Oxford advertises for ‘Casual Researchers’

Our first proper post comes in response to a job offer that 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.

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“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)?'”

Dear all,

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!

Sincerely,

Mariya

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9 comments

  1. Dear Mariya, dear all,
    Thank you for raising our awareness on the totally unacceptable announcement of COMPAS and the commodification/exploitation of academics who have to extend their “flexibility” now not only to their short term contracts but also to their research and their data. That raises a number of issues including ownership rights, research ethics and neoliberalization of research and it should alarm us all to what direction research is taking in such institutions. There is no doubt a resemblance in the ethics of these employers with armchair anthropology and the anthropology as handmaiden of colonialism. The exploitation of researchers and their research slave data has no place in anthropology departments or any academic institution. I therefore suggest taking further action with a letter to EASA and ASA and circulating widely this blog,
    Best wishes,
    Tryfon

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  2. Shocking behaviour, with a £4bn Endowment, the hypocrisy makes you choke on your overpriced coffee. I’ve written to them to confirm my disgust and that I hope they start attending their own lectures so as to learn what migrant slave labour looks like (hint hint: look in the mirror).

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  3. The project looks like it runs for 12 weeks of data collection by several researches at the same time rather than one researcher for, say two years. So there is a research design reason, or so it could be argued, for casualisation here. Beyond this individual project there is a larger problem of casualisation, and not just in universities. In universities it is driven by Human Resources, and possibly because academics have lost power or bought into management ‘market ethos’. You can’t shame HR as they think we are scum to start with, senior academics are generally hypocritical as has been pointed out, and will anyway blame HR or the system – although they probably think we are scum too. Not sure the union will do much as my experience is it is only interested in lecturers, and permanent ones at that. The solution… The only way to hurt an academic is through their work, by which I mean ignore it! So, only by boycotting the academics leading a research project are you likely to get them to not allow casualisation in their projects. But sadly, I think the future is bleak, sorry to say.

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  4. Reblogged this on snapshots from … and commented:
    COMPAS gives an example of how to
    Thicken the lines of precariat with qualified researchers on 0 hour contracts. And if it wasn’t for this one letter, COMPAS may have never reconsider their strategy in recruiting young, but very qualified researchers without any job security. Thanks Maryia!

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