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‘I shouldn’t be here’: Academics’ experiences of embodied (un)belonging, gendered competitiveness, and inequalities in precarious English higher education

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)

Forthcoming
Publication date2020
Host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of 'Imposter Syndrome' in Higher Education
EditorsMichelle Addison, Yvette Taylor, Maddie Breeze
PublisherPalgrave
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Using data from interviews with academic staff in English higher education (HE), this chapter considers belonging/unbelonging and insiderness/outsiderness in relation to the ‘hegemonic academic.’ It contends that HE is dominated by competitiveness, that competitiveness is culturally associated with a highly-valued form of masculinity termed ‘hegemonic masculinity,’ and demonstrates that in a neoliberalised HE environment defined by precarity and insecurity, the need to emulate the hegemonic ideal becomes increasingly urgent not just to succeed but to survive and to create a sense of belonging.

Thinking particularly about the embodied aspects of this ideal, the chapter reveals that the hegemonic academic is gendered (male), raced (white), and classed (middle and up), and that compliance with traits associated with these qualities is often signalled and read through proxy indicators such as dress and comportment, and communicated through curation and promotion of a certain persona.

Feelings of belonging and legitimacy are shown to be mutable and ambivalent, however, rendering it impossible to land on a stable identity, and thus to truly ‘belong’: both landscape and individual are contingent and ever-shifting, producing an environment riven with insecurity and anxiety that is alienating for all, if unequally so.