Recently there has been a lot of talk about one of those issues academics (at least in the U.S.) obsess about: how to get tenure and the job security as well as license to (supposedly) speak truth to power that comes with it.
This round of conversations started when Stephen Walt gave some, rather generic, advice in his Foreign Policy piece “How to Get Tenure“. As a long-time professor at Harvard, Walt certainly has experience – but with a very particular kind of (highly privileged) institution and hence, while not wrong per se, his advice certainly is limited in a number of ways. One such limitation, that Walt’s imaginary assistant professor on the tenure-track is supposedly gender-less (aka male), was subsequently picked up by Erica Chenoweth, Page Fortina, Sara Mitchell, Burcu Savun, Jessica Weeks and Kathleen Cunningham. Their piece “How to Get Tenure (If You’re a Woman)” has been widely discussed among women in Political Science/ IR (and beyond) in the past weeks. In the piece, Chenoweth et al. offer “seven peer reviewed strategies female faculty can use” – and there is some good advice for those who want “to climb the academic ladder” (as is) here. What is more, they also note that other intersecting oppressions mean that “these issues also (and often more so) affect faculty of color and other underrepresented groups and are doubly difficult for women of color” (unfortunately they fall short of specifically addressing these issues).
There were many discussions on the facebook feed of the Women’s Caucus in International Studies (WCIS) and that of the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies (FTGS) section of ISA. Laura Sjoberg provides a useful summary of the gist of these conversations – that “Women Shouldn’t Need Different Guidelines for Achieving Tenure” – and you should really read them, as they also include a number of “Other Observations on Gendered Academe” and concrete suggestions as to what each of us might do, individually, to help out. She ends her piece with the lament voiced by many – that the system, with its deep gender, race, class, heterosexist, and ableist bias (to name just a few axes of oppression), is essentially broken. Much of the advice given is only a way to get by; it rarely allows us to thrive if we cannot figure out a way to become “the ideal worker… someone who is always able to work” (Williams, 2001).
One question remains, however: Is the system really broken?
The Gregynog Ideas Lab, a thinking space for scholars interested in studying global politics from a range of critical, postcolonial, feminist, post-structural and psychoanalytic traditions, takes place every summer at Gregynog Hall in mid-Wales (UK).
This unusual summer school offers a set of seminars & workshops, an artist-in-residence, methods training and one-on-one consultations to allow graduate students and established scholars to re-examine their own work, participate in ongoing conversations and meet new people who share an interest in critical international politics. Participants – both guest professors and students – come from various corners of the world and it is above all the informal and open atmosphere that is valued by all.
In early September, the circulation of the now iconic picture of Alan Kurdi, the little Syrian Kurdish boy who drowned along with his mother and brother in the attempt to cross the Aegean Sea, prompted me to write a post reflecting on what ‘we’ as academics might do. I argued that we could, possibly, use “our knowledge of global affairs to connect the dots and lay bare how Alan’s story” is emblematic of so many themes we touch upon in our research – and indeed, the moment created by the (ethically difficult) circulation of the picture became an opening to provide depth and nuance for those willing to listen.
I suggested that, if academics wanted to do ‘something’ in response, this something might include telling “the stories of all the children who died crossing the Mediterranean – and their parents and grandparents, and aunts, and uncles.” Now, it would be presumptuous to think that Anne Barnard of the New York Times read my post (and she is not an academic either), but imagine my delight to see her piece on the Kurdi family’s journeys published yesterday.
Yesterday the picture of little Alan (previously identified as Aylan), lying dead in the sand on the shores of the Mediterranean, circled the world. It provoked strong reactions from those who ‘witnessed’ his death in this manner and, not unlike the debates following some of the images shared after 9/11 (I wrote about that then), people questioned the ethics of sharing the images particularly without warning (see replies by some who shared here, here & here and note that his father wants the image to be shared if it can provoke action).
Indeed, it was this tweet from fellow Duck Megan MacKenzie that prompted today’s post (you can read our full exchange here). Her concerns are echoed, and expanded, in this piece (which also links to issues I discuss in a previous post on the #BBOG campaign). Of course there are things that we can do, even from the comfort of our own homes: We can sign petitions, such as this one from Avaaz or this one to force a debate in the UK parliament. We can share lists of things to do such as this one – and maybe get involved locally in Greece, Germany, or Italy (no matter where you are you can get involved locally – there are needs in San Francisco, where I am, and Sydney, where Megan is. If you have information for your local area, feel free to share them in the comments).
My first post on the Duck focused on the emergence of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag and campaign, pointing also to the ease with which hashtags can get appropriated and campaigns derailed. Yesterday, #BringBackOurGirls Nigeria (@BBOG_Nigeria on twitter) started a one week campaign to mark 500 days since the abduction.
Given the continuation of the campaign, in today’s post I want to dig a bit deeper in examining the urge to do “something”: Why do some events capture our attention while others fail to produce any kind of reaction? What kind of reactions are helpful? And – for whom?
As a new Duck, who (like Cai & Tom) took a while to consider what to blog about, I finally decided – long-winded academic that I am – to write a series of posts on the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign. To this end, I draw on materials for a keynote I just delivered at the University of Surrey’s Center for International Intervention‘s conference on “Narratives of Intervention: Perspectives from North and South” (#cii2015). Here I go:
On April 14, 2014, 276 girls between the ages of 15-18 years were abducted from a school in Chibok, Northern Nigeria, days before they were set to take their final exams. A group named Jama’atu ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, better known as Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the abduction. The girls’ kidnapping, despite its spectacular scale, initially received sparse attention in the media. However, after local activists took to twitter with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on April 23, within a matter of days (by May 1, 2014), the hashtag was trending globally and the mainstream media began to cover the event putting increased pressure on the Nigerian (but also the U.S.) government to ‘do something.’
The impulse to demand that ‘something’ be done is of interest in the context of campaigns of global feminist solidarity in particular, because presumably well-meaning efforts often have adverse effects. The attention provided by global campaigns, such as the hashtag campaign for #BringBackOurGirls, brings greater awareness to the plight of women and girls around the world, but at what cost? Is awareness, even if it is based on simplistic narratives and promotes ‘solutions’ disconnected from the reality on the ground, helpful? Does it matter when celebrities hold a #BringBackOurGirls sign – or do we need a more critical stance, as Ilan Kapoor has argued? What does it mean for the first lady of the U.S. to remark on the abduction during her 2014 Mother’s Day address and to call for action?