While browsing articles especially regarding the adjunct professors at American Universities I was missing a word, that would have been used liberally in any article about similar situations in the German speaking world: precariat (Das Prekariat in German). For about the past ten years it has made its way into our vocabulary in different flavours. The one most fitting in this context is academic precariat. It is originally a definition/term coming from sociology. For context - general cornerstones of being part of the precariat:

  • short term employment, low job security
  • employee has very little influence on the nature of employment and is not well integrated at work
  • employee has little recourse in either social or legal regulations
  • low income, therefore no or low security regarding livelihood
  • no or low benefits (as in pension, paid holidays, medical coverage)

Especially in academic settings (Akademisches Prekariat) there is an expectation of giving time and work for free, short term contracts for the duration of a semester or less at rates that are below a living wage. Tied into it is a high uncertainty of whether or not the academic will be rehired the next term or if they will have to move and uproot their whole life just to continue to exist in the academic setting. This is also the first working class in history expected to have more education than their jobs require. Well, maybe not strictly in a university setting, but more generally speaking relatively high levels of education are expected, even if the temp job itself is rather mundane.
The precariat is (not yet?) a coherent class, as it comprises not only the academic precariat (often young, highly educated people), but parts of the former working class, sliding down the social scale as manual labour becomes ever more scarce, migrants with few rights and other, more miscellaneous groups like the generationally un- and underemployed.

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What my question is - is this simply too academic/too left a concept so that it is not used in American context or was it that I just haven’t seen it here in context - like the adjunct discussion?