In the ensuing chapters we offer a collection of original essays, some based on empirical research and others on personal experience, to highlight the experiences of feminist early career researchers and teachers from an international perspective. In so doing, we aim to open up debate on the marketisation of the academy and the significant changes which are taking effect in the HE sector across the globe. This is an important debate for academics of all career stages but has a particular impact on those just entering the profession, who are faced with huge competition for jobs and a much changed approach to research and teaching. It offers a new angle on a significant and increasingly important discussion on the ethos of higher education and the sector’s place within society. The sheer number of abstracts and positive responses we received responding to our call for papers showed us the interest and significance of this early-career moment, especially when dealing with the often conflicting positions of being a feminist looking to work with colleagues ethically on creating a more equal world and an academic committing oneself to teaching ‘customers’, drumming up money for ‘business’, and creating ‘impact’ with outside partners.
Being an Early Career Feminist Academic is divided into five parts. The first part, ‘Introducing the Early Career Experience’, begins with ‘A Precarious Passion: Gendered and Age-Based Insecurity Among Aspiring Academics in Australia’, Lara McKenzie’s exploration, using empirical qualitative research, of precarity and gender among aspiring academics in Australia. McKenzie interviewed 12 early-career academics in the arts, humanities, and social sciences to explore their experiences and practices as aspiring academics. The work was carried out in Perth and Adelaide, and McKenzie examines critically the experiences of precarity from a gendered perspective, focusing in particular on power relations among university staff at different levels. The chapter includes an exploration of interviewees’ emotional, social, and personal responses to these relations of power, including fear, silence, and competitiveness, on the one hand, with collegiality, resistance, and anti-competitiveness on the other. The gendered outcomes of acting in a certain way are highlighted and feminist scholarship is used to contextualise the narratives. In the process, early career experiences of academia are explored using their own words, further scrutinizing the themes of precarity, power, and control, while utilising a feminist lens.
Olga Marques’ chapter, “Navigating Gendered Expectations at the Margins of Feminism and Criminology”, examines the issue of how to maintain one’s feminist self in the classroom during the early career stage. Marques argues that as a result of the historic neglect of both women and feminism, the discipline of criminology is male-centric. When feminism is highlighted in the curriculum, it is often within the context of studying women as offenders and victims. Indeed, courses in criminology are gender-marked asymmetrically, with the study of women and criminality and/or victimization treated in separate courses, identified by the title ‘women’, with a lack of corresponding courses specifically titled ‘men’ and criminality and/or victimization. The message to students is thus that feminism is about women and criminology about men—and perhaps ‘for’ these respective groups also. Given these realities, imparting a decidedly feminist slant to the discipline of criminology by gendering crime to explore the implications of masculinity and femininity on understandings of criminality and deviance is a difficult task. The societal relevance of gender and sex is also being undermined beyond academia, making inclusion of these subjects in courses more difficult for students to accept. This is especially true for an early career feminist criminologist, like Marques, who studies sexual regulation, sex work, and pornography—topics that are seen as at the margins of importance and not taken seriously—from a sexpositive feminist lens, much to the chagrin of a discipline that often places these topics under the rubric of degradation and exploitation. Therefore, in this chapter Marques addresses the question of who is seen as a knowledgeable and credible teacher and whether it is the topic or the teacher which is the main issue for students.
The second part is entitled, ‘Affect and Identities: Negotiating Tensions in the Early Career’, and it contains three chapters which provide explorations of the academic self combined with other identity markers that have often been problematic in the context of the neoliberal academy. The first, Agnes Bosanquet’s ‘Academic, Woman, Mother: Negotiating Multiple Subjectivities During Early Career’, looks at the multiple subjectivities that some early career female academics face when they enter motherhood ‘and’ academia. Boasanquet argues that the collision of academia and motherhood can further destabilise career trajectories and subsequent track records. This chapter examines the voices of academic mothers in two ways: first, it presents findings from a survey of early career academics in three Australian universities. Second, it offers an auto-ethnographic account of combining motherhood and feminist academic work, documenting Boasanquet’s experience of researching Luce Irigaray’s philosophy, and the disruption occasioned by the birth and illness of Boasanquet’s daughter. The chapter concludes by offering an account of the fluid, messy, and multiple subjectivities negotiated by early career academic mothers.
The second chapter, ‘Room for Confidence: Early Career Feminists in the English Department’, by Helena Goodwyn and Emily Jane Hogg, focuses on a discipline frequently perceived as ‘feminine’: English. As with many disciplines in universities, it now includes more female undergraduates than male, but there is a steep drop-off through postgraduate education and into an academic career. Goodwyn and Hogg consider the challenge of being a female in an English department by drawing on statistical analysis of English Studies enrolment and completion rates and use their personal experience of reading and teaching Virginia Woolf’s canonical, feminist essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’. They argue that the position of PhD students is very specific: in research and teaching practice they are a member of the academic community, and yet they remain simultane?ously a student. Embodying feminist politics in the classroom and in one’s research practices whilst in this transitional stage is fraught with anxieties and concerns. For example, in an increasingly casualised workforce, PhD students and early career academics are required to shoulder responsibility for teaching without the academic staff member’s traditional resources— without, for example, private offices in which to hold student consultations, plan seminars, or mark work. Moreover, Goodwyn and Hogg argue that where jobs are scarce, connections and networking seem to become ever more important, and yet, a dearth of successful women in management positions in universities is a dispiriting fact for ambitious young women entering the academic sphere. In this provocative piece Goodwyn and Hogg provoke and answer the questions, How much ‘anger and bitterness’ is allowable, advisable or useful? and How might identifying as a feminist in an English department help one to find ways to develop the ‘imponderable’ but ‘invaluable’ confidence Woolf describes?
The final chapter in this section, ‘“Are You One of Us, or One of Them?” An Autothnography of a “Hybrid” Feminist Researcher Bridging Two Worlds’, by Sophie Alkhaled, is a personal piece, which also draws upon academic research and feminist theory regarding the themes of this edited collection. Using an evocative auto-ethnographic approach, this chapter discusses the intersectionality of ‘opportunities’ and ‘boundaries’ faced by Alkhaled as a ‘hybrid’ British/Syrian feminist researcher (focusing on the intersections of gender, age, nationality, and ethnicity) during her PhD studies in the United Kingdom and her fieldwork in Saudi Arabia. In this chapter Alkhaled reflects on her doctoral experiences and how she began to cope with and resist some of her peers’ hostility towards herself and her research. Alkhaled problematises being a feminist researcher in higher education across various cultural and organisational contexts, in a historically male dominated discipline and in researching ‘the Other’, as well as delving in a personal way into how one can maintain a feminist identity whilst continuing to bridge two worlds where the nuances of patriarchy vary explicitly and implicitly.
The third part of this collection, ‘Exploring Experience Through Innovative Methodologies’, contests traditional research methods to analyse and discuss the challenges that early career feminist academics face in a number of European HE settings. First, in ‘Exposing the “Hidden Injuries” of Feminist Early-Career Researchers: An Experiential Think Piece About Maintaining Feminist Identities’, Anna Tarrant and Emily Cooper use a dialogic style of writing to expose the ‘hidden injuries’ incurred by early career feminist academics trying to maintain their feminist identities. Since completing their PhDs they have held five and three (respectively) fixed-term positions in academia (at times held concurrently with jobs outside of academia), some teaching-focused and some research only. While it is not necessarily indicative of every early career academic’s experience, they argue that this number reveals the extent to which working on fixed-term contracts and changing jobs frequently (with its attendant upheaval) has become normalised in the early career stage, which offers little security and no certain prospect of advancement. Both authors aspire to the ‘holy grail’ of combining research and teaching into one role: the Lectureship. Both aspire to job security and some recognition that their institutions, their colleagues, their students, and their research audiences value the work they do.
By adopting an innovative methodology, Tarrant and Cooper are able to represent how they experience and negotiate daily struggles as young, feminist early career researchers and to provide examples of the way in which their identities and practices as young female scholars are commented upon and subjected to critical attention by others. This chapter also includes an exploration of how regular online conversations are key, according to Tarrant and Cooper, to strategies of resilience and have become part of their personal support networks, in which they discuss and work through the often-tricky and affective qualitative experiences of the contemporary academy.
Marjaana Jauhola and Saara Sarma’s ‘Reflecting Realities and Creating Utopias: Early Career Feminists (Un)Doing International Relations in Finland’ follows Tarrant and Cooper’s lead by also utilising an innovative methodological style to explore the discipline of International Relations (IR) in Finland. Despite a rich tradition of feminist scholarship over the past 30 years aimed at ‘shaking up’ the discipline of IR, Jauhola and Sarma argue that IR in Finland is still male-dominated, sexist, and misogynist. As such, the discipline could be considered to mirror the gender politics of the practice of international relations. Most of the scholarship examining this male dominance has emerged from the English-speaking sector of IR, although international relations are studied and theorized about at campuses all around the world; and thus this chapter provides new knowledge about the position of early career female academics in an understudied subject. The chapter draws from a collective-memory process carried out by young feminist IR researchers in Finland and offers insights into the politics and analysis of power of the discipline from a feminist perspective. The collective collaging and critical memory work produces documentation of ‘subjugated knowledges’ on IR in two ways: (1) collection of lived and embodied experiences of being a feminist scholar, and (2) envisioning feminist utopias for alternative visions of Feminist International Relations (FIR).
The fourth part is entitled, ‘Work, Networks and Social Capital: Building the Academic Career’, and it begins with Klara Regno’s chapter, ‘Challenges to Feminist Solidarity in the Era of New Public Management’, which examines New Public Management (NPM) in academia in Sweden and the effect this is having on early-career academics in particular. NPM has been introduced into academia through various ‘reforms’ which have set up a quasi-market model in universities: there is a great deal more regulation, monitoring, and control, as well as a focus on the finances being brought into each department. In the face of this ‘reform’, certain work becomes illegitimate and unimportant, despite its having been previously perceived as an important part of an academic career. These reforms and the growth of short-term contracts have, Regno argues, have challenged feminist solidarity within academia and are making it more difficult to challenge the male-dominated nature of the field. Inequality is deepening and early career academics are becoming increasingly dependent on more senior academics to get ahead, often living on little money and doing much of the work seen as less prestigious, including teaching. In this environment, Regno asks what early career feminist academics can do to shore up the progress women have made at universities and within academia but also whether, and how, they can continue to promote a feminist agenda of solidarity and equality in the changing academy. In so doing, Regno engages directly with the overall questions and themes of the book concerning the neoliberal agenda, marketisation, changing professional standards, and the restrictions placed on younger academics with a feminist viewpoint who might want to challenge these precepts and stay true to their own values, while also succeeding professionally.
In ‘Inequality in Academia: The Way Social Connections Work’, Irina Gewinner investigates inequality in academia in relation to the gendered nature of early career academics’ participation in conferences in Russia by looking at the application process; who applies; and, crucially, who is chosen to attend and present their work. Gewinner begins her chapter by arguing that scholarly discussion on inequality and discrimination in academia often involves particularly common issues: gender inequality/ discrimination and the closely connected problem of wage inequality/dis- crimination. Shifting the discussion to wage inequalities, Gewinner states that recent studies have paid little attention to the inequality faced by early-career female academics regarding their participation in scientific events, such as conferences, as a source of occupational advancement and access to social networks.
Specifically, Gewinner poses two questions: (1) Are young female members of academia likely to be excluded from scientific events such as workshops and conferences? (2) What are the driving forces behind and mechanisms of exclusion employed by the gatekeepers? Gewinner analyses data from a research project conducted in Russia, using a gendered approach to analysing her data, and presents a compelling case for the need for early career female academics to actively pursue and participate in scholarly events which expose their work and enhance their networking opportunities.
The final chapter of this part, ‘Feminist Work in Academia and Beyond’, written by Orla Meadhbh Murray, Muireann Crowley, and Lena Wanggren, explores feminist work in academia, couching personal experiences of early career feminist academics in methodological discussions of Dorothy Smith’s feminist approach to institutional ethnography. This chapter thus seeks to unite the experiential and the theoretical by integrating excerpts from the conversations that generated the chapter into the body of its argument. By using Smith’s expanded notion of ‘work’, which includes the invisible emotional and social labour that is essential to the running of the university yet is often unpaid and underappreciated, the authors provide a feminist critique of the neoliberal university. While doing this, they identify issues such as casualisation, workload ,and preconceptions around the academic ‘lifestyle’ as feminist issues, especially for early career feminists in higher education.
Reflecting on their own experiences as early career feminist academics, they explore the negotiation of feminist aims within institutional boundaries. Work carried out by women, casualised staff, and postgraduate students in higher education, they argue, is essential yet often unacknowledged or not valued as ‘proper’ academic work. By asking who organises the post-seminar wine reception, whose shoulders we cry on, and whether or not this is considered work, they highlight the gendered, racialised, and classed hierarchies of academia and their institutional reproduction. The chapter asks readers and practitioners to consider their own situations in higher education and question what their feminist ‘work’ entails.
The final part of the book, ‘Envisaging Feminist Futures’ encourages early career feminist academics to look forward and imagine a brighter future, when the issues discussed by previous contributors are successfully addressed. Katherine Natanel, in ‘On Becoming “Bad Subjects”: Teaching to Transgress in Neoliberal Education’, starts this part by highlighting the challenges and possibilities of attempting to teach a feminist curriculum using a feminist pedagogy. Natanel begins by drawing on her three years of experience as a Graduate Teaching Assistant and two years as a Senior Teaching Fellow in a Gender Studies department. She reflects upon the challenges facing feminist early career scholars who ‘teach to transgress’ (hooks 1994) in the context of neoliberalism. As recent academic articles and media accounts have highlighted, Natanel argues that HE has increasingly become a site of isolation and disenchantment for scholars who survive the rigours of doctoral study and find themselves entering a flooded job market and enduring exploitative conditions. The prospect of years spent ‘patching together’ employment in HE yields particular tensions for feminist scholars, Natanel argues; and through a personal account, she explores the fraught experience of practicing feminist politics and critical pedagogy within the structures of neoliberal education in the United Kingdom. Natanel argues that the challenge facing feminist ‘bad subjects’ is how to become agents of the very transgression they teach, actively contesting neoliberal logics as they carve out new spaces within academia.
The following chapter, written by Misato Matsuoka, ‘Embracing Vulnerability? A Reflection on my Academic Journey as a Japanese Early Career Feminist Academic Abroad’, explores her personal account of realising her feminist self over the course of her academic studies from undergraduate to PhD candidate. Matsuoka reflects on her academic and pedagogical experiences as an international student, which provoked many internal questions about her national identity, ethnic, and gendered self. She was born into a Japanese family living the United States and moved to Japan and then the United Kingdom during some of her most formative years. She charts her feelings of being an ‘outsider’, even when living in her native country of Japan. Using the concepts of vulnerability and precarity to explore and understand her identity as a feminist early career academic abroad, Matsuoka’s chapter reflects her personal and academic journey through the difficulties and opportunities she has faced in her quest to become a scholar in International Relations (IR). Moreover, Matsuoka explores the contested position of feminism in the discipline of
IR and particularly how this inspired a self-interrogation regarding her own feminist awakening. This honest and highly personal account provides a fascinating display of one feminist scholar’s journey through a myriad of academic and identity challenges.
The final chapter, ‘“I’m an Early-Career Feminist Academic: Get Me Out of Here?” Encountering and Resisting the Neoliberal Academy’ was written by the Res-Sisters, who are a collective of nine early career feminist academics from UK universities (Jessie Abrahams, Cardiff University; Kim Allen, Manchester Metropolitan University; Victoria Cann, University of East Anglia; Laura Harvey, University of Surrey; Sumi Hollingworth, London South Bank University; Nicola Ingram, University of Bath; Kirsty Morrin, University of Manchester; Helene Snee, Manchester Metropolitan University; Annabel Wilson, Cardiff University). In this chapter, the Res-Sisters argue that with the increasing marketisation 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, unattached, and able to withstand precarity. But, they ask, who exactly is the person who can play this game?
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 feminist academics. 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. In the spirit of feminist politics and tradition of feminist consciousnessraising, this chapter is a purposely ‘collective’ endeavor. They draw, verbatim, from excerpts from a recorded group discussion by ‘the collective’, which are theorized and set within relevant literature on neoliberalism, academic labour, class and gender identities, and feminist practice and politics.
We hope that this book will provide revealing accounts of the lived experiences of early-career feminist academics. We also hope that the following chapters pose provocative questions with which feminist academics and university management teams alike can engage. This global account from feminists in the early stages of their academic careers aims to fill a (cavernous) hole in academic literature so that we might understand, adapt, challenge, support, and move forward in order to address the situation of women in academia and the status of equality more generally across higher education.