I recently published an article in the Times Higher Education magazine. The piece is about how exploitative labor conditions in academia push people into other sectors.

I expected to receive feedback disputing that the dominant model of labor conditions in universities is to employ people on low wage, precarious contracts. Instead, I’ve been deluged with requests for advice on how to transition out of academia into the private sector.

I do not offer career advice services, but plenty of post-ac/alt-acs do. For example, The Professor Is In, Jobs on Toast, and From PhD to Life. (Note: I have never used these services nor do I receive a commission from these businesses.) I know Karen Kelsky of The Professor Is in and Chris Humphrey of Jobs on Toast and have found them to be intelligent and supportive.

For those who are unable to pay for career services, there is a whole world of advice online that did not exist when I transitioned. My alt-ac friend Daveena Tauber has curated this list of resources regarding self-employment and small business development. This is another interesting site. To find more, try the following search terms: post-ac, alt-ac, and quit lit. Quit lit is fun. ūüôā

Which brings me to my second point. For years, PhDs have asked me about how I transitioned. I’m quite pragmatic, so I interpret this question to mean: what are the steps necessary to transform from being employable in academia to being employable in the private sector. I usually answer with this narrative: I approached an alumna from my university. She graciously gave me a list of contacts who would be interested in my skills and experiences. She also mentored me throughout the process. After many emails, phone calls, and meetings, I eventually obtained work, which led to more work, which is now a career.

However, for most advice-seeking academics, this answer does not suffice. Instead, it confuses them into silence. This has happened so often that I realize that the question they articulate is not the question with which they are grappling. What they are ‚Äėreally‚Äô asking is, ‚Äúhow did you shift your mindset from one focused on an academic to a private sector career?‚ÄĚ

The process for changing one’s mindset is more complicated than a how to guide comprised of steps and activities. The fact is, a list of steps and activities is not helpful. Most academics are ambitious and have had to do a huge range of detail oriented, administrative tasks to manage various facets of academic life. They organize conferences (event planning). They undergo the byzantine and excruciating process of applying for PhD programs, fellowships, and grants. They work as unpaid personal assistants for their supervisors.  They are fully capable of the types of networking necessary to find a job outside of academia but they are so embedded in an academic mindset that they cannot imagine how.

In that sense, I’ve been fortunate because I’ve always been quite critical and ambivalent about academia, even while I was applying for a PhD. When I arrived at Yale and learned from the grad student union about the casualization of academic labor, I was not surprised.

I’ve since learned that this stance of critical ambivalence is unusual. My letter writers have been deeply invested in academia as a space to enact the life of the mind. They believe that teaching and research enable them to contribute to society as well as obtain a prestigious, well-paid, middle class job without being tainted by the crass commercial tasks of capitalism.

This is kool aid.  As a result, the best way to transition out of this mindset and engage with reality is to read. Here’s a list of articles that helped me. Most are from 2013 and earlier, but they are still relevant for anyone suffering from kool aid withdrawal. Happy reading.






Foggy months

Well, its nearly August 2017 and the last time I posted was in November 2016.¬† I realize that the last half of 2016 was a daze. I had moved from an innovation consultancy to a design agency. My book came out. Brexit happened. And then no. 45. I won’t even say his name.¬† The U.S election rendered November and December blurry and incomprehensible. This piece by Zadie Smith is one of the most insightful and empathetic¬† on this geopolitical horror show.

I’ve been busy.¬† In December, I gave a book reading at Bluestockings bookstore in New York.¬† Being in the city post-presidential election was strangely bittersweet. Everything felt sad and quiet in that particular winter way but also ‘normal’ New York. Jet lagged, every morning at 6:30, I had pancakes at the diner across the street from my hotel. Nearly everyone in the diner spoke English as a second language and it was absolutely normal.¬†There was one white working class waiter at the diner, in his 40s, who was super friendly, and kept complimenting me on how pretty and intellectual I looked in my glasses. It was all so nice that it breaks my heart.



In January, I did a book reading at Housmans bookstore in London. This was a shockingly wonderful experience. The audience was engaged, critical, and intelligent. As a result, the dialogue was interesting, challenging, and highly enjoyable. If in London, check out Housmans’ many events.

In early March, I read at the Brixton Bookjam. This was fun except for a creepy interaction with an audience member who joked several times that he was stalking me on and offline. FYI: joking about stalking someone is never funny and always creepy.

I then learned that my book had been shortlisted for the BSA/BBC Radio 4 Ethnography Award.  I was initially ecstatic but then it became weird.

In June, I read at a book launch at Casco in the Netherlands. This was my first public event in the Netherlands since my book came out, so I was unsure how it would go. It turned out to be oddly mellow. I spent the week¬† in the attic guest room of Anja Groten.¬† Anja and I worked together on the sitcom. She lives in a women’s woongroep, ‘a living group’/co-living space that is a legalized squat. It is a big beautiful house in the canal district in Amsterdam, a neighborhood with very little affordable housing these days.¬† It was cold and rainy, a fairly common occurrence for June in Northern Europe. The weather led me to feel melancholy and nostalgic about my years in the city. Sunny and warm in Amsterdam is wonderful but¬† seems unreal while cold and rainy feels authentic.

I returned to London to begin a new role at a wonderful strategy consultancy. A couple of weeks of on-boarding then we went off to the Norwegian Fjords for sea kayaking and hiking. It was glorious. The landscape was dramatic and in typical Scandinavian fashion, everything was so well-organized.



As an urban anthropologist, I shut off in rural areas. I am trained to hone in on inequality and conflict. The peace of the landscape and the small numbers of people confuse my senses. We bookended our fjords trip with a stay in Bergen. Bergen is Norway’s second largest city (estimated population of 266,000), which is slightly larger than Brent, the London borough where I reside¬† (population 255,500). A beautiful and charming city that seeps with boredom. Oh well.

My book is out! + What does publishing mean in 2016?

My book is out! It was published in the UK and Europe in the summer and in the U.S in September.

Publishing this book has been a long journey so the ‚Äėend result,‚Äô the actual printing of the book, was rather anti-climactic. Originally, my book was supposed to be out in the world in the fall of 2015. However, Bloomsbury Academic, with whom I had a contract, sold all of its social science books‚ÄĒincluding mine– to Manchester University Press. This occurred despite Bloomsbury‚Äôs assurance that since my book was under contract, they would follow through and publish it. I have feelings about Bloomsbury Academic. Many feelings.

It turns out that Manchester University Press has a fantastic reputation as a high quality and prestigious academic publisher. My main concern with leaving Bloomsbury was that I  wanted my book to be read by mainstream audiences, not just academics, and that Bloomsbury’s brand would have wider recognition and appeal.

However, MUP’s editors and staff have been significantly warmer, more responsive, and enthusiastic so in the end the change was good. They even re-designed the cover, incorporating a couple of old squatter posters that hang in my apartment.



I was eager for my book to be published but after months of waiting out contract changes, copyediting, index creation, etc, etc, I decided to be zen about the process and stop pushing for a date. Then, one day in June my good friend, Debra Shaw, a cultural theorist and philosopher at the University of East London, texted that she had received the book. In the end, this sms was the only official announcement that I received of my book publication.

I‚Äôm not sure what this lack of ceremony means. I had expected that once my book was published, I would be overwhelmed with joy and pride. In turn, I ‚Äėd organize book launch parties around London to celebrate this achievement.

Instead, I’ve felt ambivalent rather than ecstatic.

Its forced me to think critically about the meaning of publishing in 2016. Is publishing to post on social media or a blog? Is it graffiti on a busy street corner with tons of pedestrian traffic? Is it writing text, making photocopies, and distributing these copies to friends and neighbors? Or is it even writing a book and publishing it online, hoping that with enough downloads, a traditional publisher will do a mass printing?

Despite these questions about the value of publishing, I had undergone a traditional academic publisher route. This means that I expected a publisher to organize a peer review process, pay for copy-editing, print hardback and paperback copies, and  use their marketing machinery to sell and distribute the books.

Academics need to go through this process because a monograph printed by a prestigious publisher has become necessary to obtain a permanent position. However, as someone who does not work for a university, this process was a choice rather than a requirement. I suspect that this desire to publish though an academic press reflects the deep acculturation that occurs when obtaining  a PhD, that is, to always undergo processes to obtain external validation.

But academia is not the only factor here. The educated population who values literary culture in this Transatlantic world highly  values physical objects . Despite the obsession with digital realms and possibilities, a printed book has more value than an e-book. Both are more valued when printed by an external publisher than if self-published.

Anyway, please read my book! You can order printed copies here or you can read it online for free via open access .


Back! A summary of the last 18 months

This is my first post since November 2014. I feel guilty for having neglected my blog but I’m not going to apologize to avoid contributing to the genre of ‘internet apologia.’¬†¬† Another post will explore the collective psychology of this bizarre form of guilt. To whom is one apologizing? Does anyone even notice or care?

New York Public Library Digital Collection Public Domain

Much has changed in my life during the past 18 months. In addition to freelancing for innovation and design agencies and conducting anthropological research trainings¬† publicly –such as at the London Design Festival and the Design School of the University of Leeds– and in-house for agencies, I dedicated a couple of months to revising my manuscript prior to submitting it to the publisher.

The revision process was more emotionally laden than I had anticipated. I was revising a book whose initial draft was my doctoral dissertation. This meant that I found myself mentally and emotionally going back to the period of writing the PhD. That time conjures up a  particular image: hours of sitting in front of my laptop, at the dining table of my dark living room in my tiny, ground floor 1-bedroom apartment in Amsterdam.

I don’t know if writing is always isolating or if writing a PhD, or an anthropological PhD, is particularly so. My doctoral advisor told me once that being a good anthropologist meant that you have ‘a crooked soul.’ I didn’t know or understand what he meant until I was knee deep in writing.

I overcame my resistance by enlisting the help of an editor. I asked my friend Heiba,¬† a member of Oomk, a very cool handcrafted and creative women’s magazine, to read each chapter and feedback on clarity of ideas and language. In addition to being an intelligent and skilled writer/ editor, I sought out Heiba’s perspective because of her youth, her critical perspective, and distance from the subject matter.¬† Working together, the revision process became a dialogue with someone who I trusted and whose opinions I valued. Dread became enthusiasm and engagement, resulting in a completed manuscript¬† submitted on time.

After submitting the manuscript, my life drastically changed again. I started a full time job working as Head of Insights at an innovation consultancy in Central London. Despite working full time,  I was still busy with the art and academic elements of my practice. I re-designed the sitcom website with Anja Groten , a sweet ending to the sitcom project which had been in my life for nearly 5 years!

Going back to my position as Head of Insights, I worked at an agency that specializes in the hospitality industry, so I found myself doing ethnographic research around the world in…. luxury hotels.¬† At one point,¬† my assignment was to experience room service in a 5 star hotel in Chicago. Really. Quite a contrast from being evicted from a squat.


During this past year, I found myself becoming the frequent business traveler who I was researching. In the span of a few months, I went to Atlanta, Chicago, Washington D.C, Barcelona, Boston, Portland (Maine), New York, and Shanghai. All while, technically, residing in London. After a year of ethnographic research in the luxury hospitality sector, serious jet lag, and racking up air miles, I’m now moving onto a new phase, leading the research function at a global design agency.

Presentation at the Royal Geographical Society international annual conference August 2014

At the end of August, I presented at the panel, ‚ÄúFrom co-production to alternative futures,‚ÄĚ at the international annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society.


This panel was part of three scheduled sessions that investigated social movements and the concept of the commons.

I only attended the session in which I presented because I was working on a commercial project in the morning. The three sessions were merged into two because a number of presenters dropped out at the last minute. When I learned about this merging, I felt concerned that a panel featuring six presentations would potentially bore and alienate the audience. However, the session organizers structured the panel fairly well so that a discussion followed three presentations, allowing for audience participation.

The first talk argued that pop up spaces in Dublin were a form of ‘commons.’ The second was an ethnographic study of low-income cooperative housing in Wisconsin as a way of challenging stereotypes around ‘the commons,’ and the language of ‘the commons’ discourse. I enjoyed this presentation because Elsa Noterman, the researcher, highlighted different ways in which people who were living in this particular housing development denied that they were participating in a cooperative structure due to the stigma of socialist housing in the U.S. The residents paid a service charge for maintenance and yet, called it rent. One resident threatened to sue the landlord and received a letter from the cooperative board that by suing the landlord, she would be taking legal action against herself.

The third presenters were the New Cross Commoners, who reside in a site in New Cross, a neighborhood in South London. They live in a building that was a former squat that requires renovation to make it both habitable and beautiful. From their presentation, its clear that many of the residents are working on the space. The amount of time and energy people spend on the space is partially related to their state of paid employment, which can lead to tensions. It was unclear if the residents were expected to pay to live in this space. I also enjoyed their presentation because they eschewed the traditional positioning of a person speaking in the front of the room by dispersing themselves throughout the room. They also handed out pieces of victorian roof tile to disrupt the verbal dominance of the presentation structure.

The fourth presentation focused on a group of cultural and art workers in Milan called the Macao. They ‘branded’ their presence before they existed as a group and social center. I was the fifth presenter.

I spoke on ‘The Logic of Homogeneity in Radical Social Movements,’ for about 15-20 minutes. I laid out the initial points followed by an ethnographic story, from which I had cut many sections to stay within the time limit. I felt initially slightly nervous, more than I had anticipated. But as I spoke, I heard laughter and positive responses, so I relaxed a bit. When I returned to my seat, I received a number of encouraging remarks, thanking me for an interesting presentation.

During the discussion, I received a number of interesting comments and questions. One person asked if the squatters who I lived with knew that I was a researcher. I am always asked this question, which reflects the lack of uniformity of research ethics around the world. In the U.S, anthropologists undergo a procedure known as a human subjects research review. This process is the result of the changes in human research protection due to the Tuskegee experiment.

The vigilance about human subjects research and the controversial history of anthropology leads most anthropologists to be careful about research methods (at least the ones I know‚Ķ). ¬†However, disciplines who use ethnography as a method lack this rigor and regularly use¬†ethnographic methods without informing their research subjects. ¬†This is called, ‘covert ethnography. During the discussion, I stated that ‘covert ethnography,’ is unethical. Someone responded that its unnecessary to obtain¬†informed consent when doing research with people who are right wing. I disagreed. In general, ethics is how one behaves when no one else is watching. With that in mind,¬†a researcher should always behave ethically especially when s/he does not necessarily like or agree with his/her research subjects.

Others had more abstract comments about the concept of ‘the commons’ and if I used it in my work on squats. I answered that I was highly suspicious of the concept and that I did not use this literature. Someone else asked why I was suspicious and my answer could have been more complete.¬†I have not read much of the literature on the commons, so this critique is a gut feeling more than an informed, scholarly response . I am concerned that the concept and its literature is romantic, utopian, and myopic. The writing on this concept originates mainly from the U.S or wealthy Western Europe and seems to exclusively engage middle class leftist academics who feel alienated from ‘mainstream society.’ This subculture is imprisoned in its own worldview and only interacts with people who are just like them. ¬†Hence, the discourse around the commons is eurocentric and defeatist, which is why I don’t use it when analyzing squats.

After the panel concluded, a couple of young women told me that my talk resonated strongly with their experiences in radical social movements. I felt quite moved. Heartfelt thanks to the session organizers, Victoria Habermehl and Andre Pusey for all their work and especially for arranging for my participation to be sponsored by the Geography of Justice research group.

Observational Skills Workshop Amsterdam March 2014

In March, the artist Maria Pask and I designed and facilitated an observational skills workshop as a public art event in the Red Light District of Amsterdam.


The event was curated by the the Oude Kerk,¬†the oldest church (and building) in Amsterdam which¬†no longer functions as a place of worship. Instead, its a foundation that aims to connect cultural heritage and art. Since winter 2013, they have organized a series of ‘evening wandering’/ derives ¬†events in the Red Light District, called Nachtelijke Dwaling, led by artists. This series is part of a concentrated effort¬†during the last few years by the city of Amsterdam to change the Red Light District’s ‘brand’ as a space for sex, drugs, and partying.

In addition to reducing the number storefronts that sell sex and drugs and converting them into housing and shops that are considered more ‘respectable,’ the project seeks to attract a broader public into the Red Light District. The Oude Kerk’s Nachtelijke Dwaling series fits into this remit because it targets an art crowd who presumably would not prowl the Red Light District on a Friday night.

However, the whole premise of an evening wandering/derive in the Red Light District is deeply flawed. When I lived in Amsterdam, I avoided the Red Light District as much as possible in the evening. I had no interest in the seedy amusement park atmosphere, the groups of young men roving the area in packs, plus I found the specter of female trafficking disturbing.

Despite questioning the premise of the Nachtelijke Dwaling series, I felt excited and honored when Maria Pask approached me to design the workshop and facilitate it with her. Maria and I had worked fairly intensely together on the sitcom project. Our collaboration was a highlight of the sitcom experience. Maria is erudite, creative, and has a wicked sense of humor, so she’s immensely fun.

Maria had read my blog post about the Observational Skills workshop that I taught as part of Learning from Kilburn. She was curious if this format could work for the Wallen (the Dutch name for the Red Light District, referring to the old city walls). We met in London and by Skype to translate the format of the Kilburn class to the Oude Kerk workshop. In Learning from Kilburn, the class was scheduled for 5 hours with a maximum enrollment of 20 participants. In the Oude Kerk, we had 2 hours and 80 participants.

In Kilburn, I had structured the class into 3 sets of interactive exercises, in which each exercise built on the discussion and skills learned from the previous exercise. For the Oude Kerk, the shorter time frame and the large number of participants made such a structure impossible. We decided to chuck the first two exercises and build the workshop around the last activity.

The number of participants prioritized organizing the logistics of the event. We divided into four groups. Each group had a facilitator who led them through structured observations of two sites located within ten minutes walk from the Oude Kerk. Afterwards, the groups returned to the Oude Kerk and discussed each site, then shared their insights with the larger group.

I decided to experiment with first person perspective video tools. Specifically, having mounted a camera on my forehead, Maria and I filmed each space beforehand as a way to contrast the filmed observations with the perceptions  of the workshop participants. While each group described their observations, we played our films in the background.

Originally, I wanted quotidian and banal¬†sites in the neighborhood as a means to illustrate¬†the difference between observing and seeing. However, the Oude Kerk requested that we visit ‘hidden’ religious communities in the Red Light District. I resisted this request, but during the preparatory visit to Amsterdam, I felt¬†astonished¬†by the Christian communities and their spaces in the Red Light District. We visited Oudezijdes 100, a community of Christian volunteers who live and work together. The second Christian space was the Tabernacle of the Nations, which featured new age aesthetics. We also visited a cheese shop and a souvenir/sex shop. The sex shop symbolized the Red Light District and the cheese shop reflected the state-led gentrification of the area.

The whole evening was successful and Maria received positive feedback for weeks afterwards. I enjoyed the workshop as well and the challenge of tailoring it for 80 participants as a public art event. But, I prefer smaller groups in general to ensure quality. One bizarre side note was that a Dutch friend of mine participated in the workshop and had actually been a member of both of the Christian communities in her younger years. As a result, the workshop was a strange journey into her past.

Heartfelt thanks to Maria Pask for inviting me to collaborate, Julia Geerlings for being such an open and warm curator, and to the artist Eric Giraudet and Julia (again) for leading two of the groups through the observations.

Tales of my book contract with Bloomsbury Academic Press

I have a book contract! This contract was offered to me in March but I didn’t feel comfortable until all the quirks of the contract were negotiated. So now, months after the contract was originally offered, I possess a signed and counter-signed document. Exciting.

Because the blogosphere¬†has been so helpful when researching the ins and outs of the academic publishing process, I’m going to describe the process step by step:

1) Choosing a publisher

Most academics publish books to obtain a job, preferably a permanent contract or tenure track in the U.S and/or actually get tenure or be promoted. As a result, choosing a publisher is a strategic¬†decision. For a university hiring process, it’s extremely¬†important to be published by a university press. Prestige of presses often coincides with the prestige of a university. Hence, to publish with a prestigious university press strengthens a candidate’s desirability for a position and general negotiating power within the university.

I’m not working in academia, so I did not have to take these issues into consideration. However, I wanted my dissertation to undergo a rigorous, peer-review process, which is standard in quality academic publishing.

I eventually decided to publish my book with the Contemporary Anarchist Studies series (CAS) because they¬†offered a number of unusual provisions. The first, and most important, is the Creative Commons license. This license permits community groups to reproduce the book as long as it’s not sold commercially. Secondly, CAS proposes a hybrid publishing model. The traditional academic publishing model is that books are published in hardback and sold primarily to university libraries. This series seeks to publish books both in hardback and in paperback, and distribute the paperback copies through a network of independent¬†bookstores to reach a non-university audience.

Both of these provisions appealed to me. I’m not sure if copyright is a model that makes sense in the digital age. When I taught undergraduate anthropology, none of the students purchased books. They all found ‘illegal’ copies online. I found this practice reasonable. Why would anyone purchase a hardback of $100 when a PDF of the same book is floating through cyberspace? Moreover, the squatters movement in Amsterdam– the subject of my book– has a strong, open access ideology. Given this, it seems hypocritical to write and publish a book about squatting with a traditional copyright license in which¬†proprietary rights are given to the publisher.


The distribution model also seemed more attuned to my book. I imagineРand hopeРthat the main audience will comprise of radical left activists, and more likely, people who aspire to be radical left activists. That is, students, artists, and academics who identify strongly as leftist but do not do political work. If they purchase copies of the book, it will more likely be a paperback version. Also, the network of independent bookstores in Europe are more likely to be interested in my book as well as organize a reading to discuss squatting as a movement and as politicized youth subculture.

2. The Proposal

A book proposal has a specific format in which one summarizes first, the whole book, then, each chapter, as well as situates the book among comparable literature, and articulates the potential audience. Like writing grant applications and journal articles, a book proposal is its own genre in academic writing.

Prior to writing the book proposal, the whole process was incredibly murky to me. I knew a couple of people who networked their way into a book contract without actually filling out a proposal. I presented at a social movements conference and met one of the CAS editors afterwards. I mentioned that I was considering submitting my manuscript to the CAS series, hoping that he would recommend that I skip the proposal stage and send a chapter to the editors. Instead, he encouraged me to fill it out. No schmoozing shortcuts for me!

I wrote a draft of the proposal, which a couple of wonderful friends reviewed for clarity of language and ideas. When I felt that it was ready, I sent the proposal to the CAS editors and to the social science editor at Bloomsbury in September 2013. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I had heard that proposals sit on editors’ desks for months and are only read quickly if a famous academic calls on one’s behalf. Luckily, I had the opposite experience. The CAS editors replied the next day that they were interested and requested two chapters. Two weeks later, they informed me that they had decided to pursue the proposal further and sent it out for peer review.

3. Peer review

Peer review is the process in which editors send a manuscript or journal article to academics who are specialists in the academic field in which the text pertains– these are the ‘peers.’ This means that an article about sexuality among hipsters in East London may be sent to academics who specialize in gender/sexuality studies, for example, or, depending on how the text is framed, to researchers in urban studies or subcultural/community studies.

The peer review process can potentially be tedious. Editors contact reviewers to see if they are interested/available to review a text. If they agree, then the editor has to be on top of the reviewers to make sure that they actually read the text and send back the reviews.

I felt both excited and frightened by the peer review process. I had received encouraging and enthusiastic responses from the editors but sending two chapters to be critiqued by three random academics was daunting. Luckily, the peer review process was relatively simple. The proposal and the chapters were sent out at the beginning of October and I received the reviews by the middle of December. They were exceptionally positive and a nice ego boost :

‚ÄúI am confident that The Autonomous Life will become one of the most read books on European autonomism and squatting. The book will draw readers on account of its scholarly merit, its engaging and accessible style as well as for the fact that publication of this book will stir lively debate.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúThe book is well researched, well argued and skillfully deploys theoretical resources to aid in the analysis of empirical content.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúThe book captures the experience of being ‘inside.’‚ÄĚ

In addition to the positive feedback, the reviewers also posed some critiques and questions. As part of the process, I wrote a letter addressing these critiques. I either argued against them or stated how I will integrate the criticisms into the manuscript. I sent this letter in the middle of January 2014. By the end of January, the CAS editors informed me that they had unanimously recommended my book for publication.

Although I was a happy camper at this point, I knew that this process was not over since the final publication decision depended on Bloomsbury, from whom I eventually heard in the middle of March 2014.

Looking back, from proposal to offer, the process lasted 6 months. This is most likely an unusually speedy process for academic publishing, which I attribute to the responsiveness of the CAS editors (thank you gentlemen!).