Thomas Allmer


Academic Labour, Digital Media and Capitalism

Friday, November 2nd, 09:00 – 10:30, PALAZZO CONGRESSI Auditorium A


ECREA Critical Interventions is a participatory format which will feature various risks, pitfalls and dilemmas of life in academia. Its first edition focuses on precarious and neoliberalised academia. It encompasses introductory thematic talk and contributions from the audience in the form of questions as well as more personal and confessional contributions related to work under the conditions of academic capitalism.


The economic and political transformations of universities in recent decades have attracted criticism from several quarters. This is also reflected in a growing academic literature investigating these changes in the context of neoliberalism and the rise in the interweaving of private and public providers. Within universities, a new entrepreneurial and managerial spirit has been carefully fostered and produced that has resulted in the implementation of market-driven rules and competition (Deem, Hillyard and Reed 2007). It is argued that educational institutions nowadays aim to respond to market demands whereby the public character of education tends to fade away (Peters 2003). Critical scholars speak about ‘academic capitalism’ (Slaughter and Leslie 1999), the ‘corporate university’ (Giroux 2002) and ‘’ (Hall 2016). These structural transformations have had several impacts on the working conditions, practices and relations of subjects including, to name but a few, the intensification and extension of work, the blurring of work and free time, casualisation, precariousness, self-exploitation and self-marketing. How these conditions are experienced by different subjects is open to debate. While the experiences of work in other sectors such as the cultural and creative industries are well documented, there is still a lack of understanding of labouring subjectivities in academia, as well as a lack of analysis of how the existing conditions are experienced by academics (Gill 2014).

Questions that need to be addressed in this context include but are not limited to:

  • How do different working contexts and conditions in the academia shape feelings of autonomy, flexibility and reputation on one hand and precariousness, overwork and dissatisfaction on the other?

  • To which extent are the working conditions of academics characterised by intensification and extension in the digital domain?

  • What are the broader political realities and potentials in terms of solidarity, participation and democracy at universities?

I address these questions based on a critical social theory approach and qualitative interviews with academics who are employed precariously at several higher education institutions.

  • Information Work
  • Precariousness
  • Struggles

I studied media and communication and political science at the University of Salzburg, Austria, and the Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia. After I had finished my PhD, I started as Lecturer in Social Justice at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Since 2016, I am Lecturer in Digital Media at the University of Stirling, Scotland, UK. I am also a member of the Unified Theory of Information Research Group, Austria. My publications include ‘Towards a Critical Theory of Surveillance in Informational Capitalism’ (Peter Lang, 2012) and ‘Critical Theory and Social Media: Between Emancipation and Commodification’ (Routledge, 2015).

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