…[A] job offer came through a mailing list yesterday. The positions offered were for five ‘casual researchers’ to be paid by the hour to work on a project for one of the most prestigious and best endowed institution in the field of migration studies and labor migration: Oxford’s COMPAS migration studies center. A response to the mailing list “Anthropology matters” by a member of Third Level Workplace Watch, not only made it clear what was wrong with the ad but also resulted in many people coming out to express their anger at a new precedent in the intensifying casualization of our work…now we are even to be openly referred to as ‘casual’!
Below is an excerpt from the COMPAS job offer (you can read it in full here) followed by the letter of response. On the back of the outrage expressed on social media and email threads, efforts are underway to publicize the issue further and put pressure on the institution to recall the offer and employ the researchers under better terms.
“COMPAS is looking to recruit a minimum of five casual researchers to carry out in-depth interviews with irregular migrants from various ethnic backgrounds (Australian, Brazilian, Pakistani, Ukrainian, and Turkish) as well as with relevant employers in three different locations in England (London, probably Hertfordshire, and another city, exact locations to be confirmed). These interviews are to be conducted as part of a three-year ESRC-funded project called ‘Does Immigration Enforcement Matter (DIEM)?’”
I find this call utterly infuriating, and seeing that it comes from an institution with very high prestige in the field of migration studies and labor migration makes the situation even more alarming.
The situation of casualization of academic labor at present is bad enough, with many of us globe-trotting between projects every few months or – if we’re lucky – every few years. With a lot falling into the trap of zero-hour teaching jobs or other arrangements to make ends meet, junior academics are in many countries literally working poor. Those few of us who are lucky enough to get on board what is celebrated as “post-doctoral experience” usually have to do it on a completely different subject than our PhD and be data collectors for a new employer. This extends the time in which we are not able to publish from our dissertation, and are then threatened by the “publish or perish” incentive. But now we see that thanks to COMPAS the exploitation is taken to yet another level. Within this fantastic project advertised here, a job that would be done by a full-time and fully-funded PhD or a post-doc, people are not even treated as academic staff but as CASUAL RESEARCHERS (how convenient!!).
So for a job that would require doing fieldwork and interviews for a project, with a significant number of respondents, they will not be receiving any visibility, no recognition whatsoever (even if they might be supposed to contribute to the data analysis), and only minimal hourly payment. And what is required here: 20-60 interviews with migrants and 8-24 employers, in 12 weeks (!!) transcribed and encoded (!!!) i.e. full-time labor would translate (in my experience e.g. in Ireland in present), into a 2 year post-doctoral contract, including a desk, benefits, healthcare insurance, and pension, plus your name on the publications and recognition of your work, here would be done as a completely casual labor. So thanks to COMPAS from now on we don’t need to pay phd or post-doctoral fellows, we can call everyone a ‘casual researcher” instead!
Of couse, there are no specified requirements of credentials or fieldwork, one would say. But that’s the tricky thing: reading the call, it requires a particular type of individual – one with significant previous research experience, ethical awareness, confidence in recruiting and interviewing informants, and very particular language expertise in the field. I.e. that would be an individual at least after an MA with developed fieldwork experience and a network among migrants (!!). So guess who would that be – most obviously a migrant academic during or even after a PhD-level fieldwork with migrants, who tries to stay afloat and scrap some money to stay on board while doing their PhD and/or applying for jobs. So, researching slave labor migration with the methods of enforcing slave (academic) labor migration is the way to go – so once again, thanks COMPAS and Oxford for teaching us all a great lesson here!