In this episode, I am hosting Elif Birced. We will talk about the neoliberal restructuring of higher education in Turkey. By drawing upon her interviews with 40 professors and graduate student assistants, Elif will make a compelling case for the precarization of work conditions in social sciences as a result of this the neoliberal restructuring. She will also discuss the intersectional role gender plays in the precarization of academia.


Elif is a PhD student at the Department of Sociology at Boston University. She is interested in economic sociology, work, organizations, and sociology of culture. Elif has a B.S. in Economics from Middle East Technical University and an M.A. in Cultural Studies from Sabancı University. Her M.A. thesis was about the precarity of academic labour in Turkey with a particular focus on the experiences of professors and graduate student assistants in the social sciences.


Today, Elif will be revisiting the impressive fieldwork she conducted for her M.A. thesis. She will first introduce her own interpretation of the concept of “precarity”. Elif adopts Guy Standing’s approach to precarity but also brings her own twist to the concept. While Standing describes precarity in two dimensions – objective and subjective, Elif points out to the need for considering precarity also as a relational concept.


Thus, Elif analyses precarity in three dimensions. In the objective aspect, she looks for structural patterns of insecurities at work such as lack of protection against arbitrary dismissal, lack of adequate and stable income to sustain life or absence of any representative body in the workplace. In the subjective dimension, she focuses on how individuals experience these insecurities. Individuals may accept, internalize or give consent to several right violations committed under the name of neoliberal restructuring. Finally, Elif introduces the relational dimension of precarity, which signals to the importance of relations established, for example, between professors and graduate student assistants and how these relationships affect one’s perception of her precarious position.


Elif’s unique approach to precarization of higher education also opens up a valuable space to acknowledge and analyze the direct role of government in creating political insecurities in the workplace. While Elif was conducting her fieldwork in 2016, a group of academics was calling upon the government to end its attacks in the Kurdish villages of Southern East Turkey (for more detail, please listen to the podcast on Academics for Peace), and they were fired from their jobs. Elif points out the fact that social scientists may experience a heightened sense of vulnerability in the workplace if their academic works criticize the government or do not conform to the official government accounts.


Finally, Elif will reveal different ways in which gender could become integrated into precarity. She will talk about how job insecurity for women may lead to silencing of sexual harassment in academia. The lack of protection mechanisms against sexual harassment in universities only makes it more precarious for women to work as professors and graduate student assistants.

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