Stopping the Clock(s): Precarious Times in the Academy

I don’t remember what time it was when I got the news. It was a bad time, though, I remember that sure enough. I was elbow-deep in writing a chapter for an edited collection (Spencer-Hall, forthcoming), steeling myself for one final push to bring my scholarly baby into the world. The deadline was tight – it’s always tight – but I could make it, if I could just keep going. I was tired and I hurt, I had logged long hours this past week or so of writing. I had shifted time usually reserved for self-care – for having breaks, eating lunch, taking exercise – into the work column of my schedule. The irony of the situation was not lost on me. I was writing a chapter on chronic pain and illness in the Middle Ages, underscoring the political urgency of recognizing ourselves, as members of the crip community, in historical sources.[1] In that other chapter, I theorised a trans-temporal crip-chronic community, subjects out of time that met in the blurred temporalities of crip time: an affirmative crip-chronic communion. And yet, the act of getting this material out of my brain and into the world, of pushing hard to meet the deadline – I felt, more than ever, the weight of my chronic illness. Here I was sketching glorious disability futures – and pasts – and in the present, the now in which I found myself, I felt more actively disabled than ever. This was only temporary, I promised myself. One final push in the dying minutes of the game, I thought, to deliver a chapter to my editors and to deliver myself to my bed, for hours if not days. And then the call came. The dying minutes were no longer a metaphor, the spectre of time running out shunted safely to the realm of sports and winners and losers and clear results of a game well played. He had died, and time itself seemed to fracture. The clocks, all of them, stopped.

I use the adjective ‘crip’, here and throughout this essay, in the context of ‘crip theory’, a radically inclusive, globalized and intersectional disability politics. [2] Usage of the term ‘crip’ is a conscious reclamation of the slur ‘cripple’, grounded in a rejection of the ‘compulsory able-bodiedness’ that structures our culture.[3] It operates for many, though not all, in the contemporary disability community as ‘a marker of in-your-face, or out-and-proud cultural model of disability’.[4] Most importantly for the purposes of the present essay, crip ‘has the capacity to encompass forms of embodiment or states of mind that are arguably in excess of the able-minded or able-bodied/disabled binary’.[5] In its adjectival form – as in ‘crip time’ – ‘crip’ is not simply ‘additive’ or descriptive, but instead ‘generative’.[6] It ‘remakes’ the noun it modifies, challenging linguistic and significative stability by insisting on difference, different ways of doing, being, and thinking. Crip time, then, is the time of disability, but also the times – plural – made possible by disability, the times in excess of the normate.

That call punctured my compressed timeline, bringing a halt to finishing off the book chapter. I wouldn’t make that deadline after all. Everything seemed to pause, balanced on the temporal fulcrum of that moment. And in that moment of stasis, the clocks stopped and time itself seemed to intensify, to thicken. The clocks were plural, in the sense of a collective of timepieces all stopping at the same moment to mark a death, the experience of time I shared with all others who had received the news. More significantly, for this essay at least, is that the clocks were plural in the sense of multiple timepieces showing different times, ticking – or jumping, or stuttering, or oozing – by according to the logic of various temporal modes, overlaying one another in haphazard layers. I perceived, more clearly than ever before, my embodied experience of different kinds of time. Academic time: days lost in the library, late nights of writing, strictly scheduled teaching hours, office hours, semester and term. Institutional time: promotion cycles, funding cycles, complaint procedures, access requests. Bodily time: menstrual cycles, pregnancy, sleep cycles, exhaustion, hunger, mortality itself. Crip time: the time(s) of disability, a kind of bodily time which structures, and is structured by, the lived experience of disability, and the time-scapes to which disability gives access. [7] Chronic time: a specific inflexion of crip time, the predictably unpredictable temporal landscape of living with chronic illnesses. I discerned, finally, how these times and their uneasy intersections radically structure my own life (work and otherwise).

This was a moment of radical ‘asynchrony’, a state of temporal confusion – or perhaps profusion – as theorised by Carolyn Dinshaw. Asynchrony, according to Dinshaw, is the instant in which ‘different time frames or temporal systems collid[e] in a single moment of now’.[8] This stands in stark opposition to the teleology which structures Higher Education in a neoliberal context, including both student learning and scholarly career progression. Students are urged to renounce, or simply ignore, their present desires and embodied experiences in favour of working towards an idealized future. [9] No matter if they love literature and value the arts, students’ future employability demands STEM subjects, or so the neoliberal rhetoric goes. Teachers must craft their lessons according to the rigid terms of learning outcomes, regardless of the needs and responses of their students in that specific classroom, at that specific time.[10] And scholars, especially those in early-career, are told to sacrifice their present – no time for a life, a family, and certainly no time for a malfunctioning body – in the hopes of that tantalizing prize, ever disappearing from view: job security, with genuine work-life balance. This enacts, as Catherine Herring and Paul Standish assert, ‘an expulsion of being-in-the-living present’, replicating ‘a view of time that is linear and hierarchical’.[11] By contrast, asynchronous experiences reveal that ‘the present moment is multiple’.[12] They force us to confront the fallacy of any flattened, singular notion of time, reinstating ‘the fact of temporal heterogeneity’. Above all, asynchrony ‘demonstrates the constant presence of other kinds of time in the now’.[13] In this way, recognizing, and embracing, asynchrony becomes an act of resistance to the ‘overwhelmingly mechanistic, self-limiting and […] corrosive’ chronotope of the neoliberal university.[14] Simultaneously, this enthusiastic recognition catalyses, somewhat ironically, progression in historiography, a means to move beyond reductive and marginalizing modes of studying history predicated on the notion of progress from imperfect past(s) to utopian futures.

Asynchronous experiences, for some, are precisely that: experiences, lived episodes with a beginning, middle, and end – no matter how many temporal modes are present in the ever-enfolding middle. Some of us do not just have an experience or two of asynchrony, but instead live with ‘the condition of being asynchronous’ as a mode of being in the world.[15] That is, our lives are ‘lived in other kinds of time’, ‘outside a normative or dominant time-scheme’.[16] This is crip time, to be sure. But it is also, for some, a certain kind of research time – or rather, our use of critical methodologies which foreground ‘the consideration of diverse temporal regimes operating here and now’.[17] Such asynchrony is integral to my working praxes as a medievalist, concerned with dismantling rigid temporal demarcations which cleave the past from our present. My first book, Medieval Saints and Modern Screens, for instance ‘reveals the interconnection of decidedly “old” media - medieval textualities - and artefacts of our “new media” ecology’, a ‘spectrum of visual experience’ linking medieval mysticism to contemporary iterations of multi-media content.[18] As a scholar, then, I have already always been enmeshed in crip temporalities, if only I had the vocabulary to articulate it. Crip time becomes a location in which, finally, my body finds itself on the same time-zone as my brain, as my work. Asynchrony as an embodied methodology permits us to crip history, and indeed ourselves.

Lives in which asynchrony is the norm are, according to Dinshaw, filled with ‘forms of desirous, embodied being that are out of sync with the ordinarily linear measurements of everyday life, that engage heterogenous temporalities or that precipitate out of time altogether’.[19] For this reason, Dinshaw argues that asynchrony is the lived experience of queer time.[20] Dinshaw makes no reference to crip time, even though, as Alison Kafer asserts, ‘queer time is crip time, and […] it has been all along’ (emphasis in original).[21] Asynchrony crips those in its grasp; crip time is fundamentally asynchronous.

That phone call, then, the one that precipitated this essay, had not fractured time after all, destroying something resolutely whole and coherent. That flattened, normative time was already a fallacy, a façade, debunked by the existential force of that call. It brought into clearer focus the truth of it: my life in crip time. As Richard Godden and Jonathan Hsy explain, crip time is ‘significantly dependent upon the pressures that embodied difference would generate for a person with a disability’.[22] For this reason, crip time is routinely experienced in and as delay. Life simply takes more time when lived with disability.[23] Bodily demands cannot be rushed or postponed; rushing to catch up or keep up with the non-disabled is often impossible. Such keen attendance to the body in the present-day is, paradoxically, accompanied by an insistent focus on the future self, for our needs cannot be met spontaneously in those future moments. Detailed strategizing is a mainstay of disabled experience. Accessible transit, for instance, must be booked in advance, with users forced to adapt to the (often arbitrary) schedule, and deal with service disruptions and delays. Care support must similarly be scheduled in advance, with clients negotiating (if possible) with support workers’ diaries in order to receive necessary support at convenient (or convenient enough) times. At the same time, crip time encompasses – for some – medicalized temporalities. This includes, for instance, the time of the doctor’s waiting room, the rigid schedule for taking medications, the time taken to receive a prognosis, the assumed time it should take for a body to recover.

Dinshaw underscores the ambiguous character of asynchronous experiences: they are ‘always wondrous and sometimes scary, prompting a temporal vertigo that can permanently disrupt one’s sense of self, society, indeed ordinary expectations of reality itself’.[24] This was true of my own experience. Once I perceived – lived, felt – the inter-dependent, blurry timelines that orient my life with such clarity, it was knowledge I could not forget. This essay is a direct product of that not forgetting, of allowing myself to perceive with fully open eyes the temporal structures that have always already given shape to my life, a life of an academic and of a disabled woman.

A moment of disclosure: I write as a (currently) middle-class, cis-het white woman living with a chronic incurable illness (fibromyalgia), a syndrome which comprises many symptoms, chief amongst them chronic pain and fatigue. My circumstances are not unique, but nor are they entirely generalizable. For one, fibromyalgia is itself vastly variable across different bodies, not to mention the fact that all chronic conditions, as illnesses, are experienced differently by those living with their effects according to their bodies and socio-cultural circumstances. Moreover, my experience of disability is decisively shaped by the fact that I have an invisible disability, with attendant privilege of being able to ‘pass’ as able-bodied.[25] I do not have to disclose my condition if I do not wish to. The ability to make this choice, or not, is especially ‘valuable’ in the early-career academic job market, as I discuss below. The integral temporal instability of my disability also orients my analyses. For with a chronic condition such as mine, my able-bodied-ness, superficially at least, fluctuates according to my body’s unfathomable whims. There are good days, and then there are bad days – days which depend for their very meaning on their specific temporal anchoring.

The ‘good’: less pain than before, certainly, but also a gateway to an imagined after. A future in which there are no more good days, no more bad days: just days. The ‘bad’: less functionality, harder to remember my place in the world beyond the limits of my body, harder – more painful – to remember the past before this moment, let alone to imagine a worthwhile future constituted by this never ceasing present. But no matter what it seems, all my days belong to an after, the bodymind I gained after being diagnosed, a place that offers me much comfort and satisfaction alongside its fair share of bodily dis-ease.[26] And that embodied knowledge structures my time, even on ‘good days’ – I pace myself, I hydrate, I exercise – not necessarily because I need, or want to, now, but because future me needs me to. As I pushed to finish the chapter to deadline, I abandoned – consciously – future me. I didn’t have the energy to do all the work to support her and do everything I needed to do in the now at the same time. My present-tense thickened, like honey put in the freezer. Minutes felt longer, breaks became fewer, pain and fatigue grew incrementally more emphatic. I felt like I hadn’t had a day off in forever, but, looking back, I don’t know if that is accurate. I simply can’t remember. The grinding march to finish the chapter swallowed me whole. I knew that, when it was done – would it ever be done? – I would pay the price, with some particularly grim days ahead, no productivity possible. But for the time being, it was what it was: I had get in sync with academic time, deadline time if only for a little while longer. Future me be damned. All of this to say, the only kind of crip time I know with any intimacy is, in fact, a chronic-crip time.

Chronic time is the timescape(s) of incurable persistent but non-terminal conditions, of the ever-enfolding present of being ‘sick’. The conventional teleology of illness comprises an identifiable onset, a ‘beginning’, followed by a symptomatic middle of an estimable duration, and, ultimately, definite point of recovery. Chronic conditions do not follow this model. Those of us with chronic conditions will never be normatively ‘healthy’ again, barring substantive medical advancements or spontaneous remissions. Bodily spontaneity is a hallmark of many, though not all, chronic illnesses. By this, I mean the fact that our bodies seem to act according to their own, fuzzy logic. Input does not equal output. We can do everything ‘right’ to manage our symptoms, and yet they will still flare, seemingly out of nowhere. This injects a chaotic pulse into life, according to which our best laid plans must try to account for the unknown and unknowable, building in margins of preparation time, potential sick time, recovery time. Nevertheless, chronic schedules, are integrally flexible, whether we like it or not: as often happens, our bodies throw a wrench in the works and we must reschedule or cancel at short notice. For some, the potential of an idealized future, a return to ‘normal’ health – realized through cure or remission –infiltrates the present moment, with the business of life itself ever deferred until we reach recovery. For others, past/present/future collapse and collide, as familiar symptoms return episodically, seemingly returning from the past to haunt our present moments, deflating our imagined futures.

For Dinshaw, asynchrony is, on the one hand, an integrally queer experience, and on the other, a queering experience, a means of enfolding individuals, however briefly, into the queer community.[27] Asynchrony is presented as a double-edged sword: illustrative of a precarious non-dominant subject position and the means by which the experiences of that subject are witnessed, understood, embraced by dominant subjects. Temporal alienation, reflecting systemic socio-cultural marginalization, ‘can prevent desired projects from ever coming to fruition; it can threaten to destroy sexual or social reproduction; among places of people, among races, among nations, it can be deployed as a rational for political subjugation’.[28] However, asynchrony can also be politically powerful: ‘the means of calling for justice for past exclusions and injustice’, allowing for a ‘more just’, ‘full and various’ present moment. This essay similarly hinges on the ambiguous duality of asynchrony: an integrally crip experience, and an experience that crips, one that facilitates ‘an orientation toward the world that asserts the potential for radical transformation of so-called normative social scripts, desires, and ways of life’.[29]

Speaking from the vantage point of the asynchronous moment with which I began this essay, and to which I will return episodically, I argue that ableism in the academy has a specifically temporal dimension. The culture of overwork – or ‘hyperwork’, as I call it below – essentialises productivity, endless and endlessly visible work, as the primary metric for employability, not to mention personal worth, in the academy. Such emphasis on productivity disadvantages disabled workers, no less in the academy than is elsewhere widely acknowledged. Robin Zheng is absolutely right: ‘precarity is a feminist issue’, and one which can only be reckoned with if we recognise that the ‘myth of work as its own reward’ and the ‘myth of meritocracy’ are just that, myths – fables we tell ourselves to make sense of the world which may have little relation to our everyday realities.[30] More than that, though, precarity is an emphatically intersectional feminist issue – one which affects disabled scholars to a greater degree than non-disabled scholars, and multiplies the effects of inhabiting other structural nodes of identity.[31] Feminist critique of precarity has, so far at least, also failed to account for a considerable overlap between one source of systemic discrimination of women scholars and disabled scholars: persistent dislocation from the academy’s temporal regimes, issuing from inescapable bodily demands.

Women’s bodily time: years of fertility, menstrual cycles, gestation periods. ‘Feminised’ time(s): time spent on activities that are socio-culturally deemed ‘women’s work’, including housework, child care, maintaining social networks. These all necessitate taking ‘time out’ of the academy, whether on formal leave or in routinely working to hours that permit a life outside the Ivory Tower.[32] ‘Time out’, or ‘time off’, is coded as irreparably lost time, professionally speaking. In the USA, the ‘tenure clock’ is a commonplace of academic institutions, i.e. a set period of time in which tenure-track scholars must demonstrate their suitability for the privilege of tenure. Since the 1970s, it has become standard to allow for ‘stopping the tenure clock’ (STC), specifically as a means to combat the loss of time entailed in pregnancy and raising a young family. STC usually equates to getting a one-year pause of the clock count-down, an intervention offered initially only to women but that now is typically gender-neutral, for all parental care-givers of young children. In theory, this is a welcome measure to combat temporally-issuing disadvantages. However, many women remain afraid of the internal fall-out from STC, including a reputation of lower productivity.[33] Studies show that men who STC, due to parental responsibilities, may actually benefit more from the pause than women, as they use the ‘time off’ to be strategically productive.[34] Men have the time, typically, because they have fewer care responsibilities, even during the STC pause. In other words, stopping the institutional clock does not remedy the structural inequality in gendered access to time more generally. It is for this reason that women are disadvantaged in terms of the UK’s most important institutional cycle, the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the process used to determine funding levels across Higher Education last undertaken in 2014 and on the horizon for 2020/2021.

Recent research demonstrates that the inflexibility of the REF’s schedule ‘exacerbates existing inequalities caused by maternity leave and caring responsibilities, which ultimately amount to time taken out of a REF cycle’.[35] This is not just an issue of gender: anyone with a ‘messy’ body and/or care responsibilities, whether for themselves or for others, will be similarly impacted by being ‘out of sync’ with the REF cycle. This is vividly illustrated by the testimony of an anonymous male academic with care duties for his dying mother. Despite his emotionally distressing and physically exhausting circumstances, he was told point-blank to work longer hours and with higher productivity to fulfil the needs of his university’s REF submission.[36] He lost irreplaceable time to be with his mother: ‘I ended up next to my mum’s deathbed proofing a monograph. The last conversation I had with her was about work and why I was doing so much’.[37]

Disabled scholars, living in asynchronous crip time whether we like it or not, must reckon with the dominant temporal regimes which orient our profession – academic time, institutional time, eternally productive time.[38] At best, we negotiate workable compromises, stealing time(s) here and there. We might need ‘extra time’ but we cannot ‘make time’, our need for endless temporal flexibilities is, in fact, inflexible. And so we are systemically excluded from academic culture(s), promotion rounds, funding opportunities. Disabled scholars navigate the academy in a chronic state of asynchrony. Simultaneously, the ever more widespread experience of asynchrony – embedded in the working practices of ECRs, increasingly becoming the norm for established academics – functionally disables those that were previously identified, or identified themselves, as normatively able-bodied. Even as those that the academy disables in this way are (typically only) temporarily disabled, these transitory moments of communion offer a potential catalyst for the creation of a more inclusive, more diverse academy. Here, I draw upon – and hope to develop – the work of Richard H. Godden, a disabled medievalist who laid the foundation for the present study in a 2011 article on the ways in which his disability, experienced most emphatically as a ‘temporal problem’, intersects with his professional life, dominated by academic time. [39] Godden asked, as I do once more: ‘How can a consideration of a disabled temporality be an enabling lens for examining Academic Time?’.

Notably, Godden seized upon the potential of social media to create more accessible forms of academic community, ones not limited to sharing the same physical location or temporal orientation. This is made possible by the fundamental ‘asynchronicity’ of social media, which offers a ‘positive sense of the untimely’, an affirmative experience of the dynamics of crip time accessible to all users.[40] Such asynchronous experiences, for Godden – and, indeed for myself – are hopeful, allowing for the ‘a recognition that we do inhabit different timelines, but that we can also come together’. This affirmative spirit motivates the present essay, even if the asynchronous experiences upon which I focus are, in their lived experience, both disabling and disenfranchising. But in order to move forward, to find these uplifting positives – new modes of being in the world, academic and otherwise – I must first go back, back to the time of that phone call, when death itself seemed to intrude in my life.


Death and (Academic) Re-Birth

He was old – over a 100-years old – and he said clearly and firmly that he wanted to die. For him, at last the time had come, the time of ending. But for the rest of us, his varied assortment of family spanning three generations, it was too soon. It was an ‘end of an era’, we said to each other in phone calls and emails and WhatsApp messages. He died and none of us were so young any more, even as we felt our distance from his advanced age, a temporal gulf between us, opening up ever further. He died, and he started drifting away from us, out of time, belonging to the ‘before’. The sense of this temporal hinge, the imposition of a before and after on the messy chaos of life, hit me hard. I was racing to meet a deadline, something I’d been working on for months at a time. But I was also in the final moments of a longer trajectory. I was so very close to achieving a long-held personal and professional dream. Tomorrow, the day after, my first book would come out. That is how I remember when I got the call: 30th November 2017. It was the day before, before I would be transformed – in my imagination at least – into this different category of person, a scholar with a book out. He would have been proud of me, with my book. He was proud of me, anticipating the book’s publication. And yet, he never met me in the ‘after’, in my new incarnation: a ‘real’ scholar once and for all, definitively and reassuringly post-doc.

I had heard what most every ECR does, getting a monograph out is make-or-break for one’s career. It is the benchmark by which CVs are sifted, determining which scholars make the cut – of the first cut at least – and make it to a shortlist, and onwards to the biggest prize of all: a permanent job. Such wisdom retains an aura of truth, at least to those of us who still believe that academia is a meritocracy.[41] It makes logical sense, after all. But upon closer inspection, the logic is faulty and the truth is revealed: things have changed, and a book is no longer enough, it seems that nothing is ever enough. Time itself has distended for those of us at the start of our academic career. I say ‘start’, though that’s not necessarily accurate: many of us have been working in academia for a long time now, moving in staccato from PhD to post-doc, to another post-doc, to short-term contract, to never-ending short-term contracts.[42] The category of ‘junior’ or ‘early-career’ researchers has swollen to include many of us that are not young, not any more. We live in stasis, crystallised in an ever-expanding present that almost swallows us whole. Our families grow, our bodies age, our output grows exponentially, and yet nothing really ever seems to change. This is how one part-time lecturer puts it: ‘Three years of temporary contracts have meant that my life has been on hold. My friends outside academia are settling down, buying houses and getting married. Meanwhile, I have a PhD, a book that’s too expensive for anyone other than a university library to buy and face constant uncertainty’.[43] This is the reality of ECR life for many, if not most, scholars.


Precarious Times

We live in precarious times, professionally speaking. Permanent jobs are ever more difficult to find, with casualised teaching fellowships and serial post-docs the new norm in ECR life, in the UK and elsewhere.[44] According to data collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), over half (53%) of academics working in UK HE institutions were employed on insecure contracts in 2014/2015.[45] Insecure contracts come in a range of forms, including: ‘fixed-term employment contracts; zero-hours employment contracts; variable hours hourly-paid contracts; hourly-paid contracts with set hours and so on’.[46] All such arrangements, whatever their specific iterations, share the same temporal dynamic: persistent instability, be that of hours, of months, of years.

One Further Education lecturer reflects upon their experiences of precarity:  

The main issue is that flexibility only goes one way. With those contracts you end up working long hours for a couple of months, then nothing and then back to crazy hours. If you get sick or need days off, you’re really stuck. Ultimately, even if you earn enough, you cannot really plan anything for the future as you mainly think about securing your next job.[47]

 ‘Long hours’, ‘a couple of months’, ‘crazy hours’, ‘days off’, ‘the future’, the ‘next job’: precarity is all about time. Or rather, about times, plural. An imagined future, always deferred: the next job, the next gig. The thickened present of days, weeks, months – even years – of agonizing waiting to be notified about whether you will be (re)hired, whether your past performance was good enough, whether you will be able to pay your bills. The institutional clock takes its sweet time, seemingly unaware of the other, viscerally banal time-lines in which scholars must live, and for which everyone must pay. Monthly payments for accommodation; three square meals a day; irregular socializing, the cost of having friends and family, holidays and birthdays and minor celebrations.

Who belongs to the (academic) precariat? Junior scholars, defined primarily as individuals in early to mid-career, alongside working post-graduate students. These scholars – this author included – are far more likely to be employed on short-term fixed contracts, with permanent posts becoming the norm only at the level of senior lecturer and senior research fellow.[48] In 2015, University College Union conducted a survey of casual staff in post-secondary educational institutions (i.e. HE and Further Education [FE]) in the UK. One in ten academics (11%; 10.4% in HE and 9% in FE) simply could not give an accurate estimation of the hours they typically worked in a week, because their hours were so irregular.[49] Just under half (47%) of staff noted that they worked less than 30 hours a week, though staff in FE are significantly more likely by work under this threshold than colleagues in HE (63.5% vs. 40.8% respectively).

If in a teaching post, precarious staff are often employed to cover less ‘desirable’ modules, such as full-cohort undergraduate survey courses, compulsory modules, or skills-based offerings. Teaching to one’s scholarly specialty is not necessarily an option, though when the opportunity for such research-driven teaching does arise, it often comes with very few salaried hours attached. Precarity is endless flexibility, but made to the model of the market – or marketised institution. There is little loyalty, a neo-liberal fantasy of individualism reigns supreme. In the precariat, we are all independent contractors. Casualised staff are expected to respond rapidly, not to mention gratefully, to ‘opportunities’ with which institutions gift them, including ones which are either unpaid or dramatically underpaid.[50] This includes, for instance, receiving notice of allocated teaching hours. ‘I do not find out until a week before the semester starts as to whether I have managed to get a class or not’, shares one FE lecturer.[51]

Whilst casualised staff may be ‘employed’ by an institution on paper, their lived experience is one of underemployment. Individuals are underemployed, as Douglas C. Maynard and Daniel C. Feldman note, ‘because they cannot work as many hours as they desire, because they can only obtain temporary jobs when they desire permanent employment, or because they cannot get jobs which are commensurate with their education, skill levels, and experience.’[52] It is for this reason that ‘underemployment’ may best be defined as ‘disguised unemployment’ or ‘inadequate employment’.[53] Underemployment is a typical characteristic of the working life of disabled people.[54] Disabled workers’ skills are often underutilised in their jobs, and the disabled community has significant levels of unemployment.[55] In other words, the discriminatory disadvantages of disability are being normalised more generally, as more and more people experience the effects of underemployment. This suggests the possibility for an empathetic coming together of able-bodied and disabled workers, finding common ground in our underemployment. Nevertheless, disabled workers are marginalised to a greater degree than non-disabled employees by the insidious spread of such casualised working practices, given the difficulties in finding appropriate employment and lower levels of financial security routinely faced by people living with disabilities.[56] This means that disabled ECRs may find more fellowship than ever before with able-bodied peers, but we are still more likely to be disadvantaged in real terms, both professional and economic.


Time is Money

According to a study by the University College Union, staff on insecure contracts routinely struggle to pay their household bills (42%).[57] More than one in three (35%) are insecurely housed, reporting difficulty in making mortgage and rent payments. Beyond housing insecurity, one in five casualised academics (21%) face difficulty in putting food on the table. For many, poverty is a seemingly unavoidable consequence of choosing an academic career. This financial outlook is bleak for all involved. However, disabled ECRs are doubly marginalised on this front, given the fact that poverty is a distressingly routine component of living with a disability.[58]

Bluntly put, disability is expensive.[59] A recent report, using data from 2015/2016, calculates that disabled people in the UK face, on average, additional disability-related costs of £570 a month, not defrayed by welfare benefits.[60] For one in five disabled people, the costs rise to in excess of £1,000 per month. Disability alters the relative value of one’s earnings – in other words ‘disabled people’s money doesn’t go as far’, with £100 wages of an able-bodied worker equating to £67 for their disabled colleague. This does not factor in another persistent financial hardship faced by disabled workers: the disability pay gap.[61] Disabled employees across the board tend to earn less than their able-bodied counterparts. In a study of median hourly earnings from 2015-2016, for example, disabled people earned £9.85 per hour, compared to an hourly wage of £11.41 for able-bodied workers.[62] The disability pay gap compounds the financial marginalization(s) levied alongside the intersectional axes of identity, such as gender and race pay gaps. A disabled woman makes (even) less than a disabled man; a disabled woman of colour makes (even) less than a disabled white woman. Of particular relevance to disabled academics is the fact that the pay disadvantage persists ‘at every level of qualification’: ‘a disabled person with a degree is more likely to be low paid than a non-disabled person with a degree’.[63] In essence, then, the PhD of a disabled scholar has less earning power than the same qualification held by an able-bodied peer, irrespective of the content or quality of the comparable degrees themselves.


Speeding Up

The economic hardships associated with disability function to make disabled ECRs less resilient, financially speaking, to subsist in the early career marketplace. We need more money than able-bodied peers simply to scrape by, yet we have less earning power due to systemic ableism. Critically, disability-related expenditure is non-discretionary, i.e. it is not a luxury that one can ‘cut back on’ to save cash. Moreover, the survival mechanism adopted by many, if not most, struggling ECRs are not necessarily accessible to us: the ‘side hustle’, i.e. taking on additional (usually low-paying) jobs to generate more income. ‘Hustling’ equates to increasing one’s earning potential by increasing one’s pace: working more hours, at more jobs. Pace here equates to productivity. Workers must be ever more productive to keep up with the racing treadmill upon which they’re running, a seemingly ceaseless marathon to the finish line of a permanent academic job. And productivity as a metric of employability – and, by consequence, an individual’s integral worth – is exceptionally problematic for disabled people, as a driver of systemic institutional discrimination.[64]

In the rhetoric of valorised productivity, disabled employees, as Eline Jammaers et al note, ‘are discursively constructed as less capable, willing and productive workers and thus as less valuable for and/or employable by organizations.’[65] This ableist paradigm is especially prevalent – and pernicious – in the academy, in which the culture of overwork has long been a peculiarly prized practice.[66] Writing in February 2018, Yale professor Nicholas A. Christakis offered a one-Tweet precis of the institutional stance which remains predominant throughout academia: ‘I tell my graduate students and post-docs that if they’re working 60 hours per week, they’re working less than the full professors, and less than their peers.’[67] It is telling that Christakis’s remarks emphasise the importance of comparison between scholars, with the quantifiable common denominator of working hours, not counting finite outputs or their quality. Overwork is integrally performative in nature: whoever looks busy must be busy, and thus be an ambitious, dedicated scholar. Such an attitude disregards the findings of numerous studies which demonstrate that working longer hours usually has a negative impact on worker productivity.[68] Also overlooked are the experiences of generations of disabled employees which demonstrate that longer hours on the job does not equate to better job performance.

Notable push-back to academic overwork is found in the ‘slow scholarship’ movement, advocating for less frenzied speeds of academic work and pedagogy.[69] All such frameworks, however, are grounded in the optional uptake of this ‘slower’ working modality. ECRs do not usually have the luxury to make such a decision, as doing so would jeopardise our very survival. The issue for disabled scholars is, of course, that our scholarship, even if produced at similarly slow speeds to those of avowed ‘slow scholars’, is, in fact, just our ‘normally paced’ scholarship. We do not have the option to ‘speed up’ if and when it would be advantageous to do so. Embedded in the ‘slow scholarship’ ethos, then, remains the kernel of ableist thinking on productivity, at least in its use of language.

No matter how long a scholar works – even pulling 12-hour days, Monday to Sunday – they are never productive enough. Being normal or average, working 30 or 40 hours a week say, is no longer enough.[70] And it certainly is not enough for those of us without permanent positions, with all the instability and financial hardship that entails, who must work harder than anyone to ‘prove’ themselves worthy of a ‘real’ job, alongside working all hours simply to earn enough to survive. This means the reality, or so it seems – and feels – to many of us is, in the words of one casualised lecturer sharing his fears, that ‘“the only ones who get permanent academic jobs are those able to tough out several years of fraught, unstable work”’.[71] Not everyone can ‘tough it out’ for long, if at all. The people who are able to are those ‘“with considerable financial privileges, without caring responsibilities, without financial dependents and those mentally resilient enough to cope”’. With such integral politics of exclusion, the praxes of precarity are not just ableist but also discriminatory along intersectional lines.[72] They are a catalyst for the wholesale loss of ‘non-normative’ scholars – read: not cisgender single middle- or upper-class able-bodied white men – from the academy.

The term ‘overwork’ still captures the sense of work that overspills its nominal channel, work undertaken outside of one’s set hours and beyond the terms of one’s contract. This is an apt descriptor of the situation of many casualised ECRs, dealing with the constraints of highly limited paid hours allocated for core pedagogical tasks. As one casualised academic remarked to the local branch of their University and College Union: ‘“Either you stick to the hours you are contracted to work and provide substandard teaching for your students, or you put in extra hours, effectively reduce your hourly rate of pay, and try to be good at your job”’.[73] Putting in extra hours in this context has an ethical dimension: if you’re committed to your profession, to competent pedagogy and to your students, then you keep working for as long as it takes.[74] Support your students by working for free or pay yourself by pursuing a wage elsewhere: this is posed as a moral dilemma.[75] Those who cannot, for whatever reason, make the sacrifice are cast as selfish, venal, and lacking necessary commitment to their career and their profession. In this context, disability becomes a metonym for moral degradation.

Advice commonly given to ECRs, including this author: transfer to a full-time job in academic administration and continue to do research ‘on the side’, submitting applications for research jobs in one’s ‘spare time’. The neoliberal academy demands control over all of a researcher’s time, irrelevant of contractual terms. Academic time(s) take priority over personal times (personal lives), as highlighted by one casualised HE lecturer: ‘My employers expect me to conduct my research in my own time, but they then benefit from it in the REF’.[76] This lecturer is likely exempt from the REF, if their contract is for teaching alone. Nevertheless, for this individual to remain competitive on the job market – including for casualised teaching-only positions – they must demonstrate their research expertise, and publish as much as possible. In this way, research is shunted into one’s ‘own time’, despite its central role in professional trajectories, alongside in institutional funding in terms of REF outcomes. If this lecturer does manage to publish in their ‘spare’ time and is then employed on a contract under which they are subject to the REF, then their home institution essentially monetizes their free research labour.

Lisl Walsh succinctly cuts to the ableist heart of it: ‘academia conflates capacity with quality’.[77] Permanent jobs and professional honours are based on ‘what the dedication [of an able body] can achieve’ (parentheses in original) – productivity at all costs, at all times, thanks to a body that can withstand a battering, at least for now. This is not just a culture of ‘overwork’ but, more emphatically, hyperwork – unceasing, high-energy, frenetic – as scholars must do more things in less time, all the time. Pressure to adopt such working practices is intensified by the systemic financing issues plaguing HE institutes across the UK. Ever higher student enrolment targets are coupled not with attendant staff increases, but instead under-recruitment, outright hiring freezes, and even widespread lay-offs.[78] Since December 2018, redundancies have been announced across the sector, including at Bangor University, Cardiff University, Queen Margaret University, the University of Gloucestershire, the University of Kent, and the University of Reading.[79]

For those ‘lucky enough’ to retain their jobs, covering the additional workload takes a toll. ‘There aren’t enough staff to do the fundamental work of a university’, testifies an anonymous member of Sheffield UCU employed on a research-teaching contract.[80] Their contract should nominally comprise 40% research (12.6 hours), 40% teaching (12.6 hours) and 20% administration (6.3 hours), based on a 35-hour work week with 0.1 FTE buyout. This tally, however, radically underestimates the amount of time taken by teaching and administration, whilst ignoring altogether obligatory service work, including mainstays such as peer reviewing, grant writing, and REF preparation. According to the Sheffield academic’s calculations, they are left with ‘negative 2 hours per week to conduct [their] world leading, 4* research during the teaching term’ (ibid.). Undertaking this research is critical to academic career development, even to remaining employed. Under-performing researchers are subject to a variety of penalties, ranging from probationary periods and performance improvement plans to redundancy. The impact of REF 2020/2021 is already being felt in these terms. Universities are ‘shedding academics’ who they deem to be ‘underperforming’ and who would negatively skew REF scores, using early-retirement and severance schemes, ahead of the exercise.[81] REF expectations can be particularly onerous for early-career staff, who are often tasked with teaching high-volume survey modules necessitating a significant amount of administration, alongside navigating the demands of their relatively new roles. UCU reports, for example, that the University of Liverpool has warned ‘several junior academics’ that they must publish a paper every 18 months, with a 3* REF score which defines ‘internationally excellent’ scholarship in order to pass probation in the run-up to the next REF.[82]

Academics simply must find time to research. Our survival depends on it. But time is not a resource to which everyone has equal access, nor is energy. Everything takes more time – and correspondingly more energy – when you are disabled, and fatigue is an exceptionally common component of chronic illness. Being in pain all the time is exhausting. Living with disability is a second-shift from which disabled scholars cannot ever clock off. We don’t necessarily have enough time, or energy, to attend to our ‘scheduled’ work hours, let alone put in any more hours at a moment’s notice. As Susan Wendell points out, making increases in pace obligatory for workers actively disables ever more of the affected workforce: ‘[if] … the pace of life increases without changes in other factors, more people become disabled simply because fewer people can keep up with the “normal” pace.’[83] Scores of testimonies about the increasing ill health – mental and physical – of notionally able-bodied scholars due to the ever-increasing demands of their jobs bear witness to this phenomenon affecting today’s academic workforce.[84] Early-career scholars are hit particularly hard, given the integral instability of their (under)employment.[85] In 2016, Greg, a casualised ECR at the University of Nottingham, shared his employment history with an interviewer from The Guardian, recounting a narrative as appalling as it is emblematic of the ‘new normal’ in ECR working practices.[86]

It wasn’t so bad in the beginning. Greg started out, like so many of us do, as ‘a promising young academic’ with a fixed-term contract.[87] He wasn’t well-off, but he had enough, just about, for household expenses and paying the mortgage. After his contract, he was depending on getting a research grant. It fell through and Greg’s life began to crumble. At one point, he was ‘pulling five jobs, working up to 70 hours a week’, earning somewhere between £22,000 and £23,000 before tax. This is significantly less than the national median annual income earned by those in full-time employment: £29,668 gross.[88] Greg cobbled together various jobs in order to survive: short-term hourly-paid teaching at Nottingham; more of the same at a different university; gardening; writing for a local paper; picking litter. Starting his working day picking litter at 3.30am, he had enough time for a quick nap and change of clothes before heading to his lecturing gig at Nottingham, surviving on a catnap of 20 minutes or so before he began teaching. ‘“Permanent exhaustion”’ became the norm, a fog in which he operated across his various shifts, accompanied by insidious stress, worry, and fear about his predicament. Under such intense mental and physical strain, he, unsurprisingly, fell ‘seriously ill’. The incremental disabling to which Greg was subject was, in fact, hastened by the presence of pre-existing disability in his family: his wife was ‘too ill to earn much’, which meant he used up his meagre savings fast as he did not have access to much-needed extra funds from his spouse’s earnings.


Taking Time to Disclose

In today’s job market, casualised academics living with invisible disabilities who can ‘pass’, more or less, as able-bodied have a strong incentive to not disclose their situation and their need for accommodations.[89] Disclosing chronic illness, for instance, risks bringing a scholar’s productivity into question, not to mention encountering stigma from co-workers and prejudicial judgments from institutional powers. Given the precarious circumstances of the vast majority of ECRs, the risks of disclosure are simply too high for many: we cannot afford to lose the job, we are only scraping by. Even the ‘best-case’ disclosure scenario – requested accommodations are approved and put in place – is fraught with potential professional danger. Putting accommodations in place is often a needlessly lengthy and complex procedure, requiring a significant amount of a scholar’s time, a department’s administrative time and institutional funding. This has been my own experience of disclosing disability as an ECR.

At ‘Research University’, I was employed on a one-year, non-renewable contract. I had disclosed my disability prior to the start of my contract. My needs are pretty basic, overall: things like an ergonomic chair and keyboard, a lighter-weight laptop, voice-to-text software. Yet my ‘special case’ was apparently complicated, and too costly to boot. The finance department queried in particular the ergonomic chair – did I really need a chair after all, didn’t I know that it was expensive? I pressed the issue, supported by the fact that a specialist assessor had recommended the chair in the first place. From start to finish, it took three months to acquire all the necessary equipment. The process rolled on in institutional time: glacial, bureaucratic, reliably delayed. Doing the calculations, my loss of productive time was stark: for the first quarter of my contract, I was limited in my working capacity by the lack of accommodations. With some irony, I lost even more time during that period due to dealing with the process of trying to get accommodations, of trying to speed up the plodding mechanism of institutional decision-making. Short-term contracts oblige staff to apply for their next post almost as soon as they take up the role. This is the well-known ‘second shift’ of ECR life, seemingly ceaseless rounds of applications in order to secure the next gig, and/or a side hustle to supplement the scant remuneration of your present post. Trying to project oneself in to the future, on the basis of past performance, whilst barely having the time to attend to pressing – present – matters. Thus, the time I lost waiting for accommodations to be implemented was also time subtracted from my future, or potential futures. Disclosing my disability, ironically, actively decreased my productivity.

Time itself can be weaponised in the academy. Sara Ahmed, for instance, dissects the ways in which universities use institutional time ‘as a tool’ to marginalise individuals reporting harassment and suppress reports of misconduct.[90] Making a complaint of harassment is itself ‘time-consuming, life-consuming’. Getting the complaint through internal processes is an equally lengthy process. Institutions can disregard a complaint if it is made ‘too long’ after the reported incident. ‘Too long’ for the institution, but not for the individual involved. Harassment is insidiously traumatic, not just in the moment but in the aftermath. Individuals may not be able to speak about the situation immediately to anyone, let alone their employer. This need for (temporal) space, a well-known effect of trauma, is recast by the institution as tardiness: transposed onto the institutional timeline, the complainant’s embodied temporal dynamics are grossly misrepresented. Institutional misconduct is now transformed into individual temporal mismanagement. Above all, the complainant must obey the institutional clock, whether it is fast or slow. And it can be fast, painfully so, when mandating deadlines by which individuals must respond in order for their case to be heard. Ahmed relates the illustrative case of two students who reported sexual harassment: ‘They talked of how slow the organisation was to respond to their communication at every step of the process but how they themselves were still expected to be quick: “they gave us a tiny time-scale” and “short-deadlines”’.

Requesting accommodations and reporting harassment coincide as experiences in which institutional time wielded by university powers – slow, juddering, regimented – is directly at odds with the chronotope(s) of the individual making the request or report, and which, for disabled scholars at least, govern the very need to make a request in the first place. Exhaustion can be ‘a management technique’ in the academy, as Sara Ahmed notes: ‘you tire people out so they are too tired to address what makes them too tired.’[91] In this way, draining an individual’s energy becomes ‘not just the effect but the point of a complaint process’. This is the implicit temporal logic of precarity, and of systemic ableism in the academy.


Conclusion: Curing and Cripping

Asynchrony is central to the experience of chronic life, and of disability more generally. Our non-normate bodies demand different kinds of time, time(s) which do not, cannot, correspond to the linear, regimented, orderly time of the dominant capitalist culture. The temporal paradigm of the academy, of what I call ‘hyperwork’, is a particularly intense iteration of the latter chronotope. The undergirding demand of our profession, indeed of eligibility of membership of our profession, has become ‘high productivity in compressed time’.[92] Ever increasing demands of productivity and of temporal flexibility – made to the mould of the academy’s needs, of course – systematically marginalize and ultimately exclude disabled scholars from the profession. This systemic exclusion is especially prevalent – lived, felt, visible – in the early-career marketplace. ECR life pushes scholars – our bodies, our minds, our whole lives – to their limits and beyond, increasing marginalisation of disabled scholars, whilst simultaneously disabling previously non-disabled colleagues. The latter have the privilege of ‘cure’: exiting the academic industry returns them to health, and, in theory at least, securing a permanent job will cure most ills. Even in permanent employment, however, disabled scholars must live with their embodied asynchrony, and deal with the systemic ableism of the academy.

ECRs in the contemporary academy are situated as chronically academic: subjects who are offered episodic, disorienting, unsatisfyingly partial contact with the academy. In this, the idealised academy stands in for the frustratingly temporary and only notionally ‘able’ body which those of us with chronic conditions (re)experience on the best of our ‘good’ days. For permanent employment is not a cure-all, no matter how much we desire it to be. Understood as a socio-political corpus, the academy is wrought with systemic dysfunction: the bodily dis-ease of neo-liberalisation which affects every cell in its body, including those in permanent posts. ECRs, ‘disabled’ by the academic system, thus become ‘a threatening presence’ for those in positions which are only superficially secure, workers who – right now at least – can keep up with the punishing pace.[93] Neutralise the threat – remove the source of malfunction by employing only those with superhuman stores of energy and drive – and the academic body appears to regain homeostasis, all things working in an orderly balanced fashion.

In this way, ECRs are isolated – practically and figuratively – from the community whose support we need the most, and those that have considerably more political power (not to mention financial reserves) to fight for an amelioration of our working conditions. What better name, then, for a network of academic staff with disabilities and chronic conditions than ‘Chronically Academic’.[94] The network connects disabled scholars, offering support in navigating the structurally ableist academy, whilst agitating for the deconstruction of such embedded marginalising structures. ‘Most of us are early career researchers’, the network’s homepage notes, ‘however, we look forward to and encourage supporting and mentoring more advanced academics.’[95]

Remove the so-called ‘under-performing’, and the academy is ‘cured’; ‘normality’ re-instated. This is the rationale of the medical model of disability, which pathologizes disability as individualized sickness, the ‘factually corporeal’ expression of deviance. For this reason, ‘cure’, as Alison Kafer articulates, has long been ‘the future no self-respecting disability activist or scholar wants’.[96] Instead, the social model of disability affirms the dignity of the non-normative body, a body marked by impairments – the need to balance pedagogy, administration and research, say; or the structured schedule which can seem bizarre to non-academics – but disabled only by society. Neoliberalism, austerity, systemic intersectional marginalization: these are the mechanisms by which the academic body is disabled. And yet, if we take the academy as a body – as our collective body, then this paradigm falls short too. For, as in chronic illnesses, the non-normative body itself is also the site of aversive and disabling experience(s) for ever more scholars.[97] ‘Cure’ – reduced workloads, shared responsibilities, more kindness – would be welcome. But how do we ‘cure’ the Academy, without annihilating difference within our community, without pathologizing disability itself?

There are no easy answers. But I would like, as I come to the end of my analyses, for now at least, to suggest pathways forward, by following an asynchronous thread, by looking backwards: to that other chapter that I was writing when I received the phone-call with which I began this piece, and to its medieval work. The other chapter was – is? – a survey of chronic pain and illness in the Middle Ages, included in a collection exploring the cultural history of disability. The purpose of my analyses was to progress both historical work in the field and contemporary disability theories, by creating an inter-temporal and radically reciprocal dialogue. By and large, in-depth study of chronic illness is absent in the field of medieval disability studies. This holds true for medieval studies more generally, bar the notable study of big-hitter diseases such as leprosy. In this way, the historical record – as contemporary medievalists report it, at least – has little to say on the topic of the experience(s) of medieval individuals living with chronic illness and pain. However, this elides the reality of the situation, as presented to us in medieval sources.

Representations of chronic illness do exist, most frequently in so-called miracle tales. These narratives are composed to offer proof of a given saint or holy person’s religiosity, demonstrated by their capacity to effect healing in others’ bodies, and often their own too. The disabled body is useful as a plot point, evoked as a corporeal ‘problem’ to be solved, and thereby to be annihilated.[98] This mirrors the discriminatory medical model of disability, in which the non-normate body must be ‘fixed’ at all costs and in which cure – the erasure of disability and disabled lives – is the ultimate goal. I repeat once more the questions which orient(ed) that chapter: How do we deal with medieval sources which seemingly perpetuate the discriminatory medical model of disability? How do we use these sources – so intent on highlighting cure as a possible and much desired outcome for desperate subjects living with marginalized bodies – to challenge our own limited contemporary frameworks? Recapitulated in the context of the present essay: How do we contend with wanting, needing a cure – for the Academy, for our own bodies – without pathologizing difference itself?

Such questions presuppose cure as a teleological, finite process of beginning, middle, and end. The illness is cured, never to return; the text falls silent. And yet not all cures, nor all bodies, function according to such rigid schemas of normalizing ‘progression’. This becomes clear if we resist the rhetoric of developmental periodization, if we recognize the lived experience of our historical predecessors as valuable, as worthwhile of study. For if a text does fall silent in the aftermath of the cure, the ‘cured’ body may begin to speak. This is what we learn if we pay attention to the story of Pellegrin, a young disabled boy we encounter in the thirteenth-century Occitan hagiography of Douceline of Digne (ca. 1215-1274) as I did in that earlier chapter, and to which I return again now.[99]

As convention demands, Pellegrin is presented as a three-year-old child desperately in need of miraculous healing at Douceline’s religiously amplified touch. His is a disabled body first and foremost, with the text cataloguing the multiple axes of impairment with which he lives. He is deaf and mute, hunched over and unable to walk, and lives with a grotesque systemic infection which cause deep sores across his skull.[100] The lesions are so deep that one of his ears is just barely attached. Douceline cures Pellegrin, of course. He can now walk, hear and speak. His body is whole. The miracle does not ‘resolve’ the plot, however. Rather it instantiates a crisis: his mother cannot recognize the child as her own son, even – especially – as he now speaks his own name.[101] After a bout of transitory madness, she finally finds proof of his identity. A line of ‘reddish’ stitches affix his formerly detached ear to his skull, never fading in colour nor seeming to heal. The sutures signify temporal distortion as Pellegrin’s body exists in an expansive present of ongoing healing, and thus of ongoing disability. Similarly, his notionally ‘cured’ illnesses reoccur in adulthood.

As vocational payment for her healing, Douceline required Pellegrin’s eventual entrance into the Franciscan Order, a move in opposition to his brother’s wish that he become a monk at the monastery of St Victor. Pellegrin is terrified of his sibling, who forces him to adhere to his wishes and thus disobey Douceline’s ordinance. In response, his body mounts a rebellion. Approaching the monastery, Pellegrin feels ‘terrible pain’ in his sutured ear that intensifies the closer he nears. Once inside, he experiences an anaphylactic-type reaction as the monks attempt to robe him, with his ears, throat and neck becoming so swollen he becomes functionally mute once more. Later, away from the monastery Pellegrin is cured once more, on the basis of his rededication to Douceline’s plan for his life.[102] This vignette is repeated in full: proximity to the monastery renders Pellegrin’s disabilities to become visible once more, until he begs Douceline for a cure once more. In total, Pellegrin is cured three times, demonstrating the inherent instability of cure itself, as repetition marks the impossibility of definitive ‘closure’, of wholly annihilating the non-normate.

Pellegrin’s disability is embedded within the fibre of his being, a core plank in his identity even if it is not always visible. Indeed, disability becomes the means by which he exerts his agency in the world: his body speaks by resisting able-bodied normativity, thereby resisting the brother’s demands when Pellegrin cannot. It is only by accepting the reality of his body, thereby affirming its dignity and his own subjective agency, that Pellegrin moves beyond the medicalized cycle of illness and cure, not to a place without cure but instead to a life in which cure is only part of the story.

The conventional medical cure is singular, detached, finite. This is the cure that annihilates, that suppresses difference by purging the faulty matter within. By contrast, affirmative curing, for Pellegrin – and for the Academic body – is grounded in the ongoing, engaged actions of politicized subject(s). The efficacy of these subjects’ – of our – work of collective healing rests upon our capacity not just to acknowledge difference and same-ness intellectually, abstractly, performatively. Instead we must actively work to de-center the normate in our thinking, in our scholarship, even in our understanding of our selves. Simultaneously, we must solicit the non-normative, the weird and different and difficult and faulty, not in a marginalizing effort to encounter some exoticism but instead to meet ourselves where we are, over there, left of centre, sometimes even in other bodies and in other times. For Pellegrin would not be with you – and us – in the ongoing cross-temporal conversation instantiated by the act of reading itself, if I had not recognized in him something familiar, something worthwhile; if I had not chosen to run my hands along the stitches in his body along with his mother. In this instant of politicized, willful recognition, a trans-historical community coheres, constituted by the act of ‘claiming’ Pellegrin as ‘crip’.[103] Pellegrin offers a model – a body double – for the ways in which we can build a community resistant to the Academy’s ills, a chronic-crip community of our peers, our sources, and our authentic selves. For claiming Pellegrin as crip makes possible – thinkable, coherently legible – the possibility of claiming ourselves as crip too. The closer I looked at Pellegrin’s life when writing the other chapter, the more clearly I discern – then, and now again even more sharply – the stark contours that shape my own life, the proud flesh binding Pellegrin and I and countless others together.

‘Claiming crip’, as theorized by Alison Kafer, is a radical model of community building, in which the notionally non-disabled are consciously included in the crip community, whether a given individual would identify as such or not.[104] As a practice of politicized empathy, the logic of ‘claiming crip’ rejects marginalizing binaries which split off the disabled from the non-disabled, the sick from the healthy. The point is not to flatten or outright elide difference. Rather, the practice of ‘claiming crip’ is rooted in the recognition of the ‘ethical, epistemic, and political responsibilities behind such claims’.[105] Claiming historical subjects like Pellegrin as crip is a methodology which mobilizes the temporal disjunctions and disorientations fundamental to crip time, thereby staging a ‘cross-temporal conversation’, a ‘provisional zone of contact’ which catalyzes ‘an intersubjective encounter’.[106] At the same time, an intra-temporal conversation begins, voices of modern scholars – disabled and non-disabled, ceaselessly different and unfailingly familiar – finding each other in moments of willful exposure to the fuzzy expanse of crip time, to allowing ourselves to recognize others and be recognized in turn.

Bodily dis-ease – as with Pellegrin’s allergies to the Victorine institution – can be understood as somatized rebellion, the body which no longer does what it is supposed to, and the body which refuses to obey the rules imposed upon it by structures that seek to oppress. The former is the Academic body, chronically dysfunctional and disabling. The latter, perhaps, is the Academy as pluralized corpus, of all our scholarly bodies, all our bodies of scholarship: a crip body, a body I claim as crip with my politics as much as with my own crip presence within its form. As an identity, ‘crip’ has the ‘potential to be simultaneously flamboyantly identitarian (as in, we are crip and you will acknowledge that!) and flamboyantly anti-identitarian (as in we reject your categories or the capacity of languages saturated in ableism to describe us!)’.[107] This is the stuff of which genuine, effective resistance is made. If the academy disables us, then let us claim it as crip, so doing let us claim each other as crip, embracing one another as and in a fierce crip collective, in and out of time, remaking the Academy anew in our ever-unfurling present.



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[1] Spencer-Hall, forthcoming.

[2] Robert McRuer’s (2006) seminal monograph Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability represents the first detailed articulation of this politics in scholarship, drawing together and developing existing work by academics and activists. For detailed discussion of the meaning of ‘crip’ and the ethos of ‘crip theory’, see: McRuer, 2006, pp. 33-76; McRuer, 2018, pp. 18-24.

[3] McRuer, 2006, p. 35.

[4] McRuer, 2018, p. 19.

[5] Ibid., p. 20.

[6] Ibid., p. 21.

[7] On crip time, see in particular: Godden, 2011; Kafer, 2013, pp. 25-46; Sheppard, 2017.

[8] Dinshaw, 2012, p. 5; emphasis in original.

[9] Herring and Standish, 2018, pp. 70-72.

[10] Ibid., p. 70.

[11] Ibid, p. 70 and p. 72, respectively.

[12] Dinshaw, 2012, p. 42.

[13] Ibid., p. 43; emphasis in original.

[14] Herring and Standish, 2018, p. 72.

[15] Dinshaw, 2012, p. 34.

[16] Ibid., p. 4 and p. 34, respectively.

[17] Dinshaw, p. 19.

[18] Spencer-Hall, 2018, back cover.

[19] 2012, p. 4.

[20] Ibid., pp. 4-5, 33-24.

[21] Kafer, 2013, p. 34. Kafer explores this link in detail, and offers a valuable precis of crip time in: ibid., pp. 34-46. On this, see also: Godden, 2011, p. 268.

[22] 2013, p. 330.

[23] Godden, 2011, p. 270.

[24] 2012, p. 42.

[25] On chronic illness as disability, see in particular: Brown and Leigh, 2018, p. 986; Hale, 2018; Wendell, 2001.

[26] On bodymind(s), see: Price, 2015.

[27] 2012, p. 4. On queer time, see in particular: Halberstam, 2005; McCallum and Tuhkanen, 2011.

[28] Dinshaw, 2012, p. 34.

[29] Godden and Hsy, 2013, p. 318.

[30] Zheng, 2018, passim.

[31] Adjunct, 2008; Perry, 2019; Zheng, 2018, pp. 245-46.

[32] On this, see in particular: Acker and Armenti, 2008; Herget, 2015; Mason, 2013; Mason, Wolfinger and Goulden, 2013; Oakley, 2018; Ward and Wolf-Wendel, 2004

[33] Ward and Wolf-Wendel, 2004.

[34] Antecol, Bedard and Stearns, 2016; Jaschik, 2016; Williams and Lee, 2016.

[35] Yarrow and Davies, 2018, n.p.

[36] Fazackerly, 2018.

[37] Ibid., n.p.

[38] On this, see: Godden, 2011, especially pp. 272-74; Godden, 2015, pp. 74-75.

[39] Godden, 2011, p. 269.

[40] Ibid., p. 276.

[41] For critique of the notion of academia as a meritocracy, see in particular: Walsh, 2017; Zheng, 2018.

[42] Jones and Oakley, 2018, p. 4, p. 8.

[43] Weale, 2016, n.p.

[44] For an illuminating study of the realities of precarious post-doc life in the UK, see: Jones and Oakley, 2018. On the casualization (or ‘adjunctification’) of academic employees in the USA, see in particular: American Association of University Professors, n.d. a, n.d. b; Angulo, 2018; Bousquet, 2008; Hurlburt and McGarrah, 2016; Kezar and Maxey, 2013, 2016; O’Hara, 2015; United States Government Accountability Office, 2017; Zheng, 2018. On the situation in Canada, see: Acker and Haque, 2017. For an international perspective, see in particular: Gupta et al, 2016.

[45] University College Union, 2016b, p. 4.

[46] Ibid., p. 2.

[47] University College Union, 2015, p. 10.

[48] University College Union, 2016a, pp. 5-8; using HESA data for 2013/2014.

[49] University College Union, 2015, pp. 9-10.

[50] Jones and Oakley, 2018, p. 8.

[51] University College Union, 2015, p. 10.

[52] 2011, p. 1.

[53] Dooley and Prause, 2004, passim, especially pp. 1-16.

[54] Lee, 2013; Maynard and Feldman, 2011, p. 2; Tinson et al, 2016.

[55] Barnartt, 2006, p. 590; Jones and Sloane, 2010; Meager and Higgins, 2011, p. 12.

[56] Zheng, 2018, p. 245.

[57] University College Union, 2015, p. 13.

[58] Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2017, pp. 63-69; Tinson et al, 2016.

[59] Mitra et al, 2017; Scope, 2018.

[60] Scope, 2018, p. 5.

[61] Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2017; Tinson et al., 2016, p. 5; Longhi, 2017.

[62] Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2017, p. 51.

[63] Tinson et al, 2016, p. 5; see also pp. 31-32.

[64] Wendell, 1989, pp. 113-14; 1996, 36-42.

[65] 2016, p. 1367.

[66] Brown and Leigh, 2018, p. 986; Mountz et al 2015. For critical discussion of overwork in the academy, see in particular: Acker and Armenti, 2008; Acker and Webber, 2014; Bell, Rajendran and Theiler, 2012; Connelly and Ghodsee, 2011; Ecklund and Lincoln, 2016; Kinman and Jones, 2008; Krause, 2018.

[67] The tweet went viral amongst the academic community on Twitter. On this response, see: Foulkes, 2018; McKenna, 2018.

[68] See e.g. Carmichael, 2015; Kodz et al, 2003, pp. 147-90.

[69] Berg and Seeber, 2016; Mountz et al, 2015.

[70] Brown and Leigh, 2018, p. 986; Member of Sheffield UCU, 2019.

[71] Weale, 2016, n.p.

[72] Jones and Oakley, 2018, pp. 6-7; Zheng, 2018, pp. 245-46.

[73] Chakrabortty 2015, n.p.

[74] Member of Sheffield UCU, 2019, n.p.

[75] Ibid.; Weale, 2016, n.p.

[76] University College Union, 2015, p. 12.

[77] 2017, n.p.

[78] My thanks to Jennifer Leigh for raising this point as integral to the discussion here.

[79] Adams, 2018; Jones, 2019; Vaughan 2019.

[80] Member of Sheffield UCU, 2019, n.p; see also Jones, 2019.

[81] Grove, 2018b, n.p.

[82] Grove, 2018a, n.p.

[83] 1989, p. 109.

[84] See e.g. Acker and Armenti, 2004, pp.13-16; Fazackerley, 2018; Jones, 2019; Jones and Oakley, 2018, p. 7; Kinman and Jones, 2008; Krause, 2018; Walsh, 2017.

[85] See, e.g. Acker and Armenti, 2004, pp. 12-13; Chakrabortty, 2016; Chakrabortty and Weale, 2016; O’Hara, 2015; Weale, 2016.

[86] Chakrabortty, 2016; see also similar stories in University College Union, 2015.

[87] Chakrabortty, 2016, n.p.

[88] Office for National Statistics, 2018, n.p. Full-time employment is defined as working 30 or more hours per week, or 25 hours or more for teaching positions. Annual income calculated from figure of £569 supplied by the Office for National Statistics for national median weekly wages (gross). Data sourced from the 2018 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

[89] Adjunct, 2008, n.p.; Brown and Leigh, 2018, p. 987; Perry, 2019, n.p. On the politics of disclosure as a disabled academic, see also: Kerschbaum, 2004.

[90] 2018, n.p.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Mountz et al, 2015, p. 1216.

[93] Garland Thomson, 1997, p. 41.

[94] Full disclosure: I am a member of the network, and have corresponded with founding members, chiefly in terms of the ‘Medievalists with Disabilities’ network, a disciplinary-specific sister organisation which I co-founded with Dr. Alex Lee.

[95] Chronically Academic, n.p. See also the public statement by Medievalists of Color (n.d.) which highlights the fact that ECRs are on the front-line of the fight to remake the academy, despite the risks they face. Established scholars are called to acknowledge this, and take action to support both this important work and ECRs.

[96] 2013, p. 7.

[97] On the ideology of cure and health in terms of disability, see: Clare, 2017, esp. pp, 5-17; Garland-Thomson, 2002, pp. 13-17; Wendell, 2001; Shakespeare, 2018, pp. 19-21, 91-93; Wendell, 1996, pp.19-22.

[98] In this way, they conform, at least superficially, to Mitchell and Snyder’s (2000) model of ‘narrative prosthesis’ (passim; pp. 56-57).

[99] Phillipine of Porcellet, 2001, pp. 84-87, 109-10.

[100] Ibid., p. 84.

[101] Ibid., p. 85.

[102] Ibid., p. 110.

[103] Kafer, 2013, pp. 13-14.

[104] Kafer, 2013, pp. 11-14.

[105] Kafer, 2013, p. 13.

[106] Godden and Hsy, 2013, p. 334.

[107] McRuer, 2018, p. 20.

'It's About Time': Ableism in the Academy - Seminar at the Swansea University Centre for Research into Gender, Culture and Society

By the time this is posted - all hail the glory that is the auto-scheduling tool - I will be ensconced on a train, whizzing my way to Swansea, Wales. Hello, future me! This minor-league time travel is in honour of an exceptionally kind invitation, made by an exceptionally kind academic Dr Roberta Magnani, the Director of Swansea University’s Centre for Research into Gender, Culture and Society (GENCAS). I will be - I currently am? - giving a seminar as part of the Centre’s series on intersectionality, speaking about ableism in the Academy.

All my temporal dilly-dallying with this post is eminently apt, it turns out, because my paper is all about time , or rather times plural - academic time, disability time, crip time - and temporal slippage, pasts and presents and futures all colliding. Check out my abstract for the full(er) story:

It’s about time we talked about disability in the Academy. Many, if not most, academics do not disclose their condition(s) for well-grounded fear of discrimination. Neoliberal rhetoric about “productivity” – we must always produce more, we must always be seen to be producing more – is fundamentally ableist. Ever more nominally non-disabled scholars are disabled by the “hyper-work” prescribed by the academic regime. The academic timepiece stops for no-body. And yet, those of us living with disability, we watch – we must watch – different clocks: those which show ‘crip’ time – episodic, non-linear, thickened. It is a radically different temporal orientation than hetero-patriarchal linear time. Radical is the key word here. The logic of crip time offers us a new methodology for medievalist work: a practice of empathetic and politically urgent trans-historical engagement with our sources. What’s more, recognition of time, or manipulation thereof, as a central weapon in the Academy’s dysfunctional arsenal allows for the creation of a broader collective for resistance. If the Academy disables, then let us crip it right back – decentering the neoliberalized normate in our scholarship, in our pedagogy and in our professional lives.

If you’d like to read my paper, then you’ll find most - though not all - of the material in two chapters which should be published in the near-ish future:

For a flavour of the talk itself, flick through the slides posted below at your leisure. Forget the content, if you like clocks (and watches and venerable timepieces), you will love this deck. And just below that, you can (now) scroll through tweets posted about the talk by myself, and attendees. Check out @RobertaDMagnani’s thread in particular for a summary of my key points.

Edited 19/03/19 to embed the Wakelet and relevant text.