Invisible but Exposed: The Lived Experience of Disabled Female Academics in Neoliberal Universities
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AbstractNeoliberal academia represents a challenging and competitive environment which privileges long working hours and performativity. Though previous research has addressed the experiences of female academics, there has been relatively little consideration of disabled faculty, who are often marginalised and poorly accommodated. In the present study, I focus on the lived experience of academics with long-term conditions that limit energy levels and / or impact on cognitive function. These conditions may be particularly inconsistent with the neoliberal academic culture and are not easily addressed by institutional accommodations. I interviewed ten female academics; all academics reported a condition that impacted on their energy levels and / or cognitive function (e.g., arthritis, depression). Academics were employed at British Higher Education Institutions, though institution type, role, and subject discipline varied. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, interviews were conducted online via the Zoom platform. Average length of interview was 55 minutes, ranging from 45 minutes to 69 minutes. I employed Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (Smith, 1996) to analyse the interviews and six themes were identified. Identity and the Concept of Disability indicated that academics were often reluctant to describe themselves as disabled, with important consequences for the reporting and disclosure process. Dependence and Vulnerability highlighted a lack of institutional support and frequent dependence on individual Managers for access to appropriate accommodations. Legitimacy, Convention, and Conformity described the ‘hierarchy’ of health conditions that influences the acceptability of specific health issues and the privileging of specific forms of academic practice that may disadvantage those with disabilities. Workload, Intensification, and Marketisation focused on excessive academic workloads, the intensification of academic work, and the impact of this on faculty health and wellbeing. Insecurity, Competition, and Comparison highlighted the precarious and competitive nature of academia and the impact of this (e.g., on wellbeing, willingness to disclose), particularly when disabled academics are compared to those without disabilities. Perception, Othering, and Isolation described a lack of understanding of energy limiting conditions and / or those that impact on cognitive function and the extent to which the actions of individual colleagues were exacerbated by ableist policies and practice. I discuss each theme in relation to existing education and disability-oriented literature and make specific recommendations for education practice and policy.
CitationBrewer, G. (2021). Invisible but exposed: The lived experience of disabled female academics in neoliberal universities [Unpublished doctoral thesis]. University of Chester.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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