A specter haunted EASA2018—the specter of precarity. Like a “frightful hobgoblin” (that, one could argue, is a more suitable, if inaccurate, translation of Marx’s Gespenst), it appeared in some instances as an explicit, publicly acknowledged political program (on some panels and the ending plenary) and, at other times, stashed away in the interstitches of the conference program (on #HOWtalk and #PrecAnthro lunchtime discussions, or the myriad of corridor chats that could be overheard during the conference).
Hau is a phenomenon. It burst on the scene of the relatively small academic scholarly world of anthropology capturing scholars from around the globe into its spirit. Hau rapidly established itself as a premier journal in the discipline with an increasing defining role for anthropology. It was becoming a power in the field legitimating reputations and concerned with building them. Perhaps most surprising (but less so on reflection) was the speed of its ascent within the academic community largely through the efforts of its inspiration, the founding editor whose journey describes a kind of Rake’s Progress (or threatens to do so). The ambiguities and hesitancies in defense and attack, reported injuries, moral ire that are surrounding the characterization of his alleged behavior refracts critical features of Hau’s rise and not least the complicity, intentional or otherwise, of those who aided and abetted the rise of Hau (David Graeber’s public confession being an egregious example). The whole sad story (in some ways reflecting the current tragedy of anthropology as a discipline) manifests the sociopolitical crisis affecting global realities that has particular effect and expression in the plight of Hau. The progress of Hau embodies a critical moment perhaps a turning point in the history of the discipline that is not reducible to the responsibility of the editor (although he might be described as anthropology’s Trump), regardless of the fact that so much blame seems to be piling up around his feet (see also Kalb, Murphy, and Neveling on Focaalblog).
Something smells of bullshit. It has for a long time. Caught in the spectacular entanglements of the neoliberal university, academic work is being actively “bullshitized.” Audit cultures, the intensification of administrative duties, the politics of intellectual egos and academic “assholery,” hierarchical academic freedoms, an exploitative publishing industry, and an increase in zero-hour contracts means the precariat of academia are subject to the combination of some very particular horrors. So, something does indeed smell of bullshit. It will, no doubt, linger long in the gloaming of too many precarious academic careers. These inequalities and exploitative practices are the buttresses upon which some contemporary successful academic careers are built, at the expense of others, gadflies turned horses. The key to the ivory tower has been hidden away—with only academic “elites” and senior university management remaining inside—all others must wade knee-deep through work-practice bullshit, deprived of labor dignity, equality, and solidarity.
When HAU was launched, my grad students at Central European University were celebrating. Open access! Finally, a breach in the wall that separated the haves from the have-nots. Their local universities in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe hardly had the resources to pay for these Western journals offered at extortionate prices by the likes of Elsevier, Springer, Oxford, Chicago. Indeed, even CEU did not have sufficient means to pay all the subscriptions that scholars were asking for. Now the have-nots would finally have unlimited access. More, the HAU journal preached what it imagined itself to embody: self-conscious intellectual revolution in the apparently newly found horizontalist mode: Occupy anthropology! For the intellectual assertion of the commons! My rightly rebellious students loved it. And went on producing some great open access undertakings—but not in academia—that helped to feed the ongoing mobilizations in their countries (most prominently: http://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast). They had all my support while we continued to disagree about HAU.
As anthropology assesses an increasing number of reports about abuse, bullying, sexism, and financial misconduct and fraud at its now shooting-star journal HAU, it is important to keep a few basics in mind.