University of Sussex
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Women being and becoming academics: exploring gendered career journeys and their implications for academic development

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posted on 2023-06-08, 21:02 authored by Sue Clayton
Whilst the literature of academic identity is well represented in the sociology of Higher Education (HE) in the UK, personal narratives of journeys through the process of being and becoming an academic are less present. The potential of narrative methodology to produce different knowledge by producing knowledge differently (St. Pierre, 1997) is used as a conceptual framework to co-construct case stories of the career journeys made by five women academics within a globalised academy in the early 21st century. The study draws on two principal theoretical frameworks to contrast the dynamic relationships between gender, structure and agency and their implications for Academic Development. These are: the critical realist theories of Margaret Archer (1995; 2000; 2003; 2012) and Judith Butler’s work on gender ‘performativity’ (1990; 2005; 2004). In terms of senior roles at policy level the Academy can be seen as a male dominated sphere. My thesis focuses on women’s journeys to foreground the effects of wider social relations and how they impact on women’s academic identities and careers to continually reproduce dominant discourses of a male hegemony and neo-liberal socio-economic climate. The consequential distortions in academic development practices are framed in the light of this knowledge. This contributes knowledge to the literature of Academic Development in Higher Education and has implications for my own professional practice as a Head of Continual Professional Development (CPD) for Teaching and Learning in a pre-92 University. Three broad research questions guided this exploration. 1. What are the experiences of women academics in developing their careers and academic identities? 2. How can case stories of the career choices made by women academics help academic developers understand gender inequalities in higher education? 3. What are the implications of gender equalities in the academy for the practices of Academic Development? The stories at the centre of this thesis speak of grand narratives; the ontological puzzles of structure and agency; class and gender oppression finding symbolic expression in women’s lives and institutional structures. There is no lack of agency in the voices of these women, and the first person narrative highlights that sense. However, from the narrative can be seen identity formed by individual struggles within macro and micro sociological forces. By theorising academic women’s lived experience at the micro-level, this thesis makes an original contribution to the field of Academic Development and affords opportunities for the widening of debate within the macro policies and micro practices of Academic Development; it supports counter-hegemonic gender discourses of HE which have been established from global studies of equalities in Higher Education. My study accords with feminist standpoints which conclude that policies based on polarised understandings of equalities which focus only on agency rather than structure will not redress the wider nor internal social inequalities which women face (Morley, 2012). I argue that the subsequent distortion in equalities policy making in the academy has implications for Academic Development. A significant finding in my study is that academic development practices cannot be seen as a dominant influence in the career journeys of my respondents. This finding supports the counter-hegemonic discourses of Academic Development which suggests that Academic Development and practices, promoted through managerialist agendas are inevitably seen as part of the masculinist, neo-liberal hegemony, and are more likely to reproduce hegemony rather than contest it. In conclusion, looking for strategies whereby Academic Development may better support gender equalities, my thesis suggests that academic developers, caught in the eternal dilemma of ‘straddling’ personal values and hegemonic discourses become more explicitly aware of the game (Lee and McWilliam, 2008) and make more creative use of the ways in which non-formal value-based approaches and dialogue can replace monolithic initiatives.


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