The Hedge Knight and the Adjunct Professor

There’s a lot of similarity between the casual/adjunct/temporary-contract academic, and the Hedge Knights of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. For, in Martin’s fictional world, Hedge Knights are indeed knights, they have the title (having been knighted by another knight), but having no secure place of employment and allegiance – they are not bound to a Noble Lord, and are not provided with regular support. Instead, they must travel from place to place, taking employment as they can, gathering their meagre resources to attend tourneys from time to time where they compete with other knights for glory and wealth.

The adjunct too: having received a PhD, a title bestowed only by fellow PhDs. And indeed, as with Hedge Knights, ‘who knighted you’ matters. Lineage matters indeed. Lacking allegiance, I mean, “academic affiliation”, and support, “full-time long-term contract, or a TT”, they travel from place to place, picking up whatever work they can find (adjuncts fill out a surprisingly large amount of university teaching rosters, they also pick up the grunt work – marking, TAing, etc. – that other, more prestigious academics are ‘beyond’. They too gather, at great personal cost, at the annual rounds of tourneys, I mean conferences, where they hope to make a name for themselves, enough to build their research profile, get noticed by some noble lord, (aka Hiring Committee), and finally land a place in a hall, under the shield of a prestigious Lord, who will outfit them properly and stave off the Hedge Knight, aka adjunct’s, greatest (and real) fear: destitution and death.

There’s nothing romantic about this, and casting adjucts as Hedge Knights may have that deleterious effect. But adjunctification of Higher Ed, as a product of neoliberalism and a (by?)-product of capitalism, does no favours to adjuncts, but rather relies on a continuous, hungry pool of them. Hedge Knights are no romantic fantasy, indeed they’re just a (a-historical) fantasy. Adjunct life, however, is not.

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