By Nazima Kadir
Nazima Kadir is an urban anthropologist with a PhD in anthropology from Yale. Her book, “The Autonomous Life?,” published by Manchester University Press, is based on living and working in a squatters community in Amsterdam for over 3 years. Prior to squatting, she received awards from the Fulbright program and the U.S National Science Foundation. She’s lived and worked all over the world, including the U.S, Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia, and Northwest Europe. She is fluent in English and Spanish and can chat in Dutch. She currently lives in London with her husband and works in design and innovation.
[KK: This came as a message on Facebook, and Nazima kindly agreed to allow me to post it, and requested that it not be anonymous. Thank you, Nazima.]
I’ve corresponded with you before and thought you would find the following story interesting, given your tireless campaigning against the exploitation of labor in universities.
My book, The Autonomous Life?, was shortlisted for the BBC Radio 4 Ethnography Award. However, I learned a couple of days before they were to announce the winner that I was removed from the shortlist because I am not employed by a UK university.
I think this story is interesting because it regards how rampant precarious labour conditions and low wages in UK universities impact on scholarship. Its also about the refusal of institutions such as the BBC and the British Sociological Association to confront what this means for scholarship and the state of academia.
I moved to the UK in 2011 amidst a context of immense public sector cuts. Despite a PhD in Anthropology from Yale, I could not find work in a university. I refused to pursue part time lectureships because I did not believe in subsidizing universities with free/low paid labor. As a result, I went into the design world and have been working as an applied anthropologist successfully.
My book was published in 2016 and this year, I was invited by Radio 4 to be on Thinking Allowed, a program that showcases ethnographies. I submitted my book for the annual Ethnography Award and within 2 months, learned that the book was on the shortlist. However, last week, I was devastated to learn that the book was removed because I was not associated or employed by a UK university.
Instead of using my case as an opportunity to discuss how talented, early career researchers may be dissuaded from an academic career due to poor labour conditions, sadly, Radio 4 has decided to remove my book from the shortlist. I think that this is a really interesting case because despite the quality of the academic work and the relative ‘premium’ credentials, the work has been excluded because I refuse to participate in an exploitative labour environment.
I’m quite disappointed with the program-Thinking Allowed– which picks the shortlist and the winners, because it specializes in ethnography, which means understanding the context of a situation. In this situation, I explained to them that 1) I couldn’t find a job in academia and 2) the available jobs, if any, were so low paying and precarious, that I refused to participate. Yet, this information made no difference.