Haunting careers: the realm of academic ghosts

Bristow, Alexandra (2024). Haunting careers: the realm of academic ghosts. In: Robinson, Sarah; Bristow, Alexandra and Ratle, Olivier eds. Doing Academic Careers Differently: Portraits of Academic Life. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 369–373.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003267553-59


Below the Tower of Precarity lies an out-of-bounds area. This is the realm of academic ghosts, who leave academia and yet continue to haunt it by doing academic work outside of formal academic employment. These academics do not exist, and yet they do, inhabiting the shadow economy of academic life. They have many stories to tell. Pain, disappointment, sense of failure, and departure are common themes, but ghostly existence can happen at any stage of academic careers. PhD students become de facto ghosts when they are expected to meet unrealistic job market requirements and are left in limbo post-completion. Others pass through the haunted realm on transitional paths between temporary contracts or to parenthood. Yet others become ghosts following reflection on the meaninglessness of contemporary academic employment and/or its conflict with their values and ethics, choosing to step off the conveyor belt of institutional academic life to tread a more independent path. Despite their bleak experiences, many find unexpected joy in their ghostly existence and its newfound freedom. Together, the ghosts whisper of the pressing need for an alternative academia – an academia which scholars do not need to leave to become happy academics.

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