Work in the Digital Age

The Spring 2016 issue of the Hedgehog Review focuses on “Work in the Precarious Economy.” It includes essays on the use of temps and consultants, the changing (declining) status of workers, disruptions to the traditional or accepted ideas about work, the changing notion of vocation, the romanticizing of certain kinds of work, the future of professions, the construction of careers, and vocational education. They provide a lot to think about.

This is a useful set of readings for individuals laboring in the academy and in fields being supported by it. Howard Gardner’s essay, “Is There a Future for the Professions? An Interim Verdict,” is especially important (at least to me). Gardner, a leading educational and cognition expert and prolific author, wrestles with this question by examining his own career and experiences. He concentrates on two events – economic and technological – to explore the shifting fortunes of the role of professions. Gardner is not optimistic: “It’s high time that those of us who continue to value the professions reinvigorate and, as necessary, reinvent the profession” (p. 86).

Just within the past month, before discovering this and the accompanying essays, I finished a conference paper, yet to be presented, that mirrors some of the issues considered in this publication. Here is the abstract of my paper, “Is Professionalism Still an Acceptable Goal for Archivists in the Global Digital Society?”

In this paper I revisit my 1986 essay, “Professionalism and Archivists in the United States/” American Archivist 49 (Summer 1986): 229-247, drawing upon sociological models of the traits and characteristics of professions as a means of drafting an agenda for developing the community of archivists and their status within society. Written in the midst of an intense period of professional planning and self-scrutiny, this article presented the normal call for improved disciplinary knowledge, education, and public awareness. However, in the thirty years since, with the emerging digital society, disciplinary convergence, increased cultural sensitivities and self-awareness, growing community and indigenous archives, and networked social media, does such a traditional view of professionalism still remain relevant as a discussion focus? If not, how should we now view what we do and explain our mission to the world? Suggestions will be offered about what we should now be saying about the essential tenets of the archival mission.

My principal suggestion is to move away from a traditional view of profession based on Western notions of control to an inclusive sense of hospitality, whereby we function less like a medieval guild and more like partners and collaborators. It is indeed a liberating concept.

Yes, it is fascinating to reflect on how one’s perspectives have changed over a few decades.








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