfies instead. We’ll be posting those photos on Twitter this week as well.

Gayle Wald on the New Film “Mr. Soul!”

In today’s guest post, Gayle Wald shares her appreciation for the TV show Soul! and the new movie Mr. Soul!, about its creator, Ellis Haizlip. Wald is Professor of American Studies at George Washington University and author of It′s Been Beautiful: Soul! and Black Power Television (2015).

In one of the last episodes of Soul!, Ellis Haizlip mused prophetically on the cancellation of the TV show he had been producing and hosting for five years. Emerging on New York public broadcasting in the aftermath of the long summer of 1968, Soul! had demonstrated the ability of a supposedly “cold” medium to translate the warmth of Black American collective at a revolutionary moment in U.S. history. Combining performance and talk, the show gave a platform to an astonishing number of Black political and artistic luminaries, from the women of Labelle to Earth, Wind and Fire to the gospel singer Marion Williams, and from Kathleen Cleaver to Harry Belafonte to Louis Farrakhan. By 1973, Soul was on the way out, another casualty of the nation’s counter-revolutionary turn away from the “arc of justice.”

“Sometimes it is necessary in the evolution of things to disappear,” Haizlip said in that February 1973 episode, his eyes trained on the camera so as to address viewers directly. “We will continue to communicate.”

978-0-8223-5424-6_prSoul! did indeed disappear in a way, if by disappear we mean get written out of history. Before the publication of Devorah Heitner’s groundbreaking study Black Power TV (Duke 2013), it was infrequently referenced, and had even been omitted even from reference books. But what Haizlip often referred to as the program’s “vibrations” did endure, in the form of both living memory and collective consciousness. Soul! ended its on-air run when the Corporation of Public Broadcasting moved to fund more overtly “integrationist” representations, but the ideas, attitudes, and affects it sparked were not so easily extinguished.

978-0-8223-5837-4_prIn my 2015 book It’s Been Beautiful: Soul! and Black Power Television, I wrote about the affective, political, and aesthetic afterlives of Soul!, mindful of my own powerful attraction to the possibilities it projected through its bold and inclusive representation of “soul culture.” Soul!’s radicalism was manifested in its direct address to Black viewers, imagined as part of a “soul” collective. Yet even as an outsider to this collective, in watching it decades later I still felt the tug of its utopian imaginings.

Melissa Haizlip’s documentary Mr. Soul!, now airing on demand after making its rounds through festival circuits, where it was an audience favorite, arrives at a moment when we are once again, as in the summer of 1968, wondering whether calls for “law and order” will be allowed to drown out calls for justice and reparation. I had been in discussion with Haizlip, Ellis Haizlip’s niece, as an adviser and make a brief “expert” appearance in the film.

But it was not until I first experienced it, with a sold-out audience at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, that I felt the “vibrations” Haizlip had talked about. In the palpable pleasure of festival viewers of Mr. Soul! in being treated to memorable performances and discussions from Soul! archive, I saw the reactions of the show’s original, in-studio audience paralleled and augmented. It was as though, through the documentary, the two sets of audiences—one from the Black Power era and one from the era of #BlackLivesMatter, could see and feel each other.

Soul! is, in 2020, once again “right on time.” It is on time in terms of its material and representational commitments to Black queer people and Black women, and on time in terms of its celebration of a Black aesthetic amid turmoil and despair. As a teacher, I particularly look forward to one day using Mr. Soul! to bring hard-to-find Soul! footage to my students. I am sure, as Ellis Haizlip envisioned, it will continue to communicate.

Online Events in September

Although you can’t see them in person, there are many opportunities to catch our authors at online events in September.

manufactuing-celebritySeptember 4, 12 pm EDT: Vanessa Díaz, author of  Manufacturing Celebrity,  will be joined in conversation by Jonathan Rosa at an event sponsored by Harvard Bookstore.

September 4, 9 pm EDT: Margaret Randall and Cedar Sigo discuss Randall’s recent memoir I Never Left Home in an event sponsored by Elliott Bay Book Company

September 16, 4 pm CDT: Katina Rogers will participate in an online conversation about her book Putting the Humanities PhD to Work. This event is sponsored by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies with support from Humanities for the Public Good; Prairie Lights Bookstore; and The Futures Initiative, and The Graduate Center, CUNY.

978-1-4780-0945-0September 17, 12 pm EDT: Arlene Dávila discusses her new book Latinx Art in an online talk sponsored by CARGC UPenn

September 21, 6:30 pm EDT: Intellectual Publics sponsors an online conversation between Arlene Dávila and Patricia Banks.

September 22, 2 pm EDT:  Difficult Objects: A Transnational Feminist Book Conversation. Moderated by Samantha Pinto, author of Infamous Bodies, this conversation features Simidele Dosekun, Durba Mitra, and Laura Hyun Yi Kang, author of Traffic in Asian Women, talking about their recent books and transnational feminist methodologies.

We hope you can tune in to some of these great talks. Keep up with all our author events on our Twitter feed.

In Conversation: A New Video Series

With the global pandemic keeping authors from doing readings at bookstores and talks on campuses, they are seeking new ways to discuss and share their scholarship with wider audiences. We are pleased to launch a new series of video conversations with that aim. 

These video conversations will take a variety of formats. Some will be between authors and their in-house editors, others will be multiple contributors from an edited volume, or conversations between authors and series editors. We have been grateful for the work of summer intern Matthew Sebastian, a graduate student in anthropology at Duke University, to get this series up and running.

The first video in the series is a conversation between Alex Blanchette, author of Porkopolis, and Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker. With COVID-19 ravaging meatpacking plants around the country, Blanchette’s book became unfortunately timely this spring. 

We also invite you to watch the series’s second video, a conversation between Melody Jue, author of Wild Blue Media, Executive Editor Courtney Berger, and Stacy Alaimo, editor of the Elements series that the book is a part of. 

Watch our YouTube channel and our Twitter feed for future videos. They’ll include a conversation between Assistant Editor Joshua Tranen and Ricardo Montez, author of Keith Haring’s Line; Editorial Associate Alejandra Mejía in conversation with contributors to We Are Not Dreamers; and Ken Wissoker in conversation with contributors to Writing Anthropology

Courtney Berger on the 4S Conference

SocialMediaforConferences_Blog_4S

The annual conference of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4s) has gone virtual. We’re pleased to offer some remarks by Executive Editor Courtney Berger, who usually attends the conference.

CBerger_webGreetings, 4S-ers! I am excited to attend this year’s virtual conference. While it has been difficult to miss out on the conversations and connections facilitated by in-person conferences, virtual conferences offer new opportunities. I’m not usually able to attend 4S on the years when it’s held outside of the U.S., so this is a bit of a bonus for me. I’ll be waking up early on East Coast time to attend panels, many of which include Duke University Press authors. My schedule is overflowing with panels that focus on more-than-human worlds (including the viral, of course); trans, queer, and feminist approaches to science studies; race and indigeneity; the environment (especially work on the elements, energy, and toxicity); and data and algorithmic thinking.

978-1-4780-0831-6Duke University Press’s new books in science and technology studies reflect the wide ranging and politically relevant approaches found at the 4S conference.  No doubt people will be reading and talking about Frédéric Keck’s Avian Reservoirs: Virus Hunters and Birdwatchers in Chinese Sentinel Posts, which highlights the importance of interspecies relations in managing pandemics. Noah Tamarkin’s Genetic Afterlives: Black Jewish Indigeneity in South Africa attends to the multivalent intersection of race, nation, and indigeneity. Lesley Green’s Rock|Water|Life: Ecology and Humanities for a Decolonial South Africa examines the interwoven realities of inequality, racism, colonialism, and environmental destruction in South Africa. Louise Amoore’s Cloud Ethics: Algorithms and the Attributes of Ourselves and Others calls for “an ethics of doubt” when it comes to understanding the work of machine learning algorithms. And Cait McKinney’s Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies reminds us that the ways that we store, organize, and provide access to information can have wide-reaching political effects. It’s tough not to be able to share these books, and so many more, in person. But you can still get a glimpse of our newest titles through our virtual exhibit and purchase books with the conference discount.

978-0-8223-6902-8_prI’d also like to offer a virtual toast to our two 4S book prize winners: Sara Ann Wylie, whose book Fractivism: Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds won this year’s Rachel Carson Prize; and Noémi Tousignant, whose book Edges of Exposure: Toxicology and the Problem of Capacity in Postcolonial Senegal won the Ludwik Fleck Prize. Congratulations! We’re thrilled that their books have received this recognition.

Finally, unlike an in-person conference, where I spend most of my time meeting with potential authors and hearing about projects in the works, this year I will be focused on attending panels and deepening my knowledge of the field. However, I am still eager to hear about your book projects. You can send me an email or submit a proposal through our online submission portal. I look forward to seeing you around the conference.

See a few more of our science studies highlights in yesterday’s blog post. We are pleased to partner with Combined Academic Publishers to showcase our new work in science studies. Customers in the UK, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia can shop their site and save 30% off new titles with coupon code CSF20EASST. Customers in the US, Canada, and Latin America can save at our own site using coupon 4S2020. You’ll also want to check out the giveaway opportunity at CAP’s site for a chance to win a copy of the award-winning Fractivism by Sarah Ann Wylie!

New Titles in Science Studies

SocialMediaforConferences_Blog_4SThis year the annual meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) was to be held in Prague. Like most academic conferences, it has moved online. We are pleased to partner with Combined Academic Publishers to showcase new work in science studies. Customers in the UK, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia can shop their site and save 30% off new titles with coupon code CSF20EASST. Customers in the US, Canada, and Latin America can save at our own site using coupon 4S2020. You’ll also want to check out the giveaway opportunity at CAP’s site for a chance to win a copy of Fractivism by Sarah Ann Wylie!

978-0-8223-7124-3_prSeveral of our authors will be participating in online panels. Noemi Tousignant, author of Edges of Exposure, is presenting a paper entitled “Mutagenic Residues of Senegal’s Peanut Export Economy.” Juno Salazar Parreñas, author of Decolonizing Extinction, is presenting a paper called “Geriatric Ex-Dairy Cows: Caring for Otherwise Expendable Life.” Kalindi Vora, co-author of Surrogate Humanity, has organized a panel entitled “Teaching interdependent agency I: Feminist STS approaches to STEM pedagogy,” and is presenting a paper called “Teaching Technoscience Infrastructures of Care.” And Noah Tamarkin, whose book Genetic Afterlives will be out next month, is presenting a paper entitled “Locating Controversy in Established Technoscience: Debating National DNA Databases in South Africa.”

Wild Blue MediaWe hope you’ll check out these recent titles that we would have enjoyed showing off to you in our booth. In Anaesthetics of Existence, Cressida J. Heyes draws on examples of things that happen to us but are nonetheless excluded from experience, as well as critical phenomenology, genealogy, and feminist theory, showing how and why experience has edges, and analyzes phenomena that press against them.  In Rock | Water | Life Lesley Green examines the interwoven realities of inequality, racism, colonialism, and environmental destruction in South Africa. In Wild Blue Media, Melody Jue destabilizes terrestrial-based ways of knowing and reorients our perception of the world by considering the ocean itself as a media environment—a place where the weight and opacity of seawater transforms how information is created, stored, transmitted, and perceived.

An Ecology of KnowledgesWe have a number of recent books that engage with agriculture and resource extraction in Latin America, placing the non-human at the center of their studies. Vital Decomposition by Kristina M. Lyons presents an ethnography of human-soil relations in Colombia. In An Ecology of Knowledges, Micha Rahder examines how technoscience, endemic violence, and an embodied love of wild species and places shape conservation practices in Guatemala. Kregg Hetherington’s The Government of Beans is about the rough edges of environmental regulation in Paraguay, where tenuous state power and blunt governmental instruments encounter ecological destruction and social injustice. Seeds of Power by Amalia Leguizamón explores why Argentines largely support GM soy despite the widespread damage it creates. In Resource Radicals, Thea Riofrancos looks at Ecuador, expanding the study of resource politics by decentering state resource policy and locating it in a field of political struggle populated by actors with conflicting visions of resource extraction. And in Bolivia in the Age of Gas, Bret Gustafson explores how the struggle over natural gas has reshaped Bolivia, along with the rise, and ultimate fall, of the country’s first Indigenous-led government. Look for an online conversation about these issues featuring Riofrancos, Gustafson, Hetherington, and Leguizamón later this fall.

Also examining agriculture, Alex Blanchette’s Porkopolis immerses readers into the workplaces that underlie modern meat, from slaughterhouses and corporate offices to artificial insemination barns and bone-rendering facilities, outlining the deep human-hog relationships and intimacies that emerge through intensified industrialization. Check out Blanchette’s recent conversation with Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker.

One of our favorite conference traditions is the in-booth selfies that our authors often take with their books. We can’t do that this year, so we’ve asked some of our science studies authors to send them in. Check out our book selfie album on Facebook or look for the photos on Twitter this week.

Save on these and all our science studies titles on our site with coupon 4S2020 (North and South America, Caribbean) or at Combined Academic Publishers with coupon CSF20EASST (UK, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia).

Also check out Environmental Humanities, a peer-reviewed open-access journal that draws humanities disciplines into conversation with the natural and social sciences around significant environmental issues. Start reading here.

We invite you to return to the blog tomorrow to read a message from Executive Editor Courtney Berger.

Putting the Humanities PhD to Work: Anastasia Kārkliņa in Conversation with Katina L. Rogers

Today’s post is a conversation between graduate student Anastasia Kārkliņa, who has worked for several years in our Books Marketing department, and Katina L. Rogers, author of the new book Putting the Humanities PhD to Work: Thriving in and Beyond the Classroom.

978-1-4780-0954-2For years, scholars of late capitalism have warned against the impending crisis of the gig economy and its inevitably devastating effects on the lives of millions of workers. The coronavirus pandemic has not only changed the way we work, teach, and interact but has exposed deep and persisting forms of labor exploitation that easily discard those who have long ago been rendered disposable. In higher education, too, the pandemic has triggered hiring freezes and layoffs, eliminating already highly competitive faculty and postdoc positions. Many doctoral students and recent Ph.D. graduates feel they have only two options: join the precarious adjunct labor force or abandon the intellectual vocation and leave the academy altogether. For many, this choice is devastating.

In her new book Putting Humanities PhD to Work, Katina Rogers, however, argues that, while leaving the traditional academic path can be unnerving, it can certainly lead to equally fulfilling and meaningful careers in other sectors. Rogers suggests that “the key is rethinking the way we understand intellectual labor” and seeing that the “intellectual and interpretive skills acquired in graduate programs span many careers.” Over the years doctoral programs have failed to provide graduate students with a sound and realistic understanding of the state of the academic job landscape and necessary skills to navigate professional life outside of academe. Nevertheless, broadening the meaning of scholarly success, Rogers argues, has the potential to empower students to make a meaningful impact within and beyond the academy. 

Anastasia Kārkliņa (AK):  As more PhDs look for employment outside of the classroom, Putting the Humanities PhD to Work feels ever so urgent and exceptionally timely. What initially compelled you to work on this book? And, what does it mean for you to see Putting Humanities to Work published at this time, in light of recent domestic and global events? 

Katina Rogers (KR): Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about this! I began working on the book years ago, partly because I was inspired by the many creative approaches to graduate education that I was seeing across the country—but also because I found that my research on career preparation among PhDs working outside the professoriate was often surprising to people in ways that made it clear that the conversation needed to be happening more broadly. Meanwhile, I had begun moving through my own unusual career path and wanted an opportunity to reflect on the ways that my work combines the intellectual, pedagogical, and often transformative work that happens in the classroom but in a completely different context.

So much has changed since I started working on the book. The negatives are glaring: even before the COVID-19 pandemic, public universities were losing much of their state funding, and the increasing reliance on adjunct labor was growing worse by the year. The pandemic has heightened many existing vulnerabilities and inequalities, while also throwing institutions into disarray. The effects fall disproportionately on minoritized and marginalized groups within the academy, exacerbating the racism and gender bias of academic structures and causing real harm to individuals. I tend to resist the language of crisis, but higher education is absolutely in a moment of crisis right now. While COVID-19 was the catalyst, what we are seeing now has been brought on by decades of disinvestment.

It feels too soon to look for a silver lining; we are still in the midst of this trauma. I do hope that when colleges and universities are ready to pick up the pieces and move forward, they will do so with integrity and intention. We have seen that many structures that seemed immutable can actually change quite rapidly when there is enough collective will. So far, those changes have been reactive. My hope is that leaders, administrators, and faculty will see this as a moment of potential transformation, and will really dig in to build institutional structures that foster inclusion and wellbeing, and that promote an expansive understanding of the value of scholarship to society. From that perspective, it is an exciting moment to see this book released; with so many structures in flux, I hope that the book offers fresh ideas at a moment they can really take effect.

Anastasia, I wonder if you’d be willing to talk a little bit about your own experience? You’re navigating these institutional structures as a doctoral student while also working in publishing and exploring other possible pathways. What are your thoughts on the importance of humanities education in this moment? Why are you doing the work that you do, and where do you hope that it takes you? 

AK: Thanks for sharing that! Indeed, as doctoral students, we’ve been having the conversation about the crisis of higher education that you mention for years, often behind closed doors out of fear that our advisers may “disown” us if we dare to consider other options. I began actively working towards a professional pivot into fields such as communications and strategy a year ago, when I decided that I wanted more for my life, and my career, than poverty wages and unpredictable contracts. And, I arrived at this decision precisely because I believe in the importance of the humanities, especially in this political moment.

As a scholar of culture, I study how social power has historically operated in our society, and I’ve been trained in the tradition of thought that sees the “how” of this moment to be immensely important for understanding the past and imagining the future. And, so now in light of the national and global uprisings, we’re seeing that more companies, organizations, and agencies are asking this exact question: where are we, and how do we move forward, differently? Yet, most are not posing the most important question, and that is the question of power. Often, while well-intentioned, these conversions end up being watered down, simply because, say, marketing directors or consultants haven’t been trained to talk and think about these issues on a deep level. Within this context, I see the immense potential of critical thought to shift cultural narratives and push the discourse beyond the academe. In fact, agencies and organizations who want to be on the frontlines of innovative, actionable conversations about social change should be seeking out and recruiting humanities PhDs who are trained to think critically about these issues, which are ultimately rooted in social history.

I also fiercely believe in the value of intellectual thought as such, and I pride myself on the rigor of critical thinking that I developed thanks to my graduate training. I think more doctoral students should internalize that sense of value. To offer a quick anecdote, earlier this year I wrote an Instagram post that I titled, “How to Ask 21 Questions of a Pen.” And, I did exactly that—I posed with a pen in a photo and then used my training as a cultural theorist to pose twenty one questions about this one seemingly ordinary object: where was it made, and how? How is it implicated in global circuits of production? What does literacy signify in our society, and what conditions even made the pen’s invention possible? And so on, and so forth. That post got more traction than any other! People were genuinely intrigued, and surprised. While it may seem silly, you may ask others to do this exercise, and most feel at loss, at first. After all, it’s just a pen! For me, as a cultural theorist, a pen, as anything else, can be taken seriously as an object of study and put under close scrutiny. Having now worked in marketing and participated in branding hackathons with industry professionals, I can absolutely say that humanists bring to the table a level of intellectual sophistication that can oftentimes be only developed through years and years of rigorous study.

KR: I love this. It is such a clear example of the ways that people can apply scholarly methods to so many things that are outside their formal field. In many ways, I think that is one of the most valuable traits that people with advanced training in the humanities and social sciences share—a deep curiosity that leads to new lines of inquiry and therefore new insights. 

I’m also so glad that you bring up the issue of power. In my work with graduate students, mentorship and care are extremely important, and often bring up questions around emotional labor, which is complicated in itself. But often the conversation stops there, without going deeper to examine the power dynamics that can make those ecologies of care either supportive or problematic. Graduate education trades on prestige—not only tacitly, but explicitly in terms of institutional rankings, tenure and promotion policies, and more. Prestige is the lens through which so much scholarly work is viewed, which makes it extremely difficult to work toward other values, such as the public good. My book considers how we might start to loosen the grip of prestige in order to make space for other kinds of scholarly success.

AK: I couldn’t agree more. In centering individual academic success, which, for many, is structurally unattainable, we divert our attention from the ways in which our labor is implicated in the larger structure of the gig economy. As academics, we often think of ourselves as different from other workers, like fast food workers and delivery drivers, who, too, struggle to access living wages, health insurance, and so on, much like many PhDs who are funnelled into the adjunct labor force. I think your book speaks to our lived realities, while being critical of the corporatization of higher education, and all the issues that come with that. Understanding the erosion of stable academic employment as a structural issue, rather than a failure on the part of graduate students, is precisely what we need, if we are to move the needle within our own institutions and in higher education more broadly. 

KR: These structural questions are essential. Putting the Humanities PhD to Work is more than a career guide. More than anything, I hope that it shifts the conversation about career preparation away from being a matter of individual actions, and instead helps to contextualize it in systemic issues such as disinvestment in public higher education at the city, state, and federal levels; academic labor structures and the adjunct crisis; racism and gender bias; and student debt and material support of graduate students. I hope the book has an impact on these conversations and drives some real structural change at a moment when so much is in flux.

katina-rogersKatina L. Rogers is Co-Director of the Futures Initiative and Director of Programs and Administration of HASTAC at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

headshot

Anastasia Kārkliņa is a Ph.D. candidate in the Program in Literature at Duke University, specializing in American cultural studies and black cultural theory.  

Save 30% on Putting the Humanities PhD to Work with coupon E20ROGRS.