Social media activism and casualisation

A collection of resources related to the role of social media activism for higher education casualisation, to support my talk at the #blasst conference at Macquarie University, 10 April 2015


  1. Social media (including Twitter, YouTube, and blogs) are often used as part of collective action. Many studies, such as the one linked below, have found concrete evidence of the effectiveness of social media for political engagement. Howard and Hussain (2013) have called social media activism "democracy's fourth wave". It is commonly used for social media campaigns and grassroots organising, from overthrowing regimes to efforts to raise the minimum wage in the United States.
  2. Adjuncts and casuals have been actively using Twitter and blogs to share stories and resources, build community, and provide emotional support. As an autonomous and decentralised space, (almost) anyone can contribute their stories anonymously and network with other sessional staff in similar situations in a way that is not controlled by institutions.
  3. These spaces allows casual academics to share their every day stories of #adjunctlife. Sharing these small moments of the effects of casualisation helps to build emotional support among casuals. They also illustrate that these moments are symptoms of a much larger problem, rather than isolated incidents.
  4. It's also a key way to share resources, studies, and calls for change among adjuncts... as long as they are looking.
  5. Blogs such as CASA, Adjunct Project, and PrecariCorps have been vital in bringing disenfranchised and disparate casual workers together. The collection of data on casual contracts and pay rates has been particularly valuable when such inquiries are often rebuffed or obscured by institutions. The sharing of individual, personal stories of the effects of casualisation are another powerful part of the collective use of social media.
  6. Twitter is also particularly useful for casuals when used at conferences. This "conference backchannel" allows the participants to report on what is happening for those not able to attend, add additional resources, reflect, share, and question the content being presented, and make connections with others. When not on the official program, casualisation is often discussed on the conference hashtag and allies can be identified. (This is how I met Marina and many others!)
  7. But how effective or valuable can a Twitter hashtag be? How well do tweets translate into action or change?
  8. Many tweets and blogs are published anonymously, and with good reason, to avoid institutional backlash. Publishers of critical blogs or tweets could easily find themselves in hot water for sharing these sorts of stories which could easily cause institutional embarrassment. At the same time, most of these sorts of tweets are unsubstantiated and only show one side of the story, and institutions, departments, or individuals are not able to respond to them.
  9. I myself have often backed down from posting blogs or tweets on casualisation or other higher education topics out of fear it might endanger my position in my current institution.
  10. Twitter is organised folksonomically, that is, by hashtags decided by the users. As individuals decide how to tag or categorise their tweets and resources, it can often be difficult to find or organise the material unless you already know the about the tags. Multiple, differing tags can be used for the same or similar material (such as #auscasuals, #adjunctlife, #adjunctchat, #highered, #profchat... and so on). Twitter is also not very effective at archiving or collecting tweets over time - it is at its most useful for reporting live or timely events. Valuable tweets can easily be lost in the never-ending stream of new updates.
  11. Like all social networks, Twitter requires users to follow people or conversations they are interested in. Depending on who you follow or who follows you, your experience of Twitter may vary widely. And as we tend to only follow those we know or are interested it, we must ask just how far our message is spreading beyond our own allies. It is also important to remember that despite the democratic potential of social media, there are many who do not have the same access to devices or the internet, or who lack the social media literacies to participate.