The university has not only casualized its own labor force: it operates as a kind of fusion reactor for casualization more generally, directly serving the casual economy by supplying it with flexible student labor (which is to say: by providing flex workers with the identity of “student”), normalizing and generalizing the experience of casual work. The casualization of the higher education teacher has been accompanied by the wholesale reinventing of what it means to be an undergraduate: the identity of “student” has been disarticulated from the concept and possibility of leisure and vigorously rearticulated to contingent labor. In the twenty-first century, “being a student” names a way of work. The graduate employee understands that the gen-x structure of feeling proceeds from the generational register of the economic order: insofar as casualization colonizes the experience and possibilities of “youth,” cheerfully extending the term of youth and youthful “enjoyment” into the fourth decade of life—because youth now delimits a term of availability for super-exploitation.

—Bousquet, “The Waste Product of Graduate Education,” Social text, 2002, p. 99

What I have found is that people who really need the science education are the adults. Adults outnumber children. They’re in charge. They wield resources. They vote. All of the things that shape the society in which we live are conducted by adults.


The challenge has never been children. The challenge has been adults. I don’t think you have to do anything special to get kids interested in science, other than to get out of their way when they’re expressing that curiosity.

All the adults are saying, “We need to improve science in the world. Let’s train the kids.” I’ve never heard an adult say, “We need more science in the world. Train me.” I’ve never heard an adult say that. It’s the adults that need the science literacy, the kind of literacy that can transform the nation practically overnight.

Kids Sharing Earbuds and “Social Media”

I’ve been circulating my piece about kids sharing earbuds since 2009. I’m very pleased to say the volume it was slated to appear in has finally been published: The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies. The whole volume (two volumes, in fact!) is excellent. At $150 it’s much too expensive for individual purchase, but you might encourage your library to purchase it, if you have such influence. My understanding is that a cheaper paperback version should come out in a year.

Here’s the abstract:

“Earbuds Are Good for Sharing: Children’s Headphones as Social Media at a Vermont School.” In The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, vol. 1, edited by Jason Stanyek and Sumanth Gopinath, pp. 335–55. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. [pdf]

Working from ethnographic research with K–8 schoolchildren at a small public school in Vermont, this chapter examines one of the central practices of music listening of contemporary U.S. children: splitting the cheap earbuds that lately accessorize many consumer devices in order to share them and listen jointly with friends. At Heartsboro Central School, students used their portable music players to move through space, tuck into clothes, and link friends from ear to ear. MP3 players bundled with headphone cables circulated among lockers, desks, pockets, and backpacks. Wires threaded under clothing and tangled across crowded lunchroom tables. Hanging from a shoulder or shirt collar, maxed-out earbuds strained to liven up group spaces with portable, lo-fi background music. In class, students listened surreptitiously to earbuds concealed in sleeves and under the hoods of sweatshirts. Most often two friends would share a pair of earbuds—one for me, one for you—listening together with one ear as they participated in the dense overlap of talk, touch, and gesture that characterized their unmonitored peer interactions. By sharing earbuds kids activated and delineated relationships, and they solidified certain types of social bonds. With the same actions they enforced and regulated status hierarchies, excluding certain children from listening even while expanding access for others who might be limited by parental resources or restrictions. While a complex logic of genre, celebrity, and consumerism informed HCS children’s musical tastes and habits, most prominent was the intimate embedding of earbuds as social anchors among the complex networks and hierarchies of these elementary- and middle-school children. This chapter argues that through their listening practices children’s upset the rationalizing logics of privatization and isolation that accrue to headphones and portable music, as they creatively reimagined their music devices to fit within the persistent and densely sociable cultures of childhood, as tangible technologies for interaction and intimacy that traced out bonds and tethered friends together in joint activity.

Calling adults childish

John R. MacArthur, “Google’s Media Barons.” A classic of the genre:

Thus proceeds the infantilization of the American public, hooked more than ever on superficial, unchecked information sometimes rewritten from more reliable, though uncredited sources. It’s no coincidence that Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and Yelp sound like toddler gibberish from the Teletubbies.

Whenever I hear these silly corporate names invoked with sanctimonious awe, I imagine Dipsy, Laa-Laa, Po, and Tinky-Winky singing their hit single “Teletubbies say ‘Eh-oh’ ” as they shake the change out of some two-year-old’s pocket. Come to think of it, Eric Schmidt’s new playmate, the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, bears a more than superficial resemblance to Po.

Where will it end, as the dumbing down of America accelerates and Google becomes ever more dominant? A psychoanalyst friend tells me that listening to baby talk may be gratifying up to a point, but that constant subjection to it produces unconscious rage in adults.

(an ongoing series)

Calling adults childish (an ongoing series)

Felix Salmon, Netflix’s dumbed-down algorithms:

Television stations learned many years ago the difference between maximizing perceived quality, on the one hand, and maximizing hours spent watching, on the other. Netflix has long since started making the same distinction: it wants to serve up a constant stream of content for you to be able to watch in vast quantities, rather than sending individual precious DVDs where you will be very disappointed if they fall below your expectations. Netflix’s biggest fans tend to be parents of young kids — but in a sense, Netflix wants to turn us all into young kids, consuming an endless stream of minimally-differentiated material. (Note that Netflix doesn’t allow you to watch a trailer for a movie before streaming it; it just expects you to stop watching that movie, and start watching something else, if you don’t like it.)


Amendments to OUP contracts for handbooks and edited volumes

In the interest of sharing practical information, here are some notes on my  experiences over the last several years getting changes to the language in contracts for individual chapters in edited volumes from Oxford University Press. I have two pieces in Oxford Handbooks, for which I had similar objections to the contracts Jonathan Sterne discusses here, in particular that the agreements were “work for hire” rather than simple copyright transfer (see here for a good explanation of the difference). Like Sterne I was able to get them to add this language:

Notwithstanding the foregoing and subject to the Publisher’s prior written approval, provided that full acknowledgment of the Volume (including bibliographic details) is given and that such use does not affect prejudicially the sales or other exploitation by the Publisher of the Volume, the Contributor may rework some (but not the whole or a substantial part) of his or her contribution to the Volume as the basis for articles in professional journals, conference papers, training materials, newsletters and similar materials, as well as for chapters in books by the Contributor.

I’m not sure that really helps much, but I also was assured by email that this paragraph allowed me to include the chapter in my dissertation (something I specifically requested). In fact I find assurances outside of the contract itself to be pretty frustrating, since the standard contracts always include a clause that says something like “This Agreement sets forth the entire agreement between the parties regarding its subject matter and supersedes and replaces all prior discussions, arrangements, and agreements (whether written or oral) relating thereto.” Which has the effect of disavowing any email assurances!

In addition I was able to have the following clause added, which more or less replicates “moral rights” (or the author’s right to be identified):

It is hereby acknowledged and agreed that such likeness and biographical information shall be subject to the Contributor’s approval, such approval not to be unreasonably conditioned, withheld or delayed. It is further acknowledged and agreed that the Contribution shall be attributed to the Contributor in each instance.

One of the differences between work-for-hire and copyright transfer is that in the latter it is possible to claw back the copyright after 35 years, as I understand it. At that time horizon, who knows what will happen to these materials. You could easily imagine them being sold or repurposed or severely altered somehow, so it is nice to at least have a commitment that my authorship will always be identified.

I was also told that I was one of only two people out of 500 to question the wording of the Handbook agreements in music, and the only one to express concern over “work for hire.” If this is true it’s too bad (though Sterne also reports expressing concerns about work-for-hire, so there must have been at least two of us). But it does indicate that publishers aren’t getting much in the way of push-back from authors on their standard contracts, so the takeaway is that more people should ask for better contracts.

By contrast, I recently negotiated another contract for a chapter in an edited volume, through Oxford’s UK rather than New York offices, and I had a much easier time getting satisfactory changes made. The standard contract used normal copyright transfer rather than work-for-hire. I needed an up front commitment to be able to use the complete chapter in a future book. I was able to get the following added in an addendum:

3 Copyright and Permissions
3.1 The Contributor may reuse the following without obtaining permission:

• up to 10% of the Work providing that this does not exceed 1,000 contiguous words and up to 3 figures or tables.

3.2 The Contributor may:
• Post the Work on a personal website or in an institutional repository;
• Include the Work in derivative works, including extension of the Work into a book-length work;
• Reproduce the Work within coursepacks or e-coursepacks for teaching purposes, with the proviso that the coursepacks are not sold for more than the cost of reproduction;
• Include the Work within a thesis or dissertation.

3.3 Permission is granted on the following conditions:
• that the material reused is  own work and has already been published by OUP;
• and that the intended reuse of the Work is for scholarly, non-commercial purposes;
• and that full acknowledgement is made of the original OUP publication;
• and that reuse on personal websites and institutional repositories includes a link to the OUP website.
Clause 7.6 of Schedule II of this agreement is hereby revoked.

(Clause 7.6 reads “This Agreement sets forth the entire agreement between the parties regarding the subject matter hereof and supersedes and revokes all prior discussions, arrangements and agreements written or oral relating thereto.”)

In my view this is excellent. It covers basically everything I really want from a contract, and it was easy to achieve after a bit of back and forth and clarification. And it is much better than what I could get from the Oxford Handbook contracts. This may be a difference between UK and New York, or just that the Handbooks are using a different model. But I thought I should put it out there to let other people know what can be negotiated.

Pitt Childhood Studies Speaker Series: Allison Pugh, Wednesday, April 2, 4:30pm, 324 Cathedral of Learning

On April 2 the Pitt Childhood Studies Speaker Series is hosting a talk by the sociologist Allison Pugh, titled “The Theoretical Costs of Ignoring Childhood: What Children Have to Tell Us About Inequality, Independence, and Insecurity.” I’ll be giving a brief response, along with Dr. Melissa Swauger (Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Sociology). It promises to be an interesting event. If you are in the Pittsburgh area please join us!

April 2, 4:30–5:45pm, 324 Cathedral of Learning.