Open and Invisible Labour

I had the chance to attend SFU’s OA week panel on Open But Not Free: Invisible Labour in Open Scholarship.  I love a session title that suggests there’s going to be some critical engagement around open because I think it’s important to keep advancing the field.  I appreciated that this was an almost all female panel, with a really good representation of perspectives that included an international graduate student, a faculty member from a research institution, a faculty member from a polytechnic university, and an internationally focussed scholar from an organization that does incredible work in open in developing countries.

Invisible labour in higher education is real and we encounter it at all levels of the organization and at all stages of program development and delivery.  But I was left thinking that open labour was being  conflated with existing (and arguably longstanding)  higher ed problems.  Grad students working too hard for too little pay?  That is a higher ed problem.  Faculty, especially adjuncts and sessionals are too overloaded and can’t be asked to do one more thing? That is a higher ed problem.  Challenges with who owns IP rights for any academic work?  That is a higher ed problem.  I found myself playing a language game, substituting open for “geography” or “course development” or “textbook selection” or “research” and instead of pointing to a critical discussion that needs to happen about open, it underlined a need for a critical discussion about higher ed labour practices.

But within these tensions lie considerable opportunities.  First of all, as one of the panelists and several audience members pointed out, open can benefit students, scholarly communities, knowledge dissemination and creation, and in many cases –  in particular publicly funded institutions – it’s the right thing to do.  Open gives us an opportunity to think differently about how we do things and why we do them the way we do, whether it’s how departmental politics and practices result in increased or unfair distribution of labour, whether  it’s how teaching and learning centres and libraries may be underused by faculty or departments who are layering on open, or whether the whole idea of open as an add-on, as opposed to a replacement for inefficient academic practices, should be challenged.  Maybe open can be the catalyst that gets us thinking about how to address higher ed invisible labour, but I’m not convinced it should be seen as the problem.


One Comment

  • Clint Lalonde

    Thanks for blogging about this. I watched the convo unfold on Twitter, but didn’t have the full context.

    I agree that this is something that is systematic and not unique to open.

    I think Lucas made the point regarding the connection between passion and unpaid work, and how there is a line there that many in academia dance along continuously. If you are involved in academia, it is likely because you have a deep passion for your discipline/subject area. You are willing to put in the long hours and free labour because you are passionate about the subject. But that passion can sometimes leave you vulnerable and exposed, and sadly, there are many who will exploit that passion.

    I have seen it happen in other fields as well (thinking of friends and family who work in social services where burnout and exploitation – whether implicit or explicit – is real).

    Issues of free labour in academia are a wider, systemic problem. Regardless of open, those problems will still exist.

Leave a Reply