Detailed Program of the Conference

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The current Conference time is: 15th Aug 2022, 12:08:07am CEST

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Overall view of the program
Parallel sessions - I.8.1 The academic work in neoliberal times: Exploring gender, precarity and emerging forms of solidarity
Saturday, 05/June/2021:
9:00am - 11:15am

Session Chair: Camilla Gaiaschi
Session Chair: Annalisa Murgia
Location: Room 10

Session Panels:
I.8. The academic work in neoliberal times: Exploring gender, precarity and emerging forms of solidarity

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ID: 116 / SAT-PRL-M1-I.8.1: 1
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Panels: I.8. The academic work in neoliberal times: Exploring gender, precarity and emerging forms of solidarity
Keywords: higher education, gender, neoliberalism, discourse


Thomas Brorsen Smidt, Gyða Margrét Pétursdóttir, Þorgerður Einarsdóttir

University of Iceland, Iceland

In a neoliberal culture of higher education that favours individual emancipation in an academic market place, our collective understanding of inequality as being rooted in larger systems of power is in danger of becoming diluted. In modern universities this is sometimes expressed through performative and inadequately implemented gender equality policies. This has been addressed in recent literature in terms of both resistance strategies and the importance of changes in discourse. Following a qualitative analysis of interviews with 16 current and former social scientists at the University of Iceland, we argue for the existence of an individual and implicit form of resistance to gender equality that echoes the performativity of existing policies, and in which equality discourse is ‘hijacked’ and used to maintain the aura of gender equality necessitated by a neoliberal academic culture.

ID: 238 / SAT-PRL-M1-I.8.1: 3
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Panels: I.8. The academic work in neoliberal times: Exploring gender, precarity and emerging forms of solidarity
Keywords: feminists, intimate insider research, strategies, ripple effect


Thamar Heijstra, Gyða Margrét Pétursdóttir

University of Iceland, Iceland

Historically and in the present day feminism is marginalised within higher education, and teaching gender can be considered an occupational risk. As a consequence, gender studies scholars are caught up in what Hark (2015) terms the precarious conditon for change, in which in order to bring about change feminist activists need to dissent to the academic game. What is more, this is by no means a temporary stage, but rather a continuous process that does not resolve itself once tenure and professorship has been obtained. Instead running up against the system (Breeze and Taylor, 2020) is what feminism and activism are in their core about.

In this study we examine the strategies that senior feminist activists in professor positions have developed in order to undertake their work in non-feminists environments, both within the neo-liberal academia and within society at large. The women in the study can therefore be said to be interlopers, they are situated in the academy but are not of the academy (Wise, 1997).

The study can be identified as an intimate insider research (Taylor) and is based on 12 face-to-face interviews conducted with academic feminist activists in Iceland. These women have all been teaching in critical disciplines and while the number of interviewees may be deemed small, we virtually exhausted the population.

The women were asked to share stories about their academic career, their take on academia and future prospectives. From the thematic data analysis it appears that the women were developing and rapidly switching between offense and defense strategies, much like in football games. They did so as to negotiate the ambivalances they come across in their daily routines both inside and outside academia. The offense defense strategies consisted of trying to stay somewhat under the radar, believing in the power of teaching by creating a ripple effect among their students. They also put effort into making themselves indispensable in order to safeguard their disciplines, and they constantly contemplated their tactics. Moreover from experience they had learnt that sometimes it was better not to react to acquisitions, and to call-in instead of calling out. Overall, the findings reaveal that the precarious precondition for change calls for strategies, and that in order to persevere it is helpful for the academic feminist activist to be hopeaholics (Steinem, n.d.) that can play the defense-offense game strategically.

ID: 252 / SAT-PRL-M1-I.8.1: 4
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Panels: I.8. The academic work in neoliberal times: Exploring gender, precarity and emerging forms of solidarity
Keywords: gender, academic capitalism, slow scholarship, solidarity


Elisabeth Anna Guenther1, Dagmar Fink1, Viktorija Ratković2

1University of Vienna, Austria; 2University of Klagenfurt, Austria

Western universities are hallmarked by inequality regimes (Acker 2006), neoliberalism (Parker & Jary 1995) and academic capitalism (Slaughter & Rhoades 2004). Inequality is deeply enshrined within the processes of the neoliberal university: Women, black people and ethnic minorities (Emejulu & Sobande 2019; Kuria 2015) as well as people from poor and working-class background (Hüttner & Altieri 2020) and/or with chronic illness or disability encounter more barriers along their academic trajectory then their privileged counterparts. This is true not only for students (Guenther 2016) but also when it comes to different stages of career progression and organizational processes (Murgia & Poggio 2019). The high workload, the prevalence of audit culture (Shore 2008) and the acceleration of time (Vostal 2014) increase pressure and stress, especially for minority academics. Moreover, figures indicate that women academics are much more likely to be in precarious employment (fixed-term and part-time) compared to men (for Austria: uni:data 2021, for Europe: She Figures 2018). This is the backdrop of the Austrian University Act.
The Austrian University Act, which was introduced first in 2002, serves as an example to highlight ways on how the neoliberal university – with measures of new public management – is designed. Contrary to most other types of organization, Austrian universities have their own employment law, provided by the University Act. It grants universities – i.e. the employer – more “flexibility” when it comes to fixed-term contracts than the general employment law would. It defines specific career stages and the selection procedures for the most influential positions within university. It frames the way students should learn at university and how curricula are designed. Moreover, it calls for the implementation of equality measures, such as equal opportunity committees and equality plans. The latest amendment to the University Act, introduced during the Covid pandemic, not only puts more pressure on students but also limits the possibility of fixed-term contracts drastically. The social media campaign introduced by the government to appease protest claims that the changes aim at providing early career researchers and students with more security. Precariously employed academics nevertheless fear that universities will not change their employment strategies but further exploit precarious workers without providing them any career perspectives. Many fear that the introduced changes will further exacerbate precariousness and inequality.
This paper takes the struggle over interpretation of the implemented changes as a starting point to elaborate the tensions and challenges for creating a good university (Connell 2019). Guided both by Connell’s (2019) idea of the good university as well as the principle of slow scholarship (Berg & Seeber 2016; Mountz et al. 2015) we explore the gaps and obstacles towards a more inclusive and solidaric academia and aim to highlight the opportunities to overcome inequalities.

ID: 289 / SAT-PRL-M1-I.8.1: 5
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Panels: I.8. The academic work in neoliberal times: Exploring gender, precarity and emerging forms of solidarity
Keywords: Academia, Precariousness, Gender Asymmetries, STEM


Rossella Bozzon

University of Milan, Italy

This work aims at analysing how the growing instability and uncertainty in the Italian academic system intersect gender disadvantages in scientific careers. It focuses on how job instability influence career chances among male and female PhD holders in STEM at the very beginning of their career paying attention to the factors that foster the exclusion from the academic system. On the base of the results of the Doctorate Holders’ Vocational Integration survey, conducted by ISTAT in 2014 and 2018, and of a qualitative organisational case study conducted in an Italian STEM department, working conditions and career strategies of male and female early stages researchers are explored adopting both an objective and a subjective perspective. The analyses point out that the current precarisation of scientific careers does not seem to undermine the organizational culture in the Italian universities, which relies on a traditional gender model.

ID: 508 / SAT-PRL-M1-I.8.1: 6
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Panels: I.8. The academic work in neoliberal times: Exploring gender, precarity and emerging forms of solidarity
Keywords: academic mothers, academic citizenship, COVID-19, ethics of care, work–family conflict


Lidia Katia C. Manzo1, Sara Martucci2

1University of Milan (Italy); 2Mercy College (USA)

The COVID-19 lockdown exasperated the difficulties that already existed for working mothers. Without childcare support, working remotely has been extremely challenging for professional mothers, and academia is no exception. This reality is nothing out of the ordinary. Mothers have been left behind for years bearing the penalty of the rigid reward system and lack of work-life integration of academia. The pandemic arrived amidst a growing call for engaged scholars to resist the neo-liberalization of universities and advocating for a feminist “ethics of care” in academia to help us refocus on wellbeing and care - together with solidarity and pluralism - and redefine excellence in teaching and research.

In this paper, we reflect on what the COVID-19 crisis means for working mothers and how it could affect academia more generally. Universities should not only recognize the impact of the pandemic on the career of academic mothers, but, moving forward, focus on building “academic citizenship” into their requirements for tenure, promotion and contract renewals to maintain the quality of “service” activities and, ultimately, an accommodating working environment.

This study is part of a larger research project, the Smart-Mama study, which explored the social effects of the COVID-19 crisis through the lens of domestic rearrangements of parenting and remote working during the lockdown in Italy and the US. We sampled professional women who were working from home and had young children under the age of 5. Using teleconferencing, we interviewed the women regarding their daily schedules and childcare before Covid-19, and during the Spring 2020 lockdown. Participants were also asked about sources of emotional support, as well as positive and negative experiences of the lockdown, and, crucial for this paper, their expectations of the pandemic’s long-term consequences on their academic career. From March to June 2020, we contacted over 80 mothers. Some of them participated in the study, others just wanted to express support for the project. For the purpose of this article, we have selected a sample of 38 fulltime academic mothers from various ranks.

Results highlight that academic mothers had to invest much of their attention on teaching duties as universities, generally, opted for the online relocation of all teaching activities, without providing any other form of support, if not purely technical. These women had to postpone or discard their research, and therefore they felt the anxiety and fear that has spread over their uncertain future career. Particularly, the inherent inequalities with academic fathers or peers who do not have care duties were further exposed.

We argue that this data is important because it can be leveraged to raise awareness on the negative impact of current university systems on women’s advancement in academia. We advocate for prioritizing collective rather than individual goals, whilst remaining accountable to our universities and being scientifically responsive. Lessons learned from this crisis should be used as an opportunity to foster a culture of care in academia to support equality and push for systemic change, both during and after the pandemic.

ID: 510 / SAT-PRL-M1-I.8.1: 7
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Panels: I.8. The academic work in neoliberal times: Exploring gender, precarity and emerging forms of solidarity
Keywords: Academia, glass door, neoliberal turn, gender, Italy


Rosy Musumeci1, Anna Carreri2, Manuela Naldini1

1Università di Torino, Italy; 2Università di Trento, Italy

Recent quantitative analysises on women employed (Picardi 2019) and recruited (Gaiaschi and Musumeci 2020) in the Italian academia show that the female access to the grade C assistant professorship has worsened in coincidence to the so-called neo-liberal turn implying – together the adoption of a performance-based funding system and a strong cut in turnover – the reshaping of the career pathways articulation. Indeed the so-called Gelmini reform (law 240/2010) has replaced the former permanent contract of assistant professor (the so called “Ricercatore Unico” (RU)) with two new types of fixed-term contracts: the RTDa, a “junior” assistant professor, and the RTDb, a “senior” assistant professor, paid more and with tenure track to the associate professor position once obtained the National Scientific Qualification (ASN). These studies show that women are more under-represented among the “new” assistant professor positions, especially among the more guaranteed RTDb, than among the pre-reform RU. In order to detect the gender impact of the transformations in the university careers on the access to the academic profession having a tenure track position a new concept has been introduced, the glass door (Picardi 2019), where the “door” – of the academic system – is represented by the grade C assistant professorship. Following these reflections and adopting such concept, in the present contribution, we propose a qualitative analysis aimed at exploring gender and “generation” asymmetries in the academic “structured” entry phase (“ingresso strutturato”) in the transition between before and after the Gelmini reform. The empirical material derives from the PRIN GEA (Gendering Academia) funded by MIUR (the Italian Ministry of Education, University, and Research) and coordinated by professor Manuela Naldini (University of Turin). It consists of qualitative interviews conducted with 32 STEM and SSH researchers in their early career stages (post-doc and RTD-A) and with 31 associate professors in two universities of Northern Italy. The two sub-samples are well-balanced according to gender. The micro level analysis of interviewees’ working paths and lived experiences, attitudes and feelings in aspiring, approaching and entering the “door” of the academy is linked to the exploration of the subjective meanings, representations and judgments given about the institutional changes introduced by the Gelmini reform in the macro academic system as well as of the perceived inequalities and coping strategies planned or acted by who is experiencing such macro changes. The two groups of academics – the early career and the advanced career ones as control group – are confronted in order to better disentangle the individual strategies at the micro level and the role of macro level changes in modifying and "structuring" the experiences of the entry stage into the academy of the two “generations” of researchers and to outline possible transversal similarities between the two.


Gaiaschi C., Musumeci R. (2020) Just a Matter of Time? Women’s Career Advancement in Neo-Liberal Academia. An Analysis of Recruitment Trends in Italian Universities, in «Social Sciences», 9(9), 163.

Picardi I. (2019) The glass door of academia: Unveiling new gendered bias in academic recruitment, in «Social Sciences» 8(5), 160.

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