III Exploring Experience Through Innovative Methodologies

Exposing the “Hidden Injuries” of Feminist Early Career Researchers: An Experiential Think Piece About Maintaining Feminist Identities

Anna Tarrant and Emily Cooper


There is increasing recognition within the academy, particularly among junior scholars, of the precariousness that early career researchers face when seeking a long-term, permanent position in academia, and the need to create spaces of support (Bazeley 2003; Gill 2009; Parreira 2015). This is underpinned by an emerging, although limited, dialogue that draws attention to what Gill (2009) has termed the “hidden injuries” of academia. In this experiential think piece, we contribute to—and extend— this conversation by reflecting on our own career histories and aspirations, and on the complexities and contradictions we face as early career feminist researchers.

In so doing, we seek to move towards a more critical and reflexive investigation of our experiences, contextualised by relevant literature. We do this as young women for whom the possibilities in advancing femi-

A. Tarrant (H)

University of Leeds, Leeds, Yorkshire, UK E. Cooper

University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire, UK © The Author(s) 2017

R. Thwaites, A. Pressland (eds.), Being an Early Career Feminist Academic, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-54325-7_7

nist research agendas in relation to men, masculinities and the pursuit of gender equality (Anna) and stigma, myths and ineffective regulatory policy surrounding sex worker communities (Emily) are a key motivation, especially within disciplines that are dominated by men. We adopt an autobiographical style to explore the tensions that arise when trying to maintain our feminist identities, especially when our practices, identities and motivations to pursue an academic career are called into question.

Key to our strategies of resilience are our regular online conversations, both public and private, which constitute our personal support network, and in which we discuss and work through the often-tricky and affective qualitative experiences of the contemporary academy. We describe this as an example of our collaborative, rather than individualised, style of working, seeking ways to progress together through support rather than competition. We hope that, in describing the strategies we adopt, we help others as they negotiate the ever-changing, fast-paced transformations of the academy, while also trying to maintain their feminist identities.

Like a number of feminist scholars before us, our writing and conversations represent a political and strategic act, bringing us together as authors and feminist researchers through a shared commitment and purpose. We recognise the method of autobiography as an additional form of empowerment. We are particularly motivated by the central tenet of North American and British feminism of the 1970s that the personal is political, which, at the time, provided opportunities for women to challenge their misrepresentation and discrimination, as well as the wider social frameworks enabling these (Valentine 1998). Influenced by postmodernist/ poststructuralist thought of the 1980s and 1990s, autobiographical forms of writing became more prolific, particularly in the social sciences, as both methodological sources and as “methodologies” in themselves (Stanley 1993; Okely and Callaway 1992). While there are a number of forms of autobiography as method (Purcell 2009), “reflexive autobiography” particularly enables writers to explore individual subjectivity.

We begin our auto/biographical reflections with a brief overview of our biographies in the context of a highly masculinised academic environment. This is followed by analysis of some of the conversations we have had about the tensions we have faced and how we use technology to interrogate these experiences. We argue that this constitutes an important feminist “other” space beyond the institutional environment, where we have the opportunity to reflect on, and evaluate, these tensions and our approaches to them, both privately and publicly.

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