33 SES 01 A, Women in Higher Education
This paper is relevant to understanding how universities might better support the development of academics who can help to transform university social science and humanities departments to become more egalitarian in relation to intersecting gender inequalities. Feminist research into academic careers suggests such work is urgently needed (Morley, 2014). At the moment it is widely evidenced that different genders do not succeed to the same degree even in the humanities and social sciences where women numerically dominate at the undergraduate level and it would be thought that the critical content of the subjects would transform disciplines and academic contexts (Pearse et al 2019; Mclean et al, 2019). However, genders and that other aspects of identity systematically affect how successful and influential women are in their careers and this is a problem across Europe.
The concept of intersectionality is important for understanding the complex ways in which academic careers develop. The concept emerges from critical race theory to convey how race and gender were not experienced separately but in the lives of Black women were mutually constituting factors in their exceptionally disadvantaged lives: shamefully something that is still a stark feature of academic careers in Europe (Herrera, et al, 2016). Whilst we, like many others, use this concept in a broader sense, to include the compounding effects of other factors which cause inequality in university life: such as age, class and disability, we are minded that when applied to white people, men and others who are advantaged relative to black academics and black women, we need to include analysis of the privileges of whiteness in order to understand how whiteness combines with other factors systemically and through conscious and unconscious bias to create complex systems of disadvantage which affect some more than others (Byrne, 2015).
The critical realist perspective on agency provided by Margaret Archer (2007) is helpful in theorising how the fourteen academics in this study ‘make their way through life’ and contribute to change or stasis in universities. It reveals how the structural constraints and enablements embodied by the academics and their materially diverse lifeworld’s in university and outside of it, influence decision making and how their interrelationship with the university contexts differentially allow them to exercise agency to open space for gendered life projects that contribute to the academic endeavour and to the gendering of universities and academic life for themselves and future generations.
In our analysis of biographical interviews, we show how academics embody the complex and interacting social, academic and disciplinary structures, timescapes, and, socially and materially constructed spaces and emotions that reproduce and or challenge a currently unequal gendered environment. By bringing insights from the work of theorists of time (e.g. Barbara Adams), space (e.g. Doreen Massey, 1994 2005; Kalervo et al, 2007), emotions (e.g. Michael Brady, 2016), embodiment (e.g. Adamson and Johansson, 2016) and biographical researchers (e.g. Bertaux and Thompson, 2009) we try to grasp the complexity of the constraints and enablement and provide insights into the multi-textured, layered and materially diverse aspects that affect individuals capacity to exercise agency towards social justice. This complexity allows for a more nuanced and multi-layered perspective on what changes are needed for greater social justice.
Academics comprise a productive and creative intellectual force that has the potential to transform gender inequalities but diverse theoretical and conceptual frameworks are needed to understand the factors that constrain and enable them in achieving their potential to contribute to such a transformation.
The theorization is developed and illuminated by the analysis of data relating to 14 early-career academics in different humanities and social sciences whose unfolding life-histories were captured in biographical life-grids and interviews undertaken for every academic three times over eight years (2011-2019). They are women and men; of different nationalities and ethnicity; from different socio-economic backgrounds; and, started their careers in different types of universities at different ages. We explore how their characteristics and biographies influenced how they exercised agency in negotiating the shifting economic, cultural, social, political, and historical landscape of work, as they established academic careers. We also scrutinize the transformative contribution they made. Initial biographical interviews were recorded in life-grids (Abbas et al, 2014) and the subsequent three interviews about careers were recorded and then transcribed. Each took approximately one to one and a half hours. The thematic analysis focused on moments and types of decision making and the factors which shaped those decisions: biography, knowledge, time, space, embodiment and emotions all featured in this coding. In addition to thematic coding in Nvivo, a synopsis of each participant helped us to get a sense of their overall careers and lives and how they portrayed them.
The paper provides a novel and complex theorisation which helps to show the multifaceted nature of the material and social life-world of academics. It illustrates how gender structures are intransigent because they are implicitly embedded in so many aspects of the world, many of which are unconscious and difficult to include in policies aimed at increasing greater gender equality. However, these aspects of academics lifeworlds are also sites for the transformations needed for greater social justice.
Abbas, A. Ashwin, P., and McLean, M. (2013) "Qualitative Life-Grids: A Proposed Method for Comparative European Educational Research." European Educational Research Journal EERJ 12.3 (2013): 320-29. Web. Adam, B. (1990) Time and Social Theory, Cambridge: Polity Press. Adamson, M. and Johansson, M. (2016) Compositions of professionalism in counselling work: An embodied and embedded intersectionality framework, Human Relations, 69(12) Archer, M. (2007) Making our way through the world: Human Reflexivity and Social Mobility, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bertaux, and Thompson (eds) (2009) Pathways to Social Class: A Qualitative Approach to Social Mobility, Piscataway, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. Brady, M.S. (2016) Emotional Insight: The Epistemic role of Emotional Experience, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Byrne, B. (2015) "Rethinking Intersectionality and Whiteness at the Borders of Citizenship." Sociological Research Online 20.3. 1-12. Web. Herrera V. Lutz, Supik, L. H. and Supik, L. (2016) Framing Intersectionality : Debates on a Multi-faceted Concept in Gender Studies. London ; New York: Routledge. Kalervo N. Gulson & Colin Symes (2007) Knowing one's place: space, theory, education, Critical Studies in Education, 48:1, 97-110, DOI: 10.1080/17508480601123750 Massey, D. (1994b) Space, place and gender, Cambridge, Polity. Massey, D. (2005)For space, London, Sage. McLean, M. Abbas, A. and Ashwin, P. (2019) How Powerful Knowledge Disrupts Inequalities: quality in undergraduate education, London: Bloomsbury. Morley, L. (2016) Troubling intra-actions: gender, neo-liberalism and research in the global academy, Journal of Education Policy, 31:1, 28-45, DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2015.1062919 Pearse, R, Hitchcock, J. N. and Keane, H. (2019) "Gender, Inter/disciplinarity and Marginality in the Social Sciences and Humanities: A Comparison of Six Disciplines." Women's Studies International Forum 72: 109-26. Web.
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