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I’m an early career feminist academic: get me out of here?’: encountering and resisting the neoliberal academy

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Publication date2016
Host publicationBeing an early career feminist academic: global perspectives, experiences and challenges
EditorsRachel Thwaites, Amy Godoy-Pressland
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Pages267-284
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781137543257
ISBN (Print)9781137543240
Original languageEnglish

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Gender and Education
PublisherPalgrave

Abstract

The authors in this chapter argue that with the increasing marketization of higher education, the entrenchment of accountability cultures, and the normalisation of casualised labour, neoliberal imperatives permeate the academy. Such transformations demand a particular kind of academic subject: highly productive, individualised, enterprising, un-attached, and able to withstand precarity. But who is s/he? Who can play this game? Recent data on UK higher education provides a dismal picture for women and younger academics. Not only are women under-represented in senior positions, they are also paid less, are more likely to be found on casual contracts, and take less maternity leave than those in other careers. Furthermore, the highest rates of leaving the sector are now found among academics aged 30 and below (Equality Challenge Unit, 2014). Set against this backdrop, this chapter seeks to contribute to a discussion about the difficulties of carving out and sustaining an academic career. It does so by drawing on the lived experiences of nine early career female academics working within the sociology of education and youth. The writers occupy a range of subjective positions in relation to class, ‘race’, ethnicity and sexuality as well as institutional location and contract type. As feminists and sociologists, they are acutely aware of gender inequality and how this interacts with other identity categories to produce different experiences of in/exclusion. Ironically, they find themselves confronted with these very same forces within contemporary academia. They are simultaneously reflexive about, and constrained by, the intersectional inequalities that shape their identities and sense of entitlement to occupy space within the academy (Puwar, 2004; Reay, 2000; Skeggs, 1997).In the spirit of feminist politics and tradition of feminist consciousness-raising, this chapter is a purposely collective endeavor. Occupying positions that speak to the interweaving of different aspects of marginalised identities, the chapter will explore both differences and similarities in their experiences. The authors’ aim in this chapter is not simply to ‘break the silence’ (Gill, 2012) about the hidden injuries of carving out an academic identity within conditions of carelessness and competitiveness (Lynch, 2010; Leathwood and Read 2013). Crucially, they will also attend to the passionate attachments, histories of feminist resistance, and forms of collectivity and inter-dependence that sustain them. In doing so, they look to offer ‘values beyond value’ through an ethics of care to counter the pervasive logic of neoliberal capital (Skeggs 2014).