Invisible Adjunct and Heteroglossia

Bakhtin and Heteroglossia

  • As speakers, we do not get our words from the dictionary, but from “other utterances, and mainly from utterances that are kindred to ours in genre, that is, in theme, composition, or style” (1986, p. 87).
  • We hear a range of utterances from many layers of society with varying degrees of authoritativeness, social power, and familiarity—Bakhtin calls such utterances heteroglossia—and we “assimilate, rework, and re-accentuate” them; we unconsciously assign them levels of “our-own-ness” and make them part of our “unique speech experience,” our utterances (Bakhtin, 1986, p. 89).
  • This can be a very subversive process, especially when speakers reclaim the institution's terms and use them in a powerful critique of the institution. Bakhtin calls such a usage a hybrid construction:
  • an utterance that belongs, by its grammatical (syntactic) and compositional markers, to a single speaker, but that actually contains mixed within it two utterances, two speech manners, two styles, two 'languages,' two semantic and axiological belief systems (1998, p. 39)

Invisible Adjunct: Web Presence

The name “Invisible Adjunct” alone indicates a reappropriation of the institutional term “adjunct”; while the adjunct might not be visible, her blog is, for academics, a significant presence on the web. She is not seen, but she is certainly heard.

On Invisible Adjunct, underneath the title is the slogan,

From the margins of academe:
Occasional thoughts on higher education, campus politics, the use and abuse of adjunct faculty, the academic 'job market,' and various other absurdities. By an invisible adjunct assistant professor of history.

Invisible Adjunct (the person) is anonymous; the only personal information she has disclosed is that she is a white married woman with a two-year-old son, and that she is from Canada, but we do not know if she still lives in Canada. She does not indicate at which institution she is employed, or even provide hints such as “a large, land grant institution in the Midwest.”

By my estimation, her blog is read by hundreds of people in and out of academia each day, including undergraduates, graduate students, adjuncts, tenure-track and tenured professors, and people who went to graduate school and worked in academia for a time but have left (postacademics). She has over eighty weblogs on her blogroll, and all but about ten link back to her. A large number of people who are not on her blogroll link to her on their blogrolls. Her posts generate a great deal of discussion; each post has an average of about forty comments underneath it.

Utterances on Invisible Adjunct

  • Instead of the success stories or “good enough” stories about adjuncts we see in the Chronicle, the discourse on Invisible Adjunct focuses almost exclusively on adjuncts and postacademics who express their anger at the current state of the institution of higher education.
  • Instead of the bootstrap, personal responsibility rhetoric in the Chronicle, criticism is aimed squarely at the institution and, unlike the Chronicle, the genre is less institutionalized; in other words, while the stories in the Chronicle are selected by the editors and more ideological gatekeeping takes place, the utterances on Invisible Adjunct are moderated by Invisible Adjunct only, thus allowing for other arguments to be made and other critiques to be stated.
  • In addition, the anonymity enables posters to be more honest than they would be otherwise. Most of the time, people who post comments to Invisible Adjunct use pseudonyms or no name at all, allowing for a forum that, while public and visible, is also underground.
  • The discussions on the blog are less like rhetorical genres, in which hierarchy is usually taken into account with each utterance, and more like what Bakhtin calls “familiar and intimate genres,” which “perceive their addressees in exactly the same way: more or less outside the framework of the social hierarchy and social conventions, 'without rank,' as it were. This gives rise to a certain candor of speech (which in familiar styles sometimes approaches cynicism” (Bakhtin, 1986, p. 97).

Indeed, the speech about academic labor at Invisible Adjunct is much more pessimistic than at the Chronicle. If an undergraduate student posts, members of the community will often tell him or her not to go to graduate school. When graduate students post, they might be advised to drop out of graduate school and take a nonacademic job, or at least to have a solid backup plan in place in case they don't get tenure-track positions. When adjuncts post, they are often encouraged to leave academia and find a new career. When tenure-track and tenured faculty post, posters will sometimes rather sternly tell them that they should qualify any of the claims they posit by foregrounding the fact that they are very lucky to have the jobs they have, that they are in the privileged minority, and that they should not be so smug as to think that they are in their positions because they are more intelligent and more productive; they are just lucky.