Happy end-of-the-semester, CHI! I’m excited to announce my project for 2023, tentatively titled “Graduate Labor Rising: Mapping the New Academic Labor Movement.” This project will consider the rise, fall, and rise again of graduate labor organizing in the United States through rhetorical analysis paired with historic and speculative mapping.

Graduate workers in the US began unionizing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but like most unions, academic labor entered a post-Reagan slump characterized by stagnating rates of new unionization, stifling legal barriers to membership, and widespread union busting. However, since 2008, US support for labor organizing has experienced a resurgence. As part of this resurgence, graduate workers across public and private universities are filing for recognition, testing their organizing power (cf. increased strike rates), and increasingly winning new protections and benefits during bargaining. 

Concurrently, there appears to be an ongoing tidal shift from primarily service-oriented structures to justice-focused and/or abolitionist organizing among graduate labor unions. As a part of this shift, graduate labor organizers seek to challenge the boundaries of traditional union demands and, by extension, renegotiate the structure of academic labor and institutions. A preliminary analysis of public-facing materials generated by activist graduate unions indicates that organizers link these demands to larger social justice projects, such as the Movement for Black Lives and #LandBack, that demonstrate how US universities function as extractive, colonial presences even in the present. In response, organizers reappropriate university’s stated values to argue that graduate labor (and academic labor broadly) can push for a new kind of research and education founded in decolonial, anti-racist, queer principles that would better fulfill the promise of “education for all.” While these demands are rhetorical, they are grounded in the material conditions of universities and require a reconsideration of universities’ social geographies and material resource distribution.

Accordingly, this project seeks to 1) map the proliferation of graduate unions in the United States, 2) assess how two case studies of justice-focused/abolitionist organizing rhetorically link their demands to “core” union purview (i.e. how do organizers justify demands like implementing expansive disability protections or defunding university police as within the scope of a labor union), then 3) create a speculative map reflecting how members of a union-in-transition imagine the future of their campus and locality. 

I look forward to challenging my technical skills by learning more about web mapping, georectification, and creating a responsive user experience for desktop and mobile users. For January, I hope to create a landing page for the site before working with community partners to create a map-building workshop. Check back later for more updates, and happy holidays!