What Does it Mean to Be “Productive”? A Conversation Between Disability Allies

By Susan Mahipaul and Erika Katzman

Neon sign on a side of a building, “time is precious”

This piece is a part of our Spark series: Disabled and Chronically Ill: Navigating Work Inside and Outside the Academy

Resisting Ableism and Redefining Work: A Conversation Between Allies

We are two critical disability scholars who came together to talk about ableism through our embodied experiences in academia. Despite having remarkably similar qualifications, one of us secured a tenure track faculty position and the other remains precariously employed as a sessional lecturer (part-time instructor). One of us is visibly disabled and the other is not. Both of us are impacted by expectations of (hyper)productivity in our academic workspaces: our workloads are assigned by task without clear indication of the time we are expected to contribute; lunch hour meetings are the norm; we always seem to be squeezing in another task, extending workdays well beyond a conventional 9–5; and the boundary between weekday and weekend easily erodes as deadlines appear on any day of the week. Through conversations like this one, we support each other to recognize, theorize, and resist ableism in our everyday lives.

Erika: On September 1, 2020, an impending sense of doom gripped my heart. The Fall semester would start next week. At eight hours a day, five days a week, that gives me 40 working hours per week. 40 hours sounds like a lot until I start to split it between the eight research and writing projects I have on the go (collaboration on two large grant projects, a literature review, a textual analysis, a discourse analysis, a conference paper, and revisions for a journal article as part of the peer-review process); service work for my program, department, faculty association, and school; meetings and other responsibilities for the non-profit board I sit on; and teaching three undergraduate courses this upcoming term. 40 hours suddenly does not sound sufficient.

Susan: 40 hours does not sound sufficient to me either. This summer, for the first time in years, I took a two-week vacation. I was burnt out, not managing well, in pain, and unsure where I could find the physical and mental energy to chip away at the projects I have going on. Colleagues were emailing me to meet…

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