Threatened academic professional identities: gender dynamics, workplace conditions and ‘unconscious complicity’

PhD Thesis

Boukeffa, F. 2022. Threatened academic professional identities: gender dynamics, workplace conditions and ‘unconscious complicity’. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Humanities and Educational Studies
AuthorsBoukeffa, F.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

The main aim of this thesis is to investigate the aspects affecting the academic professional identities of ten full-time women academics working at an Algerian university. Significantly,the study shows that their academic professional identities appear to be threatened by either all or some of the following dimensions: a) gender dynamics; b) workplace conditions; and c)their ‘unconscious complicity’.

Regarding the gender dynamics, this thesis demonstrates that there exists an inconsistency between the women academics’ own positioning in academia and that of society. Society
implies the family and/or the broader community -acquaintances, neighbours and other individuals outside the networking circles. In their accounts, women academics define themselves as teachers-researchers [‘enseignants-chercheurs’]. Research represents the preparation preceding their teaching tasks, especially when they are assigned a new module that goes beyond their field of expertise. It also refers to scholarly publications such as books and journal articles. As for society, data evidence, interestingly, shows that society perceives academic work as suitable for women. This prevalent narrative is underpinned by two main assumptions. First, it confuses academic flexibility – the ability to work anywhere – with free time; hence, it only recognises women academics’ nine or twelve teaching hours. Second, it, surprisingly, depicts the university setting as a space wherein women-men interactions are very limited, given that women academics spend most of their time between the classroom walls with their students. Although many women academics acknowledged the existence of such a discourse, only a few of them shared their experiences of how they were threatened by it, mainly when their partners and in-laws seemed to embrace it and, consequently, hindered women academics’ tasks beyond the workplace.

Workplace conditions represent another source of threat. Women academics demonstrated that they were operating in inadequate and unsupportive conditions, some of which were the consequence of a forced relocation to a faculty wherein they were not the owners. These challenges barely enabled them to perform their teaching duties in situ. Other practices, particularly in relation to research and professional development, were not institutionally supported. These challenging conditions led women academics to teach and leave. Interestingly, beyond the ‘teach and leave’ phenomenon, women academics showed that they were not weakened by the unsupportive working conditions. They, therefore, engaged in autonomous forms of professional development in order to enact their academic professional identities as ‘teachers-researchers’. These practices, however, were limited and individualistic. More importantly, they reflected an ‘unconscious complicity’ that did not help them change the status quo at the workplace and reinforced the gendered discourse revolving around women’s role in academia.

Data was ethnographically collected over a period of three months at an Algerian university, specifically an English Department, using observations, semi-structured interviews, and informal conversations. It involved ten women academics as the main respondents, and other faculty members – a male librarian, a male academic, a group of female students and the female Head of the English Department. Their accounts added richness and depth to the enquiry.

The thesis contributes to the existing scholarship in literature and theory. The ‘feminisation’ discourse in the existing literature focuses predominantly on school teaching. Its relation to academia in my study will hopefully enable researchers around the world to investigate whether similar gendered and naïve discourses exist, particularly in relation to the universal ‘flexibility’ of academia. The findings linked to the undesired relocation and its aftermath are
crucial for any decision-makers planning for a relocation in higher education settings. The concept of ‘unconscious complicity’ demonstrates that women academics’ inability to enact their academic professional identities does not only stem from external forces, as many research studies show, but also from their own practices which, in essence, were meant to keep them going. This might help other researchers shed equal light on academics’ role in sustaining their challenging experiences in relation to gender and beyond.

KeywordsAcademic professional identities; Gender dynamics; Workplace conditions; Unconscious complicity
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Deposited28 Feb 2023
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