Claims of time(s): notes on post-welfare public reason
Beginning some two years ago, my university employer has required me to give a detailed account of how I spend my working hours. I am supposed to do this by ﬁlling in a digital time sheet which has 35 possible uses for my time – for every day. Reminiscent of a law ﬁrm’s time-surveillance (and billing) sheet, this new digital monster-time-panopticon counts how much time is spent on teaching, administration, public service, and – crucially – how much on research projects funded by various outside-university funding agencies (private companies, state agencies, funds, European Union, etc.). As one would expect, I and most of my colleagues make ruthless fun of this task, and deal with it almost consciously sloppily, with minimum concentration. Underneath the irony and resistant jokes, however, we all know that the logic of
this new kind of academic accountability is iron hard. By designating my time to diﬀerent projects, I provide an account of the “investment” by the university in the research projects I coordinate, participate in, or plan. With this information, I enable the university to enter into contracts with external funding organizations. These organizations, in turn, demand that the university “commits” itself to the shared projects, and that it has a record of this commitment. This is imperative for the university, because it has to increase its income from other “partners” than the state. In this way the university becomes more “autonomous” – the catchword for the new law regulating universities in Finland, taking eﬀect from January 2010. The new law detaches universities legally from the state apparatus, oﬀering them more responsibility for their own economic survival and success. It also changes my position as a tenured professor and a government public servant (at the same time) into an employee in the same way as anybody else. Why would the employer not wish to know what I do on its time? As much as I feel annoyed about ﬁlling in the digital time sheet, I hope to use the
irritation it causes to launch a short analysis of the changing conditions of the ﬁeld of
academic social inquiry in Finland. I make no claims for an exhaustive analysis of the “academic ﬁeld.”1 But even heuristically applied, the idea of a ﬁeld points to two interrelated tasks. In order to understand one’s own position in a ﬁeld and the position of that ﬁeld in broader social space, one needs to ask questions about changes and contexts. Thus what irritates me in being forced to report my hours hopefully tells us something important about the changing position of the university in Finland, in the context of a Nordic post-welfare state of 2011. I will sketch some of the crucial changes and contexts with two short eclectic excursions, one dwelling on the history of Finnish social sciences; the other painting a broader horizon of Western global capitalism. These narratives open up some of the conditions of “public reason” and, with their help, return us to the question of why the university and academic social inquiry matters.