The Covid-19 pandemic exposed a disturbing intersection of multiple layers of precarity surrounding academic labour and the potential of digital technology and technologies of evaluation, ranking and calculation to exacerbate exploitation and exclusion. Mass layoffs and increased insecurity of employment in the academic sector reflect the deepening of a series of interrelated crises of capitalist production, social reproduction, and governance (Cooper 2020, The Marxist Feminist Collective 2020) and their impact on the education and creative industries. New forms of organising how the university functions as an institution have quickly been rolled out through the extensive use of video conferencing and MOOCs, through changes in the tasks workers are expected to perform and through the real threat of layoffs and reduced wages. Mariya Ivancheva and Brian Garvey (2022) argue that the increased reliance of digital platforms for teaching, which was ramped up during the lockdowns, has significant implications for the changing relations between labour and management in the academy.
The ‘uberisation’ of higher education (Collins, Glover & Myers 2020) changes the structures of control, introducing into the university forms of algorithmic management that have long existed in other industries. It also limits the possibilities for solidarity, support, and organising among workers. However, beyond the uberisation metaphor, the way digital technology and technologies of ranking influence the organisation of labour, capital and power within the university point to larger issues in the relationship between organisation and technology (Orlikowski 2007) and organisation and media (Beverungen, Beyes & Conrad 2019). These can be the result of the universities’ reliance on key performance indicators (KPIs) for international ranking, which create disproportionate pressures to ramp up productivity in institutions deprived of international students (O’Connell 2021). They can take the form of new administrative protocols (Galloway 2004) and guidelines for conducting teaching and research, undertaking fieldwork or travel. Or they can constitute new forms of interdependence between large technological platforms, universities and algorithms (Perrotta, Gulson, Williamson, & Witzenberger 2021).
These technological platforms, protocols and algorithms have largely served the purpose of standardising the pedagogical experience (sometimes through scraping and replicating materials produced by academic workers), imposing blank criteria for productivity and profitability on workers and imposing technological replicability. More often than not, these attempts fail when met with the reality of a multitude of fragmented precarious experiences and the struggles of workers.
The experiences of deepening precarity and exploitation have proved to be vastly different along class/gender/race and employment status lines. This reality defies the attempts of technological standardisation and subsumption and, paradoxically, creates the conditions for both fragmentation and stronger political solidarity and resistance. Women, in particular, have carried the double burden of reproductive labour in the home and the new work-from-home practices during the pandemic (Docka‐Filipek & Stone 2021). Although this has been neglected in the context of academic labour, people of colour and migrant communities have also been disproportionately exposed to vulnerabilities, both in terms of losing their jobs and in being more likely to be infected and become seriously sick (Laster, Pirtle & Wright 2021). University workers and students in the Global South have also faced unique challenges during the pandemic (Husain, 2021) and had a qualitatively different experience of mobility, internationalisation and precarity.
New forms of organising have emerged to counteract the pressures and exploitation faced during the past two years, which have the potential to build solidarity across the divide between different types of labour (Cook, Dutta, Gallas, Nowak & Scully 2020). Authors like Aimée Lê and Jordan Osserman (2022) and Stevphen Shukaitis (2013) argue for the need to insist on the political and conceptual universality of the experience of precarity and being working-class as a strategy for countering the fragmentation of labour experiences and the withering of unionisation and solidarity across different types of labour subjectivities. But is it possible to think of fragmentation as a source of political power and resistance, whereby class, gender and race intersections rub against the different technologies of organising in the (post)pandemic university and could create ruptures where new forms of workers’ organisation become possible?
In this special issue we seek to understand how the pandemic period has changed organisation in the university. What new forms of organising have been adopted both from the side of academic management and the ways it organises and controls academic labour and from the side of university workers in their responses to the employment, health and care precarities introduced by the global spread of COVID-19? We are especially interested in exploring the limits and complexities of universalising metaphors invoking platforms, gig work, uberisation and precarity and their potential both as analytical frameworks and as grounds for solidarity and organising.
This special issue of Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation focuses on these challenges. We particularly welcome contributions that look specifically at the following issues, but are not necessarily limited to them:
- Technologies of organising (digital platforms, technologies of ranking and protocols) and their impact on labour management and labour organising along race/gender/class lines;
- Critical diagnosis of labour restructuring policies in the university sector;
- Critical appraisal of the Uber/platform metaphor in analyses of digitalisation in academic labour;
- Labour organising and solidarity in the pandemic university, particularly non-Western examples and examples of solidarity across different types of labour.
We welcome articles from a range of different disciplinary perspectives including (but not limited to) labour sociology, political economy, cultural studies, education, policy analysis, technology studies and gender studies. Articles may draw on the authors’ original quantitative, qualitative or theoretical research but must demonstrate a clear contribution to knowledge and go beyond mere literature reviews.
This special issue will be edited by Tsvetelina Hristova, postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, Australia and Ursula Huws, editor of the journal Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation:
Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation is an independent, international, interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal, founded in 2006. For more information please see https://wolg.wordpress.com
All submitted articles are subjected to double-blind peer review.
Deadline and Guidelines
The deadline for submissions is October 1st, 2022.
The article should be no longer than 6,000 words (excluding footnotes and bibliography).
Articles should be submitted in two forms: an anonymised version in which all references to the authors’ institution and publications are omitted; and a full version including the authors’ titles and institutional affiliations.
Articles should be sent to the editor: email@example.com
Beverungen, A., Beyes, T., & Conrad, L. (2019). The organizational powers of (digital) media. Organization, 26(5), 621-635.
Collins, H. J., Glover, H., & Myers, F. (2022). Behind the digital curtain: a study of academic identities, liminalities and labour market adaptations for the ‘Uber-isation’of HE. Teaching in Higher Education, 27(2), 201-216.
Cook, M. L., Dutta, M., Gallas, A., Nowak, J., & Scully, B. (2020). Global labour studies in the pandemic: notes for an emerging agenda. Global Labour Journal, 11(2).
Docka‐Filipek, D., & Stone, L. B. (2021). Twice a “housewife”: on academic precarity,“hysterical” women, faculty mental health, and service as gendered care work for the “university family” in pandemic times. Gender, Work & Organization, 28(6), 2158-2179.
Cooper, M. (2020). The politics of ecosystems bailout. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/43147936/COVID_19_and_Ecosystems_Bailout
Galloway, A. R. (2004). Protocol: How control exists after decentralization. MIT press.
Husain, M. M. (2021). COVID-19 and crises of higher education: Responses and intensifying inequalities in the Global South. Policy Futures in Education, Vol. 0(0) 1–5.
Ivancheva, M., & Garvey, B. (2022). Putting the university to work: The subsumption of academic labour in UK’s shift to digital higher education. New Technology, Work and Employment. 1-17.
Laster Pirtle, W. N., & Wright, T. (2021). Structural gendered racism revealed in pandemic times: Intersectional approaches to understanding race and gender health inequities in COVID-19. Gender & Society, 35(2), 168-179.
Lê, A., Osserman, J. (2022) Our Consciousness and Theirs: Further Thoughts on the Class Character of University Worker Activism. Viewpoint Magazine. Available at: https://viewpointmag.com/2022/01/18/our-consciousness-and-theirs-further-thoughts-on-the-class-character-of-university-worker-activism/
Orlikowski, W. J. (2007). Sociomaterial practices: Exploring technology at work. Organization studies, 28(9), 1435-1448.
O’Connell, B. T. (2021). ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’: university key performance indicators post COVID-19. Accounting Education, 1-11.
Perrotta, C., Gulson, K. N., Williamson, B., & Witzenberger, K. (2021). Automation, APIs and the distributed labour of platform pedagogies in Google Classroom. Critical Studies in Education, 62(1), 97-113.
Shukaitis, S. (2013). Recomposing precarity: Notes on the laboured politics of class composition. ephemera theory & politics in organization, 13(3), 641-658.
The Marxist Feminist Collective. (2020) On social reproduction and the COVID-19 pandemic. Seven theses. Spectre Journal. 3 April 2020. Available at: https://spectrejournal.com/seven-theses-on-social-reproduction-and-the-covid-19-pandemic/