Stop the clocks: Enabling practitioners and precarity in pandemic time(s)

Main Article Content

Anita Olds
Susan Hopkins
Joanne Lisciandro
Angela Jones
Juliette Subramaniam
Marguerite Westacott
Ana Larsen
Rebekah Sturniolo-Baker
Helen Scobie


The COVID-19 pandemic introduced new tensions and pressures for universities. While students and staff already experienced time pressures in competitive neoliberalised economies, these strains accelerated during the pandemic. The aim of this autoethnography study was to capture the lived experience of eight practitioners working in teaching, leadership and professional practice within the field of enabling education, across six Australian institutions between 2020–2021. The problem of ‘time’ emerged as a dominant theme. Without adequate time to balance work and life, sustaining personal and collective wellbeing became precarious. This paper engages with ‘precarity’ (Butler 2004, 2012) as manifested in workplace anxiety, stress and insecurity experienced by enabling education practitioners. It endeavours to tether these lived experiences to the temporalities of the digital neoliberal university (Bennett & Burke, 2018), particularly through Adam’s (1995) concept of the inequitable time economy and its disciplining workplace ‘machine time’ which is always ‘running on and out’ (Adam 1995, p. 52) at the expense of marginalised workers. Despite such challenges, the researcher/participants emerged passionate about making a difference to the lives of their students, many of whom are from non-traditional and equity backgrounds. The autoethnographic process itself fostered a new sense of solidarity, resilience and agency.

Article Details

How to Cite
Olds, A., Hopkins, S., Lisciandro, J., Jones, A., Subramaniam, J., Westacott, M., Larsen, A., Sturniolo-Baker, R., & Scobie, H. (2023). Stop the clocks: Enabling practitioners and precarity in pandemic time(s). Access: Critical Explorations of Equity in Higher Education, 11(1), 12–27. Retrieved from


Adam, B 1995, Timewatch: The social analysis of time, Polity, UK.

Bakker, AB, Demerouti, E & Verbeke, W 2004, ‘Using the job demands-resources model to predict burnout and performance’, Human Resource Management, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 83–104, doi:10.1002/hrm.20004

Bennett, A & Burke, PJ 2018, ‘Re/conceptualising time and temporality: an exploration of time in higher education’, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, vol. 39, no. 6, pp. 913–925, doi:10.1080/01596306.2017.1312285

Bennett, R, Hobson, J, Jones, A, Martin-Lynch, P, Scutt, C, Strehlow, K & Veitch S 2016, ‘Being chimaera: a monstrous identity for SoTL academics’, Higher Education Research and Development, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 217–228, doi: 10.1080/07294360.2015.1087473

Borelli, JL, Nelson, SK, River, LM, Birken, SA & Moss-Rascusin, C 2017, ‘Gender differences in work-family guilt in parents of young children’, Sex Roles, vol. 76, pp. 356–368, doi: 10.1007/s11199-016-0579-0

Boyd, R, Blackburn, K, & Pennebaker, J, 2020, ‘The narrative arc: revealing core narrative structures through text analysis’, Science Advances, vol. 6, no. 32, pp. 1–9, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aba2196

Butler, J 2004, Precarious life: The powers of mourning and violence, Verso, New York.

Butler, J 2012, ‘Precarious life, vulnerability and the ethics of cohabitation. Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 134–151.

Crawford, N, Olds, A, Lisciandro, J, Jaceglav, M, Westacott, M & Osenieks, L 2018, ‘Emotional labour demands in enabling education: A qualitative exploration of the unique challenges and protective factors’, Student Success, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 23–33, doi: 10.5204/ssj.v9i1.430

Ellis, C 2004, The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography, AltaMira Press, Lanham.

Ellis, C, Adams, T & Bochner, A 2011, ‘Autoethnography: an overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 345–357.

Ellis, C & Bochner, AP 2000, ‘Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity’, in NK Denzin & YS Lincoln (eds.), Handbook of qualitative research, 2nd edn, Sage, Thousand Oaks, pp. 733–768.

Foucault, M 1977, Discipline and punish. The birth of the prison. Translated by A Sheridan, Pantheon, UK.

Geertz, C 1973, The interpretation of cultures, Basic Books, USA.

Gilbert, P 2010, Compassion focused therapy. Distinctive features, Routledge, UK.

Gloria, AM & Uttal, L 2020, ‘Conceptual considerations in moving from face-to-face to online teaching’, International Journal on e-Learning, vol. 19, no. 2, pp.139–159.

Hammond, K 2021, ‘Threat, drive, and soothe: learning self-compassion in an academic writing retreat’, Higher Education Research and Development, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 1437–1451, doi: 10.1080/07294360.2020.1830037

Harvey, D 1990, The condition of postmodernity: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change, Blackwell, Cambridge.

Harvey, D 2005, A brief history of neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Hattam, SK & Weiler, T 2022, ‘Reframing the “illegitimate” academic: the critical role of professional development for sessional staff’, Teaching in Higher Education, doi: 10.1080/13562517.2022.2049743

Hawkins, R, Manzi, M & Ojeda, D 2014, ‘Lives in the making: power, academia and the everyday’, ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, vol.13, no. 2, pp. 328–351.

Hil, R 2012, Whackademia. An insider’s account of the troubled university, NewSouth, Sydney.

Hil, R 2015, Selling students short. Why you won’t get the university education you deserve, Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest.

Hochschild, AR 1983, The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling, University of California Press, California.

Hopkins, S 2021, ‘Computer says no? Limitations of tech-focused transitions to higher education for Australian LSES students’, Teaching in Higher Education, doi: 10.1080/13562517.2021.1931837

Jackson, D, Firtko, A & Edenborough, M 2007, ‘Personal resilience as a strategy for surviving and thriving in the face of workplace adversity: a literature review’, Journal of Advanced Nursing, vol. 60, no. 1, pp. 1–9, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04412.x

Jones, A & Olds, A 2019, ‘Manifesto, mutants and mashups: punk and pedagogy in online enabling education’, in A Jones, A Olds, & J Lisciandro (eds.), Transitioning students into higher education: philosophies, pedagogies and practice, Routledge, London, pp. 111–120.

Jones, A, Olds, A & Lisciandro, J (eds.) 2019, Transitioning students into higher education: philosophies, pedagogies and practice. Routledge, London.

Kenny, J & Fluck, A 2017, ‘Towards a methodology to determine standard time allocations for academic work’, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, vol. 39, no. 5, pp. 503–523, doi: 10.1080/1360080X.2017.1354773

Kınıkoğlu, CN & Can, A 2021, ‘Negotiating the different degrees of precarity in the UK academia during the Covid-19 pandemic’, European Societies, vol. 23(sup1), pp. S817–S830, doi: 10.1080/14616696.2020.1839670

Krejsler, JB 2013, ‘Plug into “the modernizing machine”! Danish university reform and its transformable academic subjectivities’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, vol. 26, no. 9, pp. 1153–1168, doi: 10.1080/09518398.2013.816884

Larsen, A & Emmett, S (2023), ‘The wicked problem of social equity in higher education: the conflicting discourses and the impact of COVID-19’, in S Weuffen, J Burke, M Plunkett, A Goriss-Hunter, & S Emmett (eds.), Inclusion, equity, diversity, and social justice in education: a critical exploration of the sustainable development goals, Springer, USA, pp. 29–42.

Lisciandro, JG, Jones, A & Geerlings, P 2018, ‘Enabling learners starts with knowing them: student attitudes, aspiration and anxiety towards science and maths learning in an Australian pre-university enabling program’, Australian Journal of Adult Learning, vol. 58, no. 1, pp.13–40, doi: 10.3316/aeipt.220026

Littleton, E & Stanford, J 2021, An avoidable catastrophe: pandemic job losses in higher education and their consequences, The Australian Institute, Centre for Future Work, ACT.

Manathunga, C & Bottrell, D 2019, ‘Prising Open the Cracks in Neoliberal Universities’, in C Manathunga & D Bottrell (eds.), Resisting Neoliberalism in Higher Education. Volume II, Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 1–22, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-95834-7_1

Maslach, C, Schaufeli, WB & Leiter, MP 2001, ‘Job burnout’, Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 52, no. 1, pp. 397–422, doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397

Motta, SC & Bennett, A 2018, ‘Pedagogies of care, care-full epistemological practice and “other” caring subjectivities in enabling education’, Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 23, no. 5, pp. 631–646, doi: 10.1080/13562517.2018.1465911

Olds, A, Jones, A, Crawford, N & Osenieks, L 2018, ‘Reflective encounters for enabling educators: the role of debriefing in building psychological capital’, Foundation and Bridging Educators New Zealand Conference, Foundation and Bridging Educators of New Zealand, 29–30 November 2018, Wellington, New Zealand.

O’Sullivan, D, Rahamathulla, M & Pawar, M 2020, ‘The impact and implications of COVID-19: an Australian perspective’, The International Journal of Community and Social Development, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 134–151, doi: 10.1177/2516602620937922

Ricoeur, P. 1984, Time and Narrative, Volume 1, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, doi: 10.7208/9780226713519.

Peters, MA, Rizvi, F, McCulloch, G, Gibbs, P, Gorur, R, Hong, M, Hwang, Y, Zipin, L, Brennan, M, Robertson, S, Quay, J, Malbon, J, Taglietti, D, Barnett, R, Chengbing, W, McLaren, P, Apple, R, Papastephanou, M, Burbules, N, Jackson, L, Jalote, P, Kalantzis, M, Cope, B, Fataar, A, Conroy, J, Misiaszek, G, Biesta, G, Jandric, P, Choo, SS, Apple, M, Stone, L, Tierney, R, Tesar, M, Besley, B & Misiaszek, L 2020, ‘Reimagining the new pedagogical possibilities for universities post-Covid-19’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, vol. 54, no. 6, pp. 1–44, doi: 10.1080/00131857.2020.1777655

Rea, J 2016, ‘Critiquing neoliberalism in Australian universities’, Australian Universities’ Review, vol. 58, no. 2, p. 9–14, doi: 10.3316/ielapa.31810052954558

Shahjahan, RA 2020, ‘On “being for others”: time and shame in the neoliberal academy’, Journal of Education Policy, vol. 35, no. 6, pp. 785–811, doi: 10.1080/02680939.2019.1629027

Smigelsky, MA, Malott, J, Parker, R, Check, C, Rappaport, B & Ward, S 2022 ‘Let’s get “REAL”: a collaborative group therapy for moral injury’, Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, vol. 28, no. S1, S42–S56, doi: 10.1080/08854726.2022.2032978

Sugarman, J & Thrift, E 2017 ‘Neoliberalism and the psychology of time’, The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, vol. 60, no. 6, pp. 807–828, doi: 10.1177/0022167817716686

Symes, C & Hopkins, S 1994 ‘Universities Inc.: Caveat Emptor’, Australian Universities’ Review, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 47–51.

Tinni, S, Pietarinen, J & Pyhältö, K 2016 ‘What if teachers learn in the classroom?’, Teacher Development, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 380–397, doi: 10.1080/13664530.2016.1149511

Valero, P, Jørgensen, KM & Brunila, K 2019 ‘Affective subjectivation in the precarious neoliberal academia’, in D Bottrell & C Manathunga (eds.), Resisting Neoliberalism in Higher Education Volume I, Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 135–154.

Yoo, J 2019 ‘Creating a positive casual academic identity through change and loss: prising open the cracks’, in D Bottrell & C Manathunga (eds.), Resisting Neoliberalism in Higher Education Volume I, Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 89–100.