Precarity, Gender, and Care: A View from the Neoliberal Academy

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 33 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Kathleen LYNCH, University College Dublin, Ireland
Mariya IVANCHEVA, University College Dublin, Ireland
Kathryn KEATING, University College Dublin, Ireland
Based on over fifty in-depth interviews with women across higher education in Ireland, this paper explores how women are affected by the neoliberal reforms of higher education and the interplay of precarity, care and gender. Neoliberalism has had destructive effects on academic labour, and a generation of young scholars who enter the job-market with minimum income but under maximum pressure for visibility are faced with flexibility and recurrent migration. While much of the research on gender in academia have focused on tenured staff and senior management (Acker 2006; O’Connor 2014), there has been relatively little reflection on the new divisions between an ever tinier elite of permanent academics and a reserve army of workers with short, low paid, hyper-flexible contracts. This phenomenon is not exclusive to women, yet women are over-represented in part-time and fixed-term appointments, in a societal context in which women remain the default carers and care work is systematically undermined.

Our data shows that a ‘split career track’ has emerged among academic women: while some are pressed to seek serial employment abroad severing social and professional ties at a given locality, others opt out of transnational mobility but remain  trapped into zero-hour teaching and precarious research arrangements. Those who seek to balance care responsibilities with an academic career, do so  in the context of ever-declining welfare regimes at home Those who seek transnational mobility as the new 'ideal', face a trajectory that is hostile to care of dependent others, and requires them to sacrifice locality and the familiar commitments in return for  loneliness and growing lack of care for the self.  The appearance of this ‘split career track’ reflects a 'care ceiling' (Lynch 2010) that ignores the lived reality of workers for whom the creation and maintenance of affective bonds are central to development and wellbeing.