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

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Publication date12/04/2022
Host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Imposter Syndrome in Higher Education
EditorsMichelle Addison, Maddie Breeze, Yvette Taylor
Place of PublicationCham
ISBN (electronic)9783030865702
ISBN (print)9783030865696
<mark>Original language</mark>English


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.