Building the Bootleg University

Event Date: 

Thursday, January 9, 2014 - 6:00pm to 7:30pm

Event Location: 

  • Columbia College Chicago - Ferguson Hall
  • 600 S. Michigan
  • Chicago
  • IL
  • Talk

Conference Title: Subconference of the MLA “Resisting Vulnerable Times” Program

Session/Panel: Roundtable: Resisting Precarity

Talk Title: Building the Bootleg University

The MLA Subconference held its first meeting in January 2014, running one day before and one day concurrently with the MLA Convention in Chicago, IL. It was organized by 8 graduate students at 5 different universities in the span of about 5 months of Skype conversations. Some of our goals were simple: to see if our peers and others would reject or embrace a “shadow” conference; to register and discuss the ample frustrations that exist with academic and professional organizations such as, but not limited to, the Modern Language Association; to provide a safe space in which to discuss those frustrations, as well as the psychological and affective impacts of economic precarity.

But we want to be clear: the goals of the Subconference were and are not limited to the immediate, the discursive, or the spatial. The Subconference is also intended as a site for forging relationships between academic and non-academic activists, proposing and re-educating ourselves on the use of direct action on our home campuses and in our communities, and understanding militant research as a way to map, take advantage of, and destroy the financial and power structures of universities.

In other words, we convened the Subconference because we believe that there are tactics and strategies in activist and labor union toolboxes which are powerful and effective but which we, as “professionals,” have dismissed, forgotten, or perhaps never been exposed to. Because of this, professional organizations have failed to confront the jobs crisis in a way that is resistant to and critical of the private market’s role in dictating the terms of higher education and of our labor. This, and not some misguided understanding of the MLA as for-profit institution as has been suggested, is why it is necessary to work outside academic organizations in order to transform our collective futures.