Anthropology as Work: Interacademic Labor Solidarities

PANEL PROPOSAL: AAA 2020: Truth & Responsibility in Saint Louis, Missouri

We often discuss the work of anthropology, or even the anthropology of work, but not necessarily anthropology as work. In this year’s theme of truth and responsibility, we are elated to see discussions of the work of anthropology in the field, the ethics of its engagement, and aspirations towards accountability for continued violences and legacies thereof. However, especially during this pandemic, we are threatened with the attrition of disciplinarians: currently, through losses of colleges and academic jobs, coming austerity measures, lowered enrollment; and prospectively, if talks to reopen universities before the waning of COVID-19 are realized (Inside Higher Ed, 2020). The current pandemic compounds the precaritization of academic workers ongoing since at least the early 1990s. As academic organizing has been on the rise in response, the union re-emerges as an increasingly salient form. Our understanding of anthropology as a field of labor, and anthropologists as laborers, emerges as a primary truth of our shared field.

Anthropology as Work: Interacademic Labor Solidarities works to produce a space at the AAA to discuss labor organizing within a situated site – the university. For many graduate students, labor organizing becomes virtually necessary to sustain their passage through grad school. This is certainly the case among graduate student workers in anthropology, who are moreover trained to think in terms of the “work” that is done, in context, by X social phenomenon or Y theory. With diversity and inclusion practices, we are on-loading more marginalized people into the university as precarity within it intensifies. We find ourselves obliged to hold the University responsible, as an Employer, to ourselves as Employees. In practice, this serves as a critical line of defense for the continued existence of the discipline itself: the labor organizing that grad workers are doing now is ensuring our field’s means of reproduction.

In this panel we ask, what is the responsibility we hold as anthropologists to our graduate students, our contingent faculty, and our undergraduates, as the futures of our field? If core disciplinary theory courses inculcate us into the reproduction of the field as well as into the application of critical reflexivity, we argue that a more sustained examination of the work that makes up doing anthropology is in order. We invite anthropologist labor organizers to share their experiences, thoughts, and most of all, to find each other as we strategize and rebuild the infrastructure of our discipline.


  • Graduate labor organizing, unionizing
  • Faculty labor organizing, unionizing
  • Academic labor solidarity actions
  • Organizing and disability
  • Wage disparities in academic labor
  • Precaritization of grad labor post-(2008 recession/Janus vs. AFSCME/COVID-19)
  • Bargaining
  • Negotiation with parent unions
  • Negotiations with the university
  • Minoritized grad students and faculty in academic organizing
  • Affective labor in academic organizing
  • Race and organizing
  • Janus vs AFSCME
  • Student debt
  • Queer collectivity
  • Academic job market and its polarization around US degrees & schools
  • COLA Strikes in UC System
  • Graduate student worker mental health
  • Political speech and political action in universities
  • Inter/intra union hierarchies
  • International students and faculty
  • Academic labor organizing and gender
  • Families, parenthood, dependents, and life-cycle transitions
  • Planning and performing actions

Inside Higher Ed. 2020. “Live Updates: Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education”. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved May 5, 2020.



  • Please submit paper abstracts of no more than 250 words along with a brief description of your engagements as a labor organizer to the panel Organizers above by Monday night, May 18th.