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Presidential Commentary on AFS “Report on Recent Job Prospects for Folklorists”

Friday, May 25, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rosalind V. Rini Larson
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Dear friends, 

 

Newly published in the AFS Review, our Report on Recent Job Prospects for Folklorists represents a first pass at collecting longitudinal data on the job market in folklore, intended to be of use to new folklorists as they consider possible career trajectories and to academic and public programs for their planning purposes. The report includes a link to download a spreadsheet of the complete data and analysis.

 

All of us in PhD-granting universities are familiar with initiatives across the humanities to imagine the "Next PhD" or to prepare students for "alt-ac" careers: the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation are both funding such efforts and individual universities are convening committees and creating initiatives. These efforts are not wholly new, nor is the reality that many new PhDs in the humanities will build careers outside the academy. But they have taken on urgency with the precaritization of the academy, on the one hand, and, on the other, the recognition of what humanistic perspectives could contribute toward current societal debates and challenges.   

 

I asked the AFS staff to conduct the job census to substantiate my intuition that the folklore job market might actually be somewhat better than that in much of the humanities, both inside and outside the academy. If true, this would be an aid to recruitment to the field and a point of importance to academic programs as we make our cases for support to administrators. The present report is only a step: we need data on the number of job-seeking folklorists produced by our academic programs, and then data from other fields to compare the ratio of jobs to job-seekers. All of these numbers are inherently fuzzy: what constitutes a folklore job (or, indeed, an "English" or "anthro" job) is debatable. What constitutes a folklore PhD is debatable, given our multiple academic frameworks, as is even what constitutes a job-seeker, given the fluidity of career paths. Still, the report is suggestive, demonstrating the existence of about 35 capital-F “folklore jobs” and another 20 referencing cultural heritage or other key terms. From the responses I have so far been able to collect from academic programs, my best guess is that the field produced no more than 12 PhDs and 15 terminal MAs within the same period. (This excludes students who have a strong folklore component and participate in AFS but are on the market in rhetoric and composition, Chinese language pedagogy, and so on.) And, of course, in the week following the cutoff for our data collection, the AFS Career Center posted a three-year lectureship in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard, a one-year renewable lectureship at USC, and a folklore librarian position at Indiana. In short, at present we apparently have more new folklore jobs than we have new folklorists, suggesting that our major challenge lies rather with long-term precarity. 

 

In addition, the job census substantiates the reality that an alt-ac job market already exists for folklorists: the field has a public humanities infrastructure, created by folklorists themselves, and our particular skills are already recognized as relevant in a variety of locations. These points are not new to folklorists, but academic administrators are not always aware of them. Many of the new alt-ac initiatives assume that the humanities will have to begin pretty much ex nihilo in claiming their value to employers or in creating opportunities.

 

In so small and differentiated a field, of course, the jobs on offer will not provide anything like an exact match for the skills, interests, and personal situations of particular graduates. The report is also of interest for what it says about where the jobs are and what specialties and skills are required. To be sure, no one should choose a professional direction based on a one-year synopsis of the job market, but students may want to survey these job titles and look back at the job ads themselves to think about how they might be able to position themselves in the future. Folklorists remain adept at constructing their own niches and unfortunately the unpredictability of the moment will continue to necessitate such exercises of ingenuity. 

 

AFS will survey job openings again and work on how to analyze this data more fully in future, and you can help. While we seek more information from academic programs about the number of new graduates added to the workforce annually, we ask that you send notice of relevant job openings for posting in the AFS Career Center. We also invite you to share your comments and questions for further consideration—let AFS know how we can help in providing overviews of our collective challenges and opportunities. 

 

Thanks to AFS Graduate Assistant Roz Rini Larson for her careful attention and thoughtfulness in producing this first report! 

 

Dorothy Noyes

AFS President



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