I am on strike, so we will read this important book review, brought to my attention by my Facebook Friend, Mike. It is a good review of a book which is obviously good for my research, both academic and artistic, and even better for Clio Bluestocking’s research, as it concerns slavery and wage slavery in early 19th century Baltimore.
There are some important things to take away from this review as regards the academic job market and all the advice that is given to one and all on how to best position oneself for non disaster at least, and for success ideally. I often find myself fatigued with these discussions, for reasons including the following:
1) having been in the business for some time and coming from an academic family, I have heard them all before — was in fact already tired of them at a stage in my own career when for others, they were new;
2) the fact that in my own experience, most standard advice does not apply and never has, for reasons already discussed at length in this blog — it is not that I do not know these rules or how to apply them, it is just that I do not find them to cover all, or even most aspects of reality.
3) the fact that self help style advice for clerks on how to get ahead in business came into fashion in the mid to late nineteenth century and has already been parodied, including by our very own honorary author in his 1931 novel Tungsten (yes, I have just complicated this blog by adding to its voices an honorary author).
Here is where some sentences from the review above come in:
a) Capitalism in the early Republic was not “a synonym for market exchange,” he explains, but rather “a political economy that dictated who worked where, on what terms, and to whose benefit” (p. 5) [Hypothesis: the academic job market is not only not a meritocracy. It is not even necessarily a market. It is a political economy that dictates who works where, on what terms, and to whose benefit.]
b) Rockman’s evidence proves that getting rid of slavery was not in the interests of capitalists, who gladly employed white and black people, free and enslaved, on the same job sites for identical wages.” [You want some faculty at each professorial rank, some regular instructors, and some casual labor.]
c) Rockman crunches the numbers to show that, in 1810, between 10 and 20 percent of Baltimore households were headed by women, but employers had a vested interest in fostering “the presumption of female dependence,” because it “justified the secondary wages that in turn guaranteed it” (p. 133).
d) …[C]apitalists were revolutionary historical actors who curtailed the agency of working people by thinking of and using both free and enslaved laborers as interchangeable commodities…. [Rockman] defines “class” “as a material condition resulting from the ability of those purchasing labor to economically and physically coerce those performing it–and to do so under the social fiction of a self-regulating market that purportedly doled out its rewards to the deserving in accordance with the laws of nature” (p. 11).
e) Rockman does not describe class entities emerging around a “shared consciousness, identity, or politics percolating from working people themselves” (p. 11). Rather, class is a vital tool historians can use to expose the dynamics of material and cultural power in American society.
f) [S]laveowners, merchants, and almshouse commissioners rewrote workers’ stories about being poor, disparaging their pretensions to agency and citing laziness, improvidence, and intemperance as the underlying explanations for economic inequality. [Think of how tenured faculty talk about the misadventures of assistant professors and graduate students, male faculty about the misadventures of women, and so on.]
g) [P]oor people’s ventures into the market for reasons other than wages were not evidence of a “nascent entrepreneurism,” a quest for wealth (p. 127). [Exactly, and this is a great opportunity to say once again in the vocative case: FUCK you Mario Vargas Llosa and all of your neoliberal friends, claiming that the desperate Lima peddlers of the 1990s were harbingers of a new capitalist spirit. I ought not to swear but the word fuck drives up hit counts, and Mario Vargas Llosa is intolerably fatuous, and I am on strike.]
h) The culture of capitalism was so pervasive that it provided the script for workers’ struggles to survive even as capitalists took it as an article of faith that poor men and women did not strive. The “social fiction” that workers refused to work hard was powerful because the powerful perpetuated it.
i) While bourgeois employers championed self-fashioning–Frederick Douglass embarked on his quest for “self-made manhood” in Baltimore’s streets–they also believed in a more important “truth”: laborers needed to exhibit industry, perseverance, and other winning character traits to make bosses rich.
j) Rockman brilliantly shows that capitalists not only regulated who could work where and for what, but also defined ambition in ways that ensured workers’ continued struggles with poverty.