I attended a session today for research development that focused on meaningful research and spaces in academia. The session was led by Gibson Burrell whose agenda centred on the contemporary, neoliberal landscape of academic and approaches to subverting this.
The session itself was designed as a space for academic discourse and more egalitarian debate, unfortunately, this was not fully achieved in that much of the talking was led by the professors in the room (this is not the first time I have encountered this problem). This issue is compounded by the parallel demographic issue amongst our professor colleagues of male dominance. This was not an intentional hierarchical barrier, but rather a consequence of the power distance between the students and senior colleagues in the room (probably only perceived by the students). This power distance (in a foucauldian sense) between the individuals in the room meant that the space became transformed from an initially open space to a more closed, patriarchal space.
One consequence of this re-conceptualised space, aside from the visual problem of male professors discussing research in their terms, was the equally problematic silence of young women and BAME colleagues in the room. Taking a feminist & postcolonial perspective, the room began as a gender balanced, ethnically diverse group, yet the conversation was representative of hegemonic masculinity in the sense that most of the time and reflections were reproduced stories of white, male privilege in academia. The problem reminded me of my work on masculinities and the voices of alternative masculinities such as caring, gay or subordinate masculinity in parental discourse. It is so difficult to speak up with an alternative lens, and I was so pleased when a woman (I later learned from Turkey) spoke about power in Foucauldian terms (which is the main reason I mentioned it earlier). Her contribution was excellent and added to what was a very interesting discussion with some highly optimistic and hopeful points raised. I am certainly not criticising the content of the session as found most of the talk very refreshing. However, it struck me as I stuck up my hand to ask a question about manifestos, that I was also part of the problem as a young, white, cis-gender man (the next generation???). My question was self-serving and directly related to my own work; it also enabled me to establish my presence in the room. Ultimately, it was designed to orient the discussion back towards meaningful work and the methods to achieving meaning in academic outputs.
My final thoughts relate to this idea of meaningful research as I see academia as reaching an audience when our outputs can translate to local impact. My wife spoke to me about the impact of our eating habits the other day and this really struck home to me. We started eating a hybrid of vegan/vegetarian and pescatarian food about four years ago and spoke to our family about its benefits to the environment and our health. Although it is easy to feel your individual efforts are limited, we have since observed our close family all adapting their own diets to varying degrees of similarity to ours. In effect, our local impact (though I am sure this was not in isolation from media influence too) has resulted in a multiplying effect for health and environment. I want the same impact to sustain me in my research, which is why I engage in research that has a message for people to access and reflect on, not just accessible in the prestigious journals of academia. Hopefully my parental manifesto will be my first foray into this world, but is crucial that I do not create a narrow demographic space, reflective of my own positionality, as a consequence of this approach.