History is dead, Italy is alive!

Okay, folks, I’m going to say some controversial things now about history and culture. The historians and others with a keen interest in monuments of the past might take umbrage. A caveat – I’m a great admirer of antiquity and believe there are compelling reasons to study it and immerse oneself in ancient ruins. But I’m a cultural theorist, I focus on everyday life, and this trip is reminding me of some of the reasons why I chose to do this. Are you ready?

I’ve now been in three beautiful Italian cities, and in each I have felt completely enveloped by the past, but deeply engaged with the present. Of course, I’m here to research the present, but also the past, that is, what were the traditional dishes, mealtime habits, preparation methods when the biggest waves of Italian migrants were moving to Australia, and what are they now – how have things changed? To do this research, I have to talk to as many people as I can, sample as many dishes as possible, and wander as many markets as I can find. (NB Yes, I realise I have the best PhD ever and I’m ‘lucky’ and I will remind you all that luck is where preparation meets opportunity, and I seized mine when the idea arose. ;-))

While here, I sometimes feel like a tourist, and surely in some sense I am, though I am legitimised by having a scholarly mission. And of course I am sometimes surrounded by tourists, especially in Roma, which was awash with vast crowds of them. While in Bologna, where there are few tourists, I first thought about how the Bolognese conduct their modern, daily lives amongst such stately medieval grandeur with hardly a thought, it seems. While I would stop to gaze up at the frescos in the portici, they would stride purposefully by – their city’s history is just part of the landscape, a comfortable old blanket much beloved but hardly noticed as one sits down to read a book on a cold winter’s night.

After a few days, I realised I had not even considered entering any of the magnificent old churches, and I had a pang of guilt. But then I thought about how I would not learn about the daily rhythms of these people by wandering solo through their ancient religious houses, and I was here to learn those rhythms – entering the churches would in fact turn me into a tourist, and distract me from the task at hand. I carried on with my eating, talking and watching on the streets – the architecture a backdrop for the quotidian movements of the fair denizens of Bologna. I even made a note to myself that, ‘I want to feel the city’s pulse, not explore its cemeteries… I don’t need to enter its tombs, I need to find its living.

And then came the unexpected detour to Roma (it’s a long story that involves two busy parents who failed to lodge Oscar’s passport application before my departure, necessitating an emergency trip to the embassy in Roma so I could sign a form in front of a consulate officer – #adminfail #bureaucracyfail). I had no intention of spending time in Roma – was quite happy that my trip would be in smaller cities that would not be at the height of their tourist seasons. My view of the Italian capital was surely somewhat affected by a) the unforeseen bureaucratic debacle that led me to cancel flights, book a hotel and jump on a train; b) my desire to be in smaller cities; c) the fact that I despise crowds of tourists, even if I am but one more of their number.

So, Roma. At @orientalhotel’s advice, I went searching for the Campo dei Fiori for the market there. I was last in Roma 19 years ago, so I felt obliged to march past some of the monuments on the way – I went by the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain. They remain tributes to a long, rich history, and marvels of architecture and engineering. I took some of the mandatory photos. I shouldered through tour groups following guides with coloured ribbons hoisted on sticks with my teeth clenched.

The market at Campo dei Fiori was very grounding. I wandered through the stalls, gazing at the riotous life of the vegetables, bumping against locals doing their daily shopping. My forehead cleared, my shoulders lowered, and I found a little cafe just out of the way with no tourists and wood-fired pizzas. I spoke with the padrone – who was, of course, Sicilian (many seem to be?), and who graciously gave me some advice on where I must go for a certain wine, a certain dessert… interesting that his tips were immediately about food, even though I didn’t mention my research.

As I passed through the teeming hordes at the Trevi Fountain later, I actually had to fight tears at how much I was detesting the theme park feeling of everything. It felt impossible to have any sense at all of the rhythms of the Romans during this height of tourist season – instead even the diverse nationalities of the throngs were homogenised into a single category of Those Who Seek Monuments and Take Photos of Themselves in Front of Them. When they eat, it seems almost incidental, and I’m sure most aren’t even aware of how poor a representation of Italian food they are eating in the many clones of ristoranti proclaiming to have ‘Real Italian Food’ (Note to tourists: you’re in Italy, if they need a sign to say they have ‘real Italian food’, they probably don’t). The food at those ristoranti, by the way, reminded me a lot of the generic ‘Italian’ food sold at many restaurants on Lygon Street in Melbourne, though there is an increasing supply of quality, contemporary, regional Italian food on offer in our capital cities.

I don’t know what interactions the tourists might have with locals, but I suspect it’s only with service staff – which, admittedly is a problem for most travellers – how to penetrate the self-contained extant social groups of the locals? My thoughts on dining alone and Michael’s on why don’t we break down more social barriers when sharing a table in public explore some of those ideas.

This story ends in Palermo – I could not have chosen a starker contrast to Bologna’s understated elegance and formality than here. Palermo is steeped in its own rich cosmopolitan history and the crumbling, ornate palazzi are as visually rich as Bologna’s medieval austerity and Renaissance charm. The splendid chaos of its architectural mix – Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Renaissance and baroque – is matched by its multicultural population, and here passion is palpable. Beware the woman who catches a Siciliano’s eye – a warm grin, ‘ciao bella’ and intentful gaze are the consequence.

In Bologna the stranger is largely unnoticed and might have very few social encounters, leaving her to move silently from one church to another, and in Roma, the stranger is so common as to be perhaps disdained, and moves in herds between sites of antiquity that have very little feeling of connection to the city’s present culture – again, just a backdrop for a busy modern life. In Palermo, the stranger might attempt to move unmolested between monuments, but the narrow footpaths, frequent markets, and flashing eyes are unlikely to let you miss its pulse. Here, the walls are literally alive with vines and flapping laundry on its many little balconies – history is ingrained in the daily rhythms.

The markets in Palermo are a real joy – extensive stalls of colourful produce, masses of fish, loads of beautiful olives – the stallholders shouting across to each other and laughing in baritone. And in every little cafe or ristorante, chances are strong that a local will say hello to you, ask where you’re from, and then tell you how they’ve a) been to Australia b) would like to go or c) have relatives there.

I walked into the Cathedral, because it was there. I sat down in a pew and tried to reflect on my reticence to visit these beautiful monuments, hoping for divine inspiration. I watched the tourists flowing in and out, some quiet, many chatting, some on the phone, all taking photos. And then it happened, I got my sign… a man dashed in, head jerking about looking manically to see what he ‘needed’ to see. He stopped dead centre, took a quick photo of the altar, turned on his heel and dashed out, still manically trying to catch what little he could at speed. What has he learned? What has he gained or contributed by this spot of sightseeing? Not a lot, I will presume to say. I hope he then went and meandered slowly through the market, enjoying the excellent street food and chatting with the locals about their favourites, but I doubt it.

The 18th International Ethnological Food Research Conference

This week in Finland has been a stimulating blur of presentations and conversations about food, punctuated daily with doses of pickled herring. The 18th International Ethnological Food Research Conference was hailed by all as a great success, bringing together international scholars from a variety of disciplines to consider the historical, cultural, sociological, nutritional, political and ethical issues around the production, preparation and consumption of food. As well as many excellent papers, the conference had a thoughtful social program of dinners and outings, offering us all more opportunities for meeting and developing new friendships and possible collaborations.

Some highlights from the papers, in chronological order as I heard them:

  • Johanna Mäkelä of the National Consumer Research Centre in Finland gave a detailed overview of ‘The Making of Finnish Food Culture’, highlighting competing discourses of Finnish food culture, such as: ‘it’s rich and multidimensional’, ‘there is no food culture in Finland’, ‘healthiness’, and ‘food as a central part of culture’. Such discourses exist in all nations and indeed many regions or even cities, of course. Johanna’s comments that almost 20% of the Finnish people consider pizza to be one of Finland’s national dishes resonated with Australia’s cultural borrowings as I wrote about in New Matilda earlier this year.
  • Nancy Yan of Ohio State University spoke about questions around ‘authenticity’ in the Chinese American context, asserting that authenticity can either disempower or empower, that it is ‘pervasive but limiting’ and that rather than dismantle the concept, perhaps we need to reframe it. She argued a case for ‘multiple authenticities’, and raised the particularly interesting question – ‘why does location determine authenticity?’ That is, why can’t a dish such as chop suey, invented outside of China, stake a claim to being an authentic Chinese dish? I would probably answer that its stake is in Chinese American cuisine, but that arguably the most pressing question is why is it important to the producers and consumers of chop suey that it have any claim to authenticity in the first place?
  • Eldbjørg Fossgard of the University of Bergen in Norway offered a history of the ‘Cultural and Symbolic Aspects of Everyday Meals in 19th & 20th C Norway’, which sketched out the shift from practices of children eating alone in the kitchen to moving to the family table over time. The changing values around raising children and the importance of role modelling as the nuclear family became more important than extended family models led to discourses of teaching children manners, hygiene and healthy eating habits. This talk resonated with me as I had received an email from my 10 year old Oscar that morning responding to an email I’d sent lauding the virtues of pickled herring for breakfast, in which he wrote: ‘The brekky didn’t sound that good but when you said it was delicious I wanted some.’
  • Ken Albala of the University of the Pacific followed up with a discourse analysis of what food scholars are saying about the perceived decline in the family meal and its social impact. He ultimately concluded that very few in his survey seemed overtly concerned that the declining importance of the family meal signals social decay. Those most likely to be concerned about such changes were in countries where traditions are changing rapidly, whereas those in countries where agro-industry is a fait accompli were very unlikely to note concerns.
  • Christian Coff from the University College Sealand in Denmark gave an excellent presentation on ‘Food Ethics in Everyday Food Consumption’. Christian kindly gave me the copy he’d brought of his book ‘The Taste for Ethics: An Ethic of Food Consumption’, which I’ll write about here on the blog after I read it. Some of his most interesting points included:
    • Ethical traceability – the story of the food should be traceable (in the EU traceability is law, but stops at the retailer – there is no compulsion to pass the information on to the consumer).
    • There are many philosophical schools of thought on ethics, but some of the most compelling perhaps include Honnerth’s notion of ‘consciousness of injustice’ – thinking about ethics in terms of relationships. Food is a relationship, originating from nature and undergoing a transformation from the natural to the cultural.
    • ‘The vision of the good life with and for others in fair food production and consumption practices’ – that is, you cannot enjoy the good life ethically if in order for you to do so you must support or cause some injustice to others.
    • He suggested that the main areas in food ethics include: food security, food safety, nutritional values and production history, and posed the question ‘what about taste?’ – what is its role in considering food ethics?
    • As for food ethics in everyday life, we can consider them at common meals, while shopping and cooking, and via catering outlets (everything from restaurants to hospital canteens).
    • Christian offers a model via the semiotic perspective, where there is the food with its values and qualities as related to two different interpreters, in this case producers and consumers (or suppliers and receivers) – and in between them is the food sign, or the trace, in which case nothing may be signified. The point at which the food is signified or merely leaves a trace is of major significance – how can a consumer have an ethical relationship to his or her food if it is untraceable – the mode of production completely invisible? When the mode of production is invisible, we are left ‘eating secrets’. Agro-industry often has a strong investment in maintaining this opacity – it is not in the interest of a massive pig factory farm (as reported here on boing boing) to show the consumer the horror of the conditions these animals suffer, or they are likely to make different choices. Joel Salatin advocates for making farmers transparent and accountable, as I summarised after hearing him a few months ago.
  • Hanne Pico Larsen from Columbia Univeristy & Susanne Österlund-Pötzsch from Åbo Akademi University in Turku, where the conference was held, gave a very interesting presentation on Marcus Samuelsson, the chef until recently at New York’s Aquavit restaurant, who uses the notion of Ubunto, a word from Zulu loosely translatable as ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’ in his cooking. Samuelsson is ‘multi-ethnic’, being African Swedish now cooking and writing in the United States – and Hanne and Susanne refer to the notion of ‘American plus’ – where there are advantages of being American with a sort of ‘bonus’ non-white ethnicity. They extend the idea, suggesting that ethnic identity in Samuelsson’s work is playful, and that he draws on what they call ‘playful nostalgia’ to make old traditions appealing, also developing a creative hybridity, such as a ‘sushi’ made from pickled herring on a rolled bit of mashed potato. Ultimately, they argued, ubunto enables one to keep multiple and flexible ethnicities.
  • My paper followed directly after Hanne and Susanne, which was timely as I was talking about the importance of maintaining distinctive vernacular foodways in order to have cosmopolitan societies. That is, if one never encounters difference – if hybridity is the new homogeneity – then society stops being challenged by difference and seeking greater openness to and engagement with the Other. I talked about how ‘creative substitutions’ are an essential aspect of successful tactics by migrants at settling homely identities in new lands, but that distinctive traditions and dishes should be respected and to an extent preserved in order to maintain real difference. I also pointed out the inherent ‘dangers’ in insisting on ‘authenticity’ – particularly the dangers of essentialism – but also to the opportunities and affordances for the cosmopolitan project.
  • Déirdre D’Auria from University College Dublin offered a fascinating insight into the historical rise of Italian food as everyday food in Ireland. Interestingly, there is only a very small migrant population of Italians in Ireland, but the many Catholic crossings of the Irish to Rome from 1950 may have been a key factor in the rise of popularity of Italian food. It is a topic worth following further given what I’ve learned in Vietnam, which also has Italian as the fastest growing non-Vietnamese food sector in the country, without a concomitant migrant population to explain its popularity.
  • Håkan Jönsson of Lund University in Sweden gave a very interesting presentation on the ethical aspects of commercialising ethnological research. Pointing to the growing interest in food culture from both consumers and producers, and the nature of glocalisation giving places new values, Håkan believes there is a growing imperative and opportunity for trained ethnologists to provide expertise, in particular to the producers. He warns that as a researcher working for commercial aims, you may end up ‘being an alibi for a traditional line extension product’, and proposes that we should be preparing students for these challenges. Lund University now offers a Master of Applied Cultural Analysis that seeks to provide its students with precisely these research and commercial skills. In the discussion that ensued, Christian Coff pointed out that in fact researchers in this case may end up as ‘tools for the exercise of power’, and I expressed concern that such research training must include ethical training – that surely it is central to scholarship to ensure we are working for the global public good, and not ending up as ‘alibis’.
  • Maria Frostling-Henningsson from Stockholm University in Sweden gave a fascinating paper about her recently concluded research project into ‘Consumer Strategies for Coping with Dilemmas Concerning the Meal and Eating Habits’. The project was particularly interested in examining the gap between intentions and practice, and how people cope with significant gaps. They found that those with children and teenagers were most likely to have a significant gap, whereas empty nesters were much less likely. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common strategy was a ‘justification of non-choices’ – a ‘passive’ strategy that lays responsibility more at the feet of society rather than taking individual responsibility. I was reminded strongly of my post on good cooking and finding time, and my own coping strategies when practice doesn’t measure up to intentions. Two of Maria’s methodologies interested me enormously, one called ZMET, where subjects are asked to choose pictorial representations of their attitudes about food, and another where they asked subjects to write poems about their attitudes. Both seemed very creative ways to engage subjects in multi-faceted ways rather than just straight interviews and observation. In the subsequent question period, Christian again brought a useful philosophical lens when he pointed out that in asking subjects about their intentions and practices, it depends on whether you are asking and answering as a citizen (global good) or as a consumer (individual desires and habits).

There were many other papers worthy of discussion, but I couldn’t go to all of them (we had three parallel sessions each time) and I have here highlighted those I went to that were of most relevance to my own project and interests. The days were incredibly fruitful, the participants wonderfully diverse in discipline, nationality and in fact, age (ranging from late 20s to 93 years old!), leading to many surprising and fascinating discussions. I really hope to be able to attend the 19th IEFRC in 2012 at Lund University, and then to convince them to let the conference move outside of Scandinavia to attract even more scholars from other regions.

The University of Melbourne’s Response to my Resignation from Council

I only just discovered this on Crikey from the 10th of December – it’s Melbourne University’s response to my resignation from University Council (and paywalled, so full text below) – my responses are in italics:

Melbourne University:

Christina Buckridge, Corporate Affairs Manager, University of Melbourne writes: Re. “Why I resigned from the University of Melbourne Council” (yesterday, item 15) & “Leaked email: Teach for free? Melbourne uni councillor calls it quits” (Tuesday item 14).It is regrettable that Tammi Jonas has decided to resign from the University Council where, as member elected by graduate students, she could have raised concerns and had them thoroughly and sympathetically considered.

How disingenuous to suggest that the Melbourne Graduate Student Association (GSA, formerly UMPA) had not been lobbying on the issue of exploitation of casual labour for YEARS – well before my time as President and certainly during. You can read blog entries from that period here. And as an elected member of Council I had repeatedly raised these issues, as I did on just about every university committee before that. The response usually takes one of two forms: a) we don’t know what you’re talking about – our policies don’t allow such things or b) tutoring is all part of training, so of course it’s not going to be that well paid. See the uni’s response below for proof.

Ms Jonas is wrong in claiming that the Arts Faculty made a ‘strategic decision’ to stop paying postgraduates.

Have a look at this blog entry on what was going on in Arts in 2008. To my knowledge, it wasn’t official ‘policy’ to stop paying, but subject coordinators were told not to offer any paid positions guest lecturing, and passed it on to their postgrads, who expressed the quandary it put them in.

Dean of Arts Professor Mark Considine says it has never been suggested that graduate students should give lectures or tutorials for free. While Schools within the Faculty experiencing straitened circumstances might have cut back on the number of guest lectures, it is not the Faculty’s policy to ask people to give tutorials/lectures without payment. Postgraduate students are an important — and paid — part of the Faculty’s tutorial program which rolls on as usual.

Again, the company line simply doesn’t match the reality. See my earlier blog post with stories from real postgrads, some of whom had been asked and were giving guest lectures for free. Is the University suggesting these people are LYING?

Of course, some guest lecturers — retired honorary staff, for instance – may elect to present a lecture pro bono.

The email inviting Ms Jonas to take part in the Melbourne School of Graduate Research (MSGR) 2010 programs should not have been sent; no other postgraduate students have been invited by MSGR to teach into 2010 MSGR programs without payment. MSGR does not condone requiring postgraduate students to work without payment. However, some staff, and very rarely postgraduate students, may volunteer to take part in MSGR student enhancement programs but that is their decision alone — there is no compulsion.

My word. Compulsion is interesting, don’t you think? Of course nobody is strong-armed into working for free, but they’re not employed if they don’t work for too little, or in some cases, don’t agree/offer to guest lecture for free. And for those who believe that tutoring is important to developing their career as an academic, surely such exploitative practices amount to compulsion.

The University’s position is that if people are in employment, they are required to be paid in line with University policy.

Can somebody PLEASE pass that information on to the lecturers who are simply grateful when someone will teach for free since they will otherwise need to fund them out of their already limited grant money (if they even have any)?

Current rates for casual tutors at Melbourne are $104.84 ($125.37 with a PhD) an hour for the initial tutorial and $69.90 ($83.57 with a PhD) for repeat tutorials. These are standard for the industry and comparable to other countries. The hourly rate is way above average wages.

NB: $104.84 is for three hours work, not one – preparation, contemporaneous marking, student consultation & delivery. That is, it’s the same as the pay for marking at $34.94/hour, and some tutors are not paid for marking. Here’s the text from the University’s Personnel and Procedures Manual:

‘Tutorial’ means any education delivery described as a tutorial in a course or unit outline, or in an official timetable issued by the University. A casual staff member required to deliver or present a tutorial (or equivalent delivery through other than face to face teaching mode) of a specified duration and relatedly provide directly associated non contact duties in the nature of preparation, reasonably contemporaneous marking and student consultation

However it is important to note that postgraduate study is usually a full-time occupation and tutoring should not be used as a prime source of income.

And yet if you’re fortunate enough to have a scholarship, you’ll be living below the poverty line, and if not, you’ll certainly need to work, preferably in your field… a conundrum? I have heard sympathetic senior academics make the argument to pay tutors better to management: “We don’t want them to have to work in petrol stations, do we?”

In recent negotiations towards a new enterprise agreement, the University has agreed to increase the casual loading, ensure that all casual marking is paid at a separate marking rate (currently $34.94 per hour) and that casual academics have access to University facilities over semester breaks. The University is committed to improving conditions for casual staff during this round of bargaining.

This is good news, of course, though insufficient. What about paying casual academics when they continue to respond to students out of semester? Or attend student academic misconduct hearings? Or respond to online forums on the uni’s Learning Management System? Or attend meetings?

Also where there is evidence that a casual staff member, or any staff member for that matter, is not being paid in accordance with University policy or that there is a mismatch of expectations about the work they are required to do, the University acts to correct it.

It seems to me that the only action the University usually takes is to quickly deny there was ever a problem. If you believe their official responses, whether at Council, on committees, or in the media, academics (both casual and permanent) are just prone to whinging and are seriously misguided about the ‘reality of the situation’. How patronising, insulting and wrong. Until they stop denying there is a problem, what hope is there that conditions will improve? Analogies with national denialists abound here.

A Recap on the State of Higher Education in Australia

It’s time to pull a number of disparate pieces on issues facing the academy into one place, so why not do it here on my nuts eclectic blog?

Finally, I’d like to finish by pasting in the feedback I received to an email I sent out to a number of sessionals (all postgrads or ECRs, mostly from Arts) at Melbourne University. I asked them: 1) are they paid for guest lecturing, 2) are they provided with office space, and 3) are there other issues with underpayment or unpaid work? Here are their responses in full, with identifying details removed:

December 2009


I have done guest lectures this semester at Melbourne and was paid for them- they were repeats from the year before. I also did some at Deakin and was amazed by how little I was paid as they didn’t seem to have a rate for new lectures (i.e. that you have to write the whole damn thing up and spend about 10 hours on it if you’re never given it before). In this regard, Melbourne seems to be taking into account the work required to generate a new lecture.

At Deakin there is no office space per tutor, but you can apply for a room throughout the semester at a specific time so you can set up a regular consultation time or work before or after classes. I’ve never taken advantage of this, but it’s a nice gesture. You would know the score in Culture and Communication where there is little provision even for sessional coordinators. I’m sure Melbourne would want to at least meet what Deakin is offering.

The biggie in terms of unpaid work at Deakin is the online components of subjects. They have many off-campus students and the students in general seem to use the online sites (the equivalent of the LMS) much more than I’ve ever seen at Melbourne. We don’t ordinarily get paid for this time, but I would always spend maybe 8-10 hours per week on there.

The biggest problem is using sessionals year-in, year-out. In the study I did at Deakin, I found that there were people who had been sessional tutors for 5-10 years, many of whom wanted an ongoing position. One guy at Deakin just got an award for 14 years service or something similar. People should not be sessionals for this long and there needs to be “stepping stone” positions that have a little more job security, but may not have all the trappings of tenure.


  1. I have given a 25 minute lecture (there were three of us making up the entire lecture with 25-minute talks) and no one was paid — as far as I can tell.

    2) we don’t get space as a casual tutor, but I have one as a PhD student, luckily.

    3) I was tutoring in a subject that required us to post and respond to an LMS question every week. This took up a fair bit of time, with no payment to account for it.


    1. Yes I am paid to give lectures. But unless lectures are asked for they are not given to postgrads in our department. I only got one lecture this year and I had to literally beg for it. This is not the coordinators’ fault, the school has no money!
    2. We have office space but it is shared. The worst I experienced this year was one desk and computer for 25 tutors!
    3. I had to mark blogs this semester and I was only paid for 1200 words each while the blogs were supposed to be 2000 words each. It was also made clear to students that they wouldn’t be penalised for writing more than the 200 words. I was marking up to 5000 words and being paid for 1200.

    My main gripe is that there is no way a department (particularly in Arts) can give you any sort of career path or reward long service. I have tutored 10 semesters of classes and will have to apply with everyone else next semester while rationing my money over the summer break with no guarantees.


While I was paid an hourly rate for guest lecturing, the figure really didn’t represent the work in preparation to give the lecture, so I would say that in my experience guest lecturing is pretty underpaid. Especially if, as a tutor for a subject, you are asked to give multiple guest lectures. Instead of recognition as co-coordinator, or what have you, it seems cheaper and easier to be designated as a guest lecturer…

I had office space, but this was only because I’d applied for one as a postgrad through my department, i.e. there was no relation between my work as a tutor and having this office space. Even though I was one of the lucky ones, and I do realise this, the conditions were definitely less than ideal, since students would come for consultations while office mates would be in the room. An uncomfortable inconvenience for all involved – and who’s to say which of us had the most right to the room at the time?

There is a finite provision for payment for student consultations – you probably know what this is, I’ve forgotten. Perhaps five hours per semester? Anyway, this is supposed to include all email correspondence, as well as a weekly office hour, which we are obliged to offer. That’s right – the school/coordinator creates this expectation in the students that there is a weekly office hour to meet with tutors, but at the same time, tutors are told by admin at the end of semester that they will only be paid for 5, or 8, or whatever the set figure is. Let me say that this is a pretty clear example of pressure to do unpaid work! In any case, students come by outside of this office hour, and email traffic is enormous. QOT forms at the end of the teaching period ask so many questions about whether students felt like their teaching staff were supportive/available if they didn’t understand material, etc, so obviously this is a major issue to do with the quality of the school. But not one they are willing to their staff pay for.

I’m sure I’m merely one in a large chorus, but hope this helps,


1 – Yes, I’m paid to give guest lectures and have never been asked to do so without pay

2 – As a casual tutor I share an office – there are two small offices between 20 tutors which is woefully insufficient and despite the timetabling of office hours to try and ensure they don’t clash, they often do. It it is very difficult to listen to student concerns when other tutors are coming and going at the same time.

3 – I think that casual academics in this particular school are basically treated with respect and fairness. We could always get paid more but more of an issue is the lack of career paths – in other areas (eg natural sciences) there are a lot more research fellow positions that people can move into post PhD before going on to an academic B (academic A appointments seem to have died out) but in the Arts/social sciences these are few and far between. The university should be doing a lot more to create early-career academic positions as they will need these people to take over when the baby-boomers all retire.


I would love to respond to your questions! I have been employed at the university as a casual lecturer and tutor over the last two years.

1) I have always been paid for guest lectures and they are offered as paid work.

2) But with no office space. I have been using the communal postgrad office space which can disruptive to others if students wish to discuss anything.

3) The main issue i have with payment for work is pay negotiations that are still happening when a job is offered, which holds up a contract being drawn up. Postgrads should have time to be able to consider these details before accepting the job, but unfortunately there have been instances where this has not yet been resolved before teaching begins.


  1. We are not paid to give guest lectures, but we are told in advance that
    they will be unpaid. So far I have successfully negotiated with individual
    course coordinators that I be paid out of their teaching relief fund. I
    cannot speak for others.

    2. The school offers casual tutors use of two shared rooms with shared
    pcs, but tutors can only use them temporarily (i.e. to the best of my
    knowledge there is no lockable space )

    3. Tutors are not paid to attend lectures, although many do, especially in
    their first year of teaching a subject. More alarmingly, tutors are
    expected to attend meetings with their course coordinators but are not
    paid to do this. I have managed to wrangle pay out of one coordinator,
    declined to meet AT ALL with another for the entire semester of teaching
    (to the course’s detriment) and had to pay one of my own tutors out of my
    own pocket when I was the coordinator for a course.


The issue I have with sessional teaching at Melbourne perhaps doesn’t easily fit into some of the questions you’ve asked – even the last one.

Tutorial and lecture preparation time is underpaid. The simple rule here is to only work for the hours you get cash for. However, it’s completely unrealistic, and prone to cases of self-exploitation from dedicated sessionals with a commitment to high standards. The University knows this, and it’s a difficult issue maintain an argument on – for one thing, it gets caught up in the differing perspectives on the quantity and quality of ‘knowledge work’ measurable within a particular time frame. This is different from a set period of delivering material to a class.

Semester bleed is another issue I’m sure that you’ve heard about already: cases of late work, plagiarism and administrative commitments drag on well beyond the last paycheck.

Something else that bothers me is the inflexibility of coordination of course materials, subject descriptions and course design. To some extent, this covers both sessional and tenured staff – for cutting-edge programs to be developed there needs to be some modification of the massive lead-in to subject proposals (two years advance for the structure of assessment criteria in some cases) – nevertheless it impacts more on the quality of teaching from sessional coordinators since they often cannot deliver material effectively within an outdated framework and have little authority or recourse to adapt structures or the security to take risks (or even the paid hours to manage innovating subjects). This affects labour practices in the sense of morale and quality of teaching, paid or otherwise.

Oh, and also – don’t get me started on new media and labour! The celebrated blogging software from University of Melbourne is a time-sink and massive case of exploitative teaching practice. Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet.


I’ve just finished up as a sessional lecturer/tutor/course co-ordinator this semester, and wanted to give some feedback.

Overall, I think I had things comparitively good – office space, good admin support etc – but there were a couple of points I think it’s worth raising. The main issue I encountered was the assumption that teaching stopped with the final lecture. Given that both the major essay and the exam were after this date, I was effectively not paid at all for the fairly extensive consultation I felt obliged to give students in those weeks. More importantly, from both mine and the students’ perspectives, I think there’s a problem with the assumption that casuals will always be available both during holidays and well into the following semester. When a student has, say, special consideration and is submitting after the due date, there may actually be no one connected with the course around to mark it. Hope this of some help!


No i have never been paid to give a guest lecture – I’m always just told that it will look good on my CV but it doesn’t really to put down a whole lot of separate guest lectures when i have also had an actual lecturing position.

Usually there is one space offered for all the tutors but cause so many people use it i often had to find another space for tutor consults outside of my allocated hour.

The extra assignments or short answer questions that some of the subjects have on a weekly basis take up a lot of time and are mostly unpaid for tutors.


1) did not have an office

2) did more work than the hours I was paid for. That was mainly preparation and marking.

Now – what’s your experience? We need as many voices as possible if we ever hope to have an impact! Collectively, we have power to see real sectoral change – individually, we might be able to fight for ourselves, but we won’t see institutional and national improvements.

Ten Things Postgrads Want: An Ironic Manifesto

A panel of four will deliver a version of the following ironic manifesto on Thursday at the Cultural Research Network’s State of the Industry conference in Sydney. We would be delighted to hear your thoughts on these demands in advance.

Research students account for 57% of Australia’s university-based research and development. Around 50% of the teaching in universities is done by sessionals, many of whom are postgrads. Our average age is 35. We are emerging academics in our own right, and we would like that to be recognised and supported in the following ways:

  1. Match scholarships to candidature (4 years) and make part-time scholarships tax exempt.

  1. Increase flexibility in visa conditions for international postgraduates.

  2. Ensure postgrads have access to adequate facilities and resources, such as office space, printers and meeting rooms.

  1. Provide sufficient funding over the course of candidature for each RHD student to cover costs associated with the production & dissemination of our research.

  1. Improve collegiality within our departments, with both emerging and established academics, through regular disciplinary seminars and social gatherings.

  1. Provide discipline-specific and ‘generic skills’ professional training programs.

  1. Provide institutional support and guidance for pursuing non-academic careers.

  1. Offer all RHD students university-funded programs to develop teaching credentials.

  1. Establish national standards for sessional teaching, with fair and transparent remuneration.

  2. Establish short-term ‘Early Career Fellowships’ (available 0-5 years post-PhD) to bridge the gap between PhD submission and first appointment/postdoc.

What do you want?