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Against gig academia: connectivity, disembodiment, and struggle in online education

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Pages 356-372 | Received 20 Jan 2020, Accepted 12 May 2020, Published online: 01 Jun 2020


In this paper, we examine the process of decomposition as well as the struggle for recomposition of academic labor, which we understand as a contradictory positionality within so-called “gig academy.” Ours is a rhetorical intervention to, first of all, explicitly connect contemporary working conditions in academia to the general process of neoliberalization; second, illustrate how online education platforms (or LMS) mediate important aspects of the academic labor process; and third, reflect on how these dynamics make faculty unionizing both urgent and particularly challenging.


We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their incisive yet constructive feedback, and the Editor for her careful guidance and advise through the different revision stages. We could not have developed these ideas without sharing physical spaces, struggles and frustrations with the compañer@s that make up United Academics of the University of New Mexico.


1 According to Lederman, 85 percent of faculty make use of their institution’s LMSs, and 81 percent of chief online education officers consider the LMSs to be the technology that is most important to online programs (Citation2018, p. 69).

2 One of our colleagues creatively and sarcastically described the whole process/experience of teaching an online class as “making sure my little birds have enough food.” Another colleague summarized his online teaching experience with the exclamation: “I just grade!”

3 As Rosenfeld and Kleykamp (Citation2012) point out, we should complicate the taken-for-granted democratizing function of labor unions. For instance, historically organized labor in the U.S. has also contributed to reinforce racial segregation. However, we think that the normative thrust associated to the ideal of universities, combined with a revived sense of solidarity based on a diffused sense of precarity, can truly make of university labor struggles a broader laboratory for social transformation.

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