Exclusions and Injustices: Bodies Out of Place and Out of Time
To use the words of one Res-Sister, we feel we are ‘neither one nor t’other’: that we do not really fit. While our collective name emphasises our gender and feminist politics, our class and racial identities intersect with our positioning as women to create particular forms of exclusion. In line with the critical literature on belonging and exclusion in the academy, introduced at the start of this chapter, experiences of feeling ‘a fraud’, ‘not good enough’ and ‘out of place’ were vocalised by the collective in our group discussions. We described how we feel the whiteness, maleness and middle-classness of the academy in everyday encounters at conferences, in teaching rooms, in departmental meetings. At times we feel too feminine, not feminine enough, too working-class, too political, too black, too Northern, too urban, too Irish, too gay, too straight.
Perhaps we are also bodies out of time as well as bodies out of place. A key topic of our conversations has been the growing disjuncture between what we want from academia and what it demands from us. We find ourselves in academia through interests in, and commitments to, understanding and challenging inequalities. For all of us, our politics and intellectual passions are driven by personal experiences of injustice. However, we feel collectively that academia does not often provide us with the space or time to do what we entered this profession to do. The important aspects of our jobs—which we see as teaching and research committed to understand?ing and challenging social injustices—are increasingly sidelined by endless bureaucracy. We find ourselves caught up in recreating the very structures we wish to challenge.
As early career researchers we are under pressure to enhance ‘productivity’, measured by ‘outputs’—the cold, clinical term for our carefully crafted writing and ideas (Warner 2015). While this process affects all academics, it feels as though early career academics are particularly punished by this shift towards commodification. We are trying to establish careers in an arena where competitive individualism is valued, where people spend years trying to land secure contracts, many of our contemporaries writing in their spare (unpaid) time to enhance their employment prospects. Increasingly, early career academics are living precariously on a patchwork quilt of short-term research contracts and crumbs of hourly-paid teaching. In this environment, competition and measurable outputs (publication and grant applications) are a means of survival. Caught up in these unfortunate shifts, we are being crushed by the very career we know should be liberating. We find ourselves forced to work in circumstances that are not of our making, in a system that we are simultaneously critiquing and (re) producing.
Added to this frustration is that we often find ourselves silenced when we speak of these things to senior management. We are told that it has always been this way, that we are naive in our critique or that we should count ourselves lucky. We are left feeling like ungrateful daughters. Such practices cause us to question our very being and right to exist in academia. We are expected to cope with the spiralling demands of the job, not to question them. To critique feels tantamount to admitting that we are struggling and are not up to the job: that we are simply just not ‘good enough’ or ‘tough enough’. Indeed, as Gill and Donoghue (forthcoming) argue, even when institutions acknowledge the stress and anxiety associated with academic work, the solutions offered ‘remain locked into a profoundly individualist framework that turns away from systemic or collective politics to offer instead a set of individualised tools by which to “cope” with the strains of the neoliberal Academy’.
Furthermore, as class, gender and race inequality are increasingly discounted as tired concepts, ‘reeking of old discredited metanarratives’ (Reay 2000), to locate our frustrations within a broader context of inequality feels like a taboo. If we speak of sexism, racism or classism in the academy, we are met with ‘rolling eyes’ that instruct us to ‘get over it’ (Ahmed 2015). Indeed, even in spaces designed to officially ‘represent’ us, we can find ourselves frustrated, patronised by ‘Union Man’1, for whom gender discrimination in the academy is secondary to other ‘battles’.