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Call for Proposals: UC Working Groups on the Humanities and Changing Conceptions of Work

Deadline: Thursday, October 13, 2011

On behalf of the University of California Humanities Network, UCHRI invites proposals for Working Groups on the Humanities and Changing Conceptions of Work, to be held during the 2012 calendar year (January-December 2012).

Who Can Apply: UC Faculty in humanities and humanistic social sciences (PI must be ladder track)

Level of Award: Up to $25,000

Funding Source: UC Humanities Network (Mellon Foundation grant)

Applications should be submitted by 5 pm on Thursday, October 13, 2011 on FastApps


Globalization has profoundly impacted not just what work is available but how and where we work, what we think of as work, and what skills the humanities and interpretative social sciences must teach to prepare students for work. This three-year multicampus research initiative seeks to comprehend and illuminate the changing conceptions and experience of work in the face of recent global economic, technological, and social developments, and to address the implications for the Humanities. It will explore also how humanities practitioners can prepare students for the work that awaits them in 21st-century global society.

The working groups, seminars, and other research projects of this three-year initiative will take place on campuses across the University of California, drawing on and promoting the networking and research strengths of faculty and graduate students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences across the system.


In the past few decades, fueled by globalization, new technology, and most recently, international economic crisis, the very conception of work has altered dramatically. The sites and sorts of work have shifted significantly from production, and especially industrial output and delivery, to service, whether financial or lifestyle, or increasingly informational. Technology is now pervasive, crucial both to how work is done and how self-conceptions as a “worker” are formed. Social media and the networking of human resources they make possible have become central to successful work activity, enabling work to permeate and integrate with our personal, familial, and recreational lives. Entrepreneurship and inventiveness are now valued over the more traditional ideas of labor.

Among the myriad questions that might be taken up over the course of this three-year research program, we offer the following as a jumping off point: How has the conception of work shifted over time, whether in earlier historical periods or in the present moment as work disappears, transforms or relocates in the wake of economic restructuring and the digital revolution? When work that used to be done locally—whether call centers or service centers or administrative processing or manufacturing goods—is now undertaken in largely invisible locations worlds away, what does that entail for those just coming to grips with what work is imagined to be, what work one imagines oneself doing? How might we think about stability and instability in the world of work, and questions of job markets, retirement, unemployment, underemployment, precarity? What does it mean to be out of work, to lack job security, to be partially employed, to be denied work? What is the relation between work and workplace, work and community, work and political stability, and how are the latter affected by changes in the former? What is the relation between work, politics and organized labor, civil rights, human rights, women’s rights or other social movements? How might we understand changing conceptions of work in relation to life cycles and life span, to youth and aging, to health, illness or disability? How do such analytical categories as race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, age, class status or geographic location, impact our understanding of the experience and meaning of work? How does the return of work, in many instances, to the domestic sphere impact family life, including who does work and how work impacts well-being? What does it mean to work virtually or to work literally on the fly? What does telecommuting or other work-life changes of the digital revolution do to our understanding of workplace and home, self and family, privacy and availability, the eight- (or twelve- or twenty four-) hour day, to the sense of social, economic, and cultural temporality? How do social media—such as Facebook—enable, constrain, or disrupt work, productivity, creativity? Is there a new work ethic emerging for the 21st century? What is the relationship between work and play, work and art, innovation, pleasure? Between worklife and creative life or human life itself?

These questions are posed in the face of intensifying structural pressures on the humanities. Paradoxically, at a time the humanities has become increasingly devalued, the set of skills it represents is crucially important to economic capacity, political judgment, and civic life. The emphasis across the humanities in understanding the historical dimensions of social structures, events, developments, habits, practices, and processes—in short on the work of their production and reproduction—supports more reflective and measured judgments for policy-making and social arrangement. This has important curricular implications, in thinking how best to promote the transferable and flexible skills for which Humanities training is best known.

We propose to link these concerns to the work of humanists within the university and to the research and pedagogical practice of doing the humanities. What have been the impacts on pedagogy, research, working conceptions and conditions across the university in general, and for the humanities more specifically? What work do the humanities do, and what do or can they add to work more broadly? If the humanities are to remain germane to the doing of work in the twenty-first century, in a world of increasingly competitive global labor markets in the midst of national and international economic recession, what skills and considerations do we need to cultivate in our students? In particular, how might these shifts in the concept and practice of work impact what and how we teach in the humanities, what professions we train our students for, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels? How have new digital technologies transformed how humanists approach their work, what they focus on, how they conduct their research, what outlets they seek, and how the work is being assessed?


Working Groups are designed to catalyze collaboration between individuals from different disciplines, locations, and UC campuses around a specific problem, theme, object or topic within the larger theme of the humanities and changing conceptions of work. Proposals should identify a specific question, topic, approach, methodology, etc. that addresses or amplifies larger questions around the humanities and work, such as those suggested above.

Members of a Working Group will be expected to be connected virtually for ongoing communication and to meet face-to-face at least one time throughout the year. Groups should expect to begin work in January 2012 and continue through the end of the calendar year.

Working Group participants will be expected to organize and participate in a public webinar discussion in conjunction with a social science writer whose research has addressed the changing nature of work in ways that illuminate or engage with the topic of their Working Group. UCHRI will provide logistical consultation and technical support for this event.

Each Working Group will be required to produce a collectively-produced outcome, which will be made publicly available online. Examples of possible outcomes may include a concept paper, curricular innovation, a digital project, essay collection, or a performance.

Working Groups should include a faculty PI (must be ladder-track) and 4-8 other faculty participants (no fewer than 5 and no more than 9 total) from at least two UC campuses, selected for interdisciplinarity as well as expertise on the chosen theme. Proposals should explain how each faculty participant would contribute to the working group’s stated aims. Applicants are strongly encouraged to discuss potential proposals with their home-campus humanities center director, and to work with the center to create a robust network of participants across other campuses. Applications with a diverse engagement of individuals and campuses will be more favorably evaluated.

Each Working Group must also include a graduate student working in a field and/or topic related to the intellectual project of the Working Group. The graduate student will be expected to attend and participate in all group meetings, provide basic administrative support for the group, and produce regular coverage of the work of the group via blog posts, short essays or reviews, interviews with faculty participants, and other written or visual material posted to the UC Humanities Network website. Graduate students in each of the working groups will be connected in a virtual network coordinated by UCHRI and the campus humanities centers. Graduate students should be provided $10,000 in support over the year, and are expected to support the Working Group across the full year of its engagement; the Working Group PI should coordinate with the selected student to develop a mutually agreeable work plan.

Up to four Working Groups will be funded at a maximum of $25,000 per group (including the $10,000 for graduate support). The remaining $15,000 of funding can be used for a wide variety of project-related expenses – travel and meeting costs, honoraria for invited visitors (including the required webinar participant), site visits to museums, archives or other research-related outings, and other expenses related to running the group and producing the final collaborative outcome. These funds may also be used for individual participant stipends, up to $1,000 per participant, which may be taken as summer salary or as research support funds. The Working Group should work collaboratively to determine the best use of these support funds for their proposed project.

Working Groups will be funded for the 2012 calendar year (January through December 2012).

All eligible proposals will be evaluated by the faculty directors of the UC Humanities Network, and will be assessed on the basis of intellectual merit, engagement with overall theme, diversity of multicampus network, and potential contribution to the humanities. Working Group grants will be for one year and are non-renewable. Awards will be announced no later than November 2012.


Applications from prospective conference or seminar organizers are accepted exclusively online via UCHRI’s FASTAPPS system. The PI must be a UC ladder rank faculty member who will be responsible for the organization and execution of the proposed project.

Required documents include:

•Project Abstract (200 words max.) and Project Title

•Proposal Narrative (2,000 words max.). The project description should address the Working Group’s research question or problem statement, and the short-term and long-term significance of the topic or issue to the theme of the humanities and changing conceptions of work. It should also clearly state the projected outcome and the intellectual justification for the proposed deliverable.

•List of Working Group participants, including graduate student, and short rationale for their inclusion in the group.

•List of possible visiting speakers, including the required webinar participant, and short rationale for their selection.

•Proposed Project Budget with a brief narrative. Proposed project budgets ($15,000 total) may cover travel, lodging and per diem expenses for workshop meetings of working group members, travel and honoraria for visiting speakers, other group-related research costs, and expenses for the collaborative product as well as stipends of up to $1,000 per faculty member for individual research support.

•Curriculum Vitae of the PI. The PI will coordinate, organize and monitor the progress of the working group. The PI will be responsible for submitting a research and budget report to UCHRI at the end of the grant period.

All materials should be submitted to UCHRI via FastApps no later than 5 pm on Thursday, October 13, 2011.

For general questions about the grant and proposal development, please contact the director or staff of your campus humanities center or Jennifer Langdon, UCHRI associate director, at

Questions about the application process should be directed to Suedine Nakano, UCHRI program manager, at

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