Notes on: Arday, J. (2022b) 'More to prove and more to lose': race, racism and precarious employment in higher education. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 43 (4): 513 – 33.

Dave Harris

[The abstract says this uses a CRT framework and explores the experiences of staff of colour. 18 participants across 10 universities, focus groups, three key themes, limitations, recommendations for future practices. For me, it has several problems, however. Unlike some of the sources cited here,especially  Benach et al. and Ferrie, Arday does not examine the ambiguities in the term 'precarious employment' which, among other things, clearly affect attempts to measure 'it'.  Those studies also recommend a longitudinal multimethodological study as the best way to proceed and it is not at all clear why Arday has chosen a small qualitative study instead. he does end by suggesting more quantitative analysis might be needed,but he does not much develop consider even the basics like whether race is more important in determining casualised status than gender. Ableism is not discussed, although the UCU Report he cites does so, odd given his other interests. Social class has long vanished as a separate variable of course. His respondents will probably have strong opinions already, as a further problem with what Ferrie calls 'self-report' data, which  in her case often affects the recording of pathological effects like unhappiness,  insecurity, sometimes even illness and depression as well.

Any Tory spokesperson could point out the obvious omission of any claimed 'positive' effects of precarious employment too -- some people claim to like its flexibility and this possibility might have been allowed for at least.

Still on the political front, how on earth does a CRT stance line up with the methods and policy recommendations in this study? A paragraph on CRT ends with saying that counterstories are crucial -- see below -- but are not used. Liberal policies seem to be recommended at the end -- monitoring, proper clarification etc. And all to strengthen 'rights' for Black university employees!]

Precarious employment is increasing especially after the pandemic and this has brought rising levels of in work poverty [lots of references]. There are limits on levelling up and a fall in international competition, lack of social security protections, public health issues, declines in psychological and physical health [very expert summary], childcare.

This is about the impact of the gig economy in HE especially looking at staff of colour, it draws on CRT and thematic analysis [!] It argues that systemic racism plays an integral part in existing cultures. The study 'emanates' from the marginalised voices of 18 black, Asian and minority ethnic members of staff across the Russell group and post 19 institutions. Eradicating precarity means promoting egalitarianism and eliminating exploitation [well, it leaves standard 'Fordist' forms of exploitation].

CRT is explained via Delgarno and Stephancic,  Dixson and Rousseau Solorzano and Yosso define it in education. Further references include Collins on centrality and intersectionality, race as a social context, whiteness as property the value of experiential knowledge, the difficulties of recognising racism and the need to include in research and intersectionality. Whiteness as property is developed to become associated 'with other abstract concepts such as time, creativity or education' [according to Mensah and Jackson 2018]. Neutrality, objectivity, colourblindness and meritocracy are all to be challenged because they 'maintain the value of whiteness. Counter storytelling is important [why not use it then?].

A UCU report suggests that one third of all academics are on fixed term contracts, one half of teaching-only academics, two thirds for research-only academics, 30% of HEIs use zero hour contracts, lots of hourly paid and casualisation which reinforces insecurity, UCU goes on to list struggles to pay household bills, to build careers, and to experience emotional and practical consequences, which links with more general studies. It is difficult for staff to resist. Russell group institutions were the worst offenders according to UCU so 'elitism may be a factor serving to reinforce patterns' (516). Apart from that there are correlations with age, gender and race, and women are particularly likely to be negatively impacted.

HESA data reinforces effective gender. barriers Qualitative studies do as well [a string of these, getting a bit repetitive again, 517] there is  'positive research exploring race', especially in disaggregating data, although there is some UCU data suggesting that numbers are concerning.

[Back to general arguments about whiteness] 'standard work arrangements have historically been reserved for white people and men… White supremacy' (517), so the high number of BAME [still] in non-standard work arrangements 'can be seen as a reinforcement of white supremacy and the systematic dehumanisation of people of colour… The concept of whiteness as property'. More research is required.

[Then some repetition again from Kalleberg and Vallas 2018 which does a lot of work]. They ask for disaggregated data especially to disaggregate attributes of precariousness. Hence the need to unpack 'the individual experiences of BAME staff [unlike most of his own work]. Implications for this study?

[Very similar but abbreviated preamble, small numbers e.g. mixed heritage 4, Asian or Asian British three. 'The majority' were on precarious contracts. Claims to have done thematic analysis on 'latent themes 'updated Clarke and Brown, citing Hylton 2012 for what a CRT framework is. He is particularly interested in 'the sociocultural contexts and structural conditions that underpin individual accounts… Such as social constructionism, whiteness as property and the centrality of race'. 'Within a CRT framework, [?] thematic analysis can: "allow the researcher to study the power relations informing reality and to engage in emancipatory investigations that value the voices of the oppressed populations (Kiger and Varpio 2020,2)" (519). So he familiarises himself with the data, developed a coding frame and then identifies key themes, iteratively of course. He says the design and analytic process were invariably shaped by disciplinary knowledge and epistemology and his positionality.

He is a Black male academic and has been on several precarious contracts in HE although not when he was conducting this research. He gained practical and theoretical understanding and personal understanding and this provoked disorientation and anxiety. He was both insider and outsider. He was inevitably subjective and had researcher bias, but this was mitigated through the power of storytelling [?] and a recognition in CRT that identity shaped research and is part of the life of the researcher. He attempted to maintain the status as a reflexive researcher.

Each participant completed self-administered anonymous questionnaires [very familiar prose, but not stored in ballot boxes this time, rather 'submitted virtually' 520]. The usual monitoring information and comments about racism to develop focus group and interview schedules. They had to document at least one experience of racism linked to employment. Then they had individual semistructured interviews and unstructured focus groups and the results drew on excerpts from the two focus group discussions each of two hours . All voices are included. All sessions were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim again, written notes, flipcharts facilitating a reflexive process. Each one encouraged to express their views [that is mostly same old same old on 520]. Candid conversations were sought [but were they gained?. A four-part topic discussion guide was developed and led by the researcher: '(1) what has/have been your experience (s) of working on precarious contracts? (2) what role has race/racism played in your experience (s) of working on precarious contracts? [Assumes that they have any] (3) what has been the impact of precarious work on your career progression and trajectory? (4) what other impacts (if any) of precarious work have you experienced?

Three themes are identified and sub themes: systemic racism with three sub themes — exploitation, dehumanisation and gendered racism; job insecurity — financial insecurity, lack of worklife balance, mental health and transience; lack of career progression [apparently no sub themes]. These are 'discussed against the existing research landscape'

Systemic racism was a strong theme, lots of feelings of exploitation and dehumanisation, indeed clarity 'is experienced as a form of institutional racism' (521) [them or you?], Racism essential and whiteness as property and normative. There is an unwillingness to name the contours of racism and how it influences employment practices. One quote make these points -- a person complains of being on the same pay grade for seven years compared to her white colleagues, from which she concludes that racism underpins almost everything

The sub theme of exploitation showed a sense that individuals at the top profited from the labour of their ethnic minority workforce — one quote showed this that temporary contracts kept black people '"on the Plantation"', 'ahistorical, pervasive and potentially dramatic component to their experiences' (522). Part-time staff are expected to do preparation and more work generally, two quotes indicated. These experiences 'were directly connected to experiences of racism, which 'speaks to the body of research' [citing the TUC]. This means that 'exploitation is interwoven into university structures as their business models depend on it'.

The sub theme of dehumanisation reveals itself in feelings of distinction between them and us, [one quote] feeling like second-class citizens, feeling replaceable, being demoralised.

The sub theme of gendered racism appears as well, unsurprisingly because 'white people, often male, have a history of instituting and maintaining hierarchies to rank themselves at the top' (523). It is 'unsurprising that female staff of colour did not feel they were seen as equivalent' [another quote referring back to the Runnymede trust and its phrase 'snowy peaks' of white men at the top of universities. Oh – and the first reference to A and M 2018]

Theme 2 job insecurity illustrated by a very brief quote. Sub theme one about financial insecurity again agrees with the UCU survey and is backed by a quote and the feeling of being trapped. Insecurity is described again together with a lack of knowledge of rights. Sub theme two referred to a lack of work – life balance, again illustrated with a short and banal quote, the need to take on other jobs and to sacrifice time with the family again bringing problems of mental health, sub theme three — same pattern short quotes referring to depression and anxiety, again with an insistence that these interact with immigrant and ethnic minority status. Sub theme four mentions transience, which can mean 'migrating to new cities' [same with lots of lecturers] which can produce a sense of displacement and leaving behind families and home. 'Patterns of enforced movement have been shown to deepen racial dominance' [what in all  circumstances?].

Theme three lack of career progression means a lot of repetition about the problems of making progress, attending interviews, the difficulty of building up experience and a strong CV, being forced to move — short brief quotes, all pretty obvious.

The conclusion claims to draw on 'thematic analysis underpinned by a CRT conceptual framework'. It summarises the themes and sub themes and to offer 'detangling discriminatory elements' [sic]. Limitations include the specificity of the participant group, although marginalised voices were brought to the fore. He should have done triangulation though [with what or whom?], and it is important not to 'engender the erasure of particularities spanning the intersection' (528). At least, 'themes pointed towards existence of discriminatory and exploitative cultures within the Academy… Linked to both racism and precarious employment, each often appearing to interact and compound the other, also seemingly moderated by gender'. However, we need to 'exercise caution when interpreting these findings, as quantitative exploration would be required to better discern causality, or to understand the interactive or mediating nature of the factors seemingly at play' [what a strange thing for a CRT enthusiast to say]

[Implications and recommendations]. POC experience racism in the form of precarious employment especially for WOC. Educators and policymakers have to understand this and define and standardise rights and benefits. They should reduce anxiety and confusion. Longer term they need to move away from the business model that devalues and dehumanises professionals as disposable. Precarious employment is still 'a significant failing of the Academy'. Universities should follow initiatives such as the Advance HE's Race Equality Charter, and should consider abolishing precarious employment, or at least: define it and give advice, monitor it, consider early career researchers who are often black and WOC, address the snowy peaks, remember that casualisation produces impacts on motivation and well-being and may affect the building of a valued and stable workforce [what liberal shit]