Why I am writing here again

I have not written here for a few months, for which I can only apologise to myself and my avid readership… I have always enjoyed writing and I think my avoidance of the blog has been partly due to distraction with the PhD and also Holly being pregnant, but also a sense of it feeling unnecessary or an indulgence compared to other commitments. This week, I spoke with my dad who was suffering from a relapse of a preexisting back problem. During our conversation, he mentioned that he wanted to stave off boredom the next day, having limited movement and being stuck in the house. I encouraged him to write a story as he has produced some really heartfelt and also innovative pieces in the past. To my delight, I received an email from him the next day with a beautiful reflective piece attached. Reading this piece on my train journey from Newcastle to Carlisle, I was transported back to hill walking on green and rocky scenery warm sunshine with my dad, specifically our walks on Blencathra. My dad’s writing was honest, heartfelt and highly personal. I cried as I read it, swam in my happy memories, and felt the raw emotions of the love between a father and child burst forth. Having sufficiently recovered from this experience and staring at the rolling Northumberland hills as they cascaded into Cumbria, I was immediately reminded of the vital importance of writing in my life, and its pivotal role as a lifeline and catharsis to my own research journey. I immediately resolved to resume my writing commitment and always remember its impact on my own emotional and cognitive focus. Writing will always be the place where I feel most free to express myself. This form of reflective writing is particularly helpful as an ally to the constant whirring of PhD concepts and theories that occupy my conscious and subconscious mind. I have agreed with myself that this is a very worthwhile process and something I must continue. I will start this post with a general update before briefly outlining my thoughts on lies, revisionism and ideology which are some areas of theory and dystopia I am fascinated with.

General Update

I have spent much of the last few months reading about gender theory through Connell’s work, the ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ by Freire, and latterly, Ideology through Althusser. I have also continued to read dystopian fiction including the recently published ‘Red Clocks’ by Leni Zumas, which I can highly recommend. In recent months, I have also moved away from a focus on leadership and towards resistant movements of change as depicted in the subversions in dystopian literature.

The Equity Challenge project has been progressing over the summer and I have been really pleased to build a partnership with the Student’s Union on our student audit. I have met new team members and been really pleased to find continuing enthusiasm for this important action. Working for cultural change is as difficult as I expected. Speaking to groups of students in lecture hall about this is a really odd experience. I have found myself pivoting the ‘pitch’ to appeal to the individual gains that students may pull from getting involved. I am happy to report some genuine interest from students so far and feel hopeful for more to come. I think student involvement is an acid test for the viability of sustainable cultural change. I my mind, this will happen far more effectively with a strong and unified staff and student collaboration, but without the students it will be a far more challenging and lengthy journey.

I have also been writing about fertility in the workplace as a trope of dystopian literature through a range of organisation based research into the negative impacts of fertility. This has been through a few drafts already and,  thanks to my supervisors, I have been learning how to craft my writing into an organised and cogent academic essay. I must admit I have fallen into some bad habits since completing my Masters, so their feedback has been vital. Since working on this essay, which I hope to submit to a conference next year, I have started to narrow down my theoretical framework and the theory of ideology has become prominent in my thinking.


My second supervisor suggested that I read Luis Althusser’s work on ideology as a potential theoretical framework that can work in concert with my ideas of dystopia. One of the underpinning ontological assumptions that drives my research is my perception and assumption that people internalise the values, structures and ideology of an organisation, which is often an arm of a larger state/global structure. In the case of Universities, Althusser would define them as Ideological State Apparatuses. Althusser, a prominent, Marxist theorist and philosopher from the mid and late twentieth century, wrote his essay on ideology, outlining state structures underpinned by dominant, bourgeois ideology which reproduced its dominance over the masses through two arms of state apparatuses:

  1. (Repressive) State Apparatuses – acting with the overt, though usually subdued threat of violence as a primary motivating factor.
    • Government, Administration; Army; Police; Courts; Prisons
  2. Ideological State Apparatuses primarily acting through ideological means to inculcate and coerce the masses into a unified social purpose
    • Religion, Education, Family, Legal, Political, Trade unions, Communication media, Cultural – literature, art, sports

These two arms of the state apparatuses work together with various elements acting more prominently or less so depending on the context. Religion in the UK plays a less prominent role in ideological influence than it once did, while communication media relentlessly influences us on a minute by minute basis. The repressive state apparatus form the legitimate, yet often unrequired threat of violence and physical suppression that inculcates a sense of apprehension, self regulation and fear, all experiences of fear. Why do we choose not to rise up and overthrow seemingly incompetent governments? Historical events such as the civil rights backlash of police, imprisoned suffragettes and internationally hounded and outcast whistle-blowers provide clear examples of the consequences of any efforts to rise up against state and ideological power.  We internalise this knowledge and I believe it permeates our daily choices to act or not act. Of course we do internalise different ideologies based on politics, values (religious or other) and family environments etc.

Ideological differences are always present at a personal or group level, but the ideology that is often depicted in dystopia is that of state ideology and dominant elites with one purpose, to retain domination over the masses. Capitalist society, especially neo-liberal society, functions through an ideology of self preservation, individual self-interest and  domination of one group over another. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, contemporary society’s dominant dominant group is the super-rich, white men; often descending from a dynasty of family wealth and power (inherited and accumulated in various ways). If we accept that this group of elite and super-wealthy people have achieved their success by a mixture of individual achievement, inheritance and a societal system that rewards efforts to reinforce the domination of this group, we can begin to conceive of the possibility that the dominant group of white men may not be very receptive to alternative approaches to societal structure. These alternatives include theories and concepts of gender inequity.

Ideology and gender 

Ideology intersects with gender in the disputed concept of patriarchy which runs through western society in much of its ideological and repressive state apparatuses. For the repressive state we have the Government (historically dominated by men, particularly in the US) and the army (a bastion of masculine, aggressive power and tradition), the police (a long time boys club).

Topical this month, the law is a major actor in the repression of women, I don’t think I need to go into the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings other than to ask how a non-conservative woman judge would have been received by the senate if faced with similar allegations. Kavanaugh’s imminent confirmation (barring an unlikely Senate rejection) will encapsulates the ideological challenge for women in western society. He is a wealthy, white man from a privileged upbringing who represents conservative values and has previously talked about Roe Vs Wade as precedent on precedent. This means a ruling that has been reaffirmed in the supreme court after its original ruling. His view is accurate, but does leave the door ajar for alternate rulings as it does not describe the ruling as ‘settled law’. Kavanaugh, if confirmed, will join 5 other men and 3 women on the US supreme court. The events of the Blassey Ford hearings have highlighted the high stakes involved in legal state power. If confirmed, a man accused of sexual assault by multiple women will serve for the rest of his life in a highly influential position as the embodiment of the ideology of the current US administration under Trump. Trump, who this week was exposed in the New York Times as the recipient of a huge inheritance from his family’s real estate business through tax dodging and suspect schemes to siphon millions of dollars into his own coffers for posterity without paying appropriate inheritance tax. Trump, a man who campaigned with Mike Pence, both rich and powerful white men, on an ideology of conservative values and pro-life legislation. The repressive state apparatus really do matter, particularly when working in concert with ideology.

The ideological apparatuses of education, as I have stated before, are dominated by men in positions of power in Professor and Executive roles. The media also repeats the domination with only 20% of national newspaper editors being women. Religion has only very recently even contemplated women in positions of power and this is limited to the Church of England, not Catholicism, Islam or the Judaism.

If I add the recent rise of social media and online tech giants into the mix, we have Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Alphabet Inc (google parent company) Larry Page and Sergey Brin. These three giant companies dominate and influence our lives on a minute by minute basis and all three have dominant, super-rich men as their founders. This is omitting the enduringly influential Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as titans of computer technology.

If we can accept that there is a dominant ideology running through the state apparatuses, it is not a great leap to also accept that this ideology will protect its dominant and powerful players, the white men. How do the dominant protect their dominant position in the face of calls for change?

Piecemeal Ideological Responses

When faced with rising calls for change and progress from groups in society, the dominant group protects its position by offering piecemeal amendments, restoring order through concessions which may fall short of the full demand but pacify the rising anger of the masses. When feminist movements rose in the 1960s and 70s, one of the state’s responses was the abortion rights legislation in UK (1967) and US (1973). Such offerings can serve to reduce tensions and give new freedoms, but they do not displace the dominant groups at the top. They do not reduce their power, in fact their domination is secured for a generation by this negotiated offering. As we are seeing in the US, such offerings can be placed at risk in backlash movements underpinned by another state ideological apparatus, the conservative religious apparatus. The dominant elite will respond to this powerful group in the US because they have infiltrated the government as an arm of the repressive state apparatus and we are seeing reduced abortion clinic availability in a number of states across the US. State Apparatuses are already mobilising to offer piecemeal limits on abortion rights. This erosion leads to speculation of the abortion law being repealed in the US.

Dystopian ideology

I will conclude with a brief overview of the book I have recently read ‘Red Clocks’ by Leni Zumas. This highly relevant dystopia depicts an all too plausible future society in America with abortion rights overturned, an ominous ‘pink wall’ border for Canada and a new law to prohibit single mothers from adopting children. This novel may well be read for years to come as a prophetic example of state ideology fuelled by the fear, oppression and control experienced by women in oppressive societies. The US of ‘Red Clocks’ is very recognisable to our contemporary western society, with one difference, the erosion of women’s right to choose. Losing this right devalues women’s autonomy and reduces them to secondary subjects relative to dominant men. The ideology depicted here is likely derived from contemporary religious ideology in the US and the pro-life movement. The consequences for women in this novel are sometimes subtle, sometimes terrifying, often heartbreaking and always unfair. Here, the dominant state ideology has shifted and the repressive state apparatuses move to reinforce them. Once the ideological battle is lost, the struggle changes from progress to clawing back lost ground.

We must be forever vigilant of this constant, distopian threat. If we fall into the trap of internalising the dominant ideology, we can easily become complicit in the creation of dystopia. Ideology is everywhere in many guises, but the dominant state ideology is the most important and powerful, yet representative of the smallest group. Those at the top will ruthlessly protect themselves and we must also protect our own interests as fiercely. In Red Clocks, each protagonist has their own resistant act and shows the fire of subversion within them. We must all keep the fire burning to resist any erosion of progress and recognise the power of ideology as a weapon of dystopian societies.

“She breasted boobiliy to the stairs, and titted downwards” my voice in the gendered paradigm – Weeks 4 & 5

The main quote of this blog is inspired by the twitter sensation this week which sparked the prompt: #describe yourself the way a male author would.

The origin of this topic was a male author’s claim that he had proven that ‘it’s possible for a male author to write an authentic female protagonist’. What was shared on twitter this week by his peer reviewer was a sample of his work with a female protagonist voice which was anything but authentically female (even from my white, male perspective). I believe that men can write a well rounded female character, just as a woman can write a well rounded male character, furthermore, I worry about the delineation that is naturally caused by this debate. It leads me to ask the following questions:

  • What is ‘female’ and what is ‘male’ and how can we recognise it without lowering ourselves to well trodden stereotypes?
  • Should we appreciate our differences or aspire to a blurring of boundaries between gender, ethnicity, sexuality and disability, after all, we are all people aren’t we?
  • Why do we limit our understanding of each other’s consciousness to base labels of gender or other protected characteristics?
  • How can we hope to understand each other if we immediately draw upon conscious and unconscious biases of what defines each others’ character? 

In terms of leadership, I believe it is important that we evaluate leaders according to what we view as common attributes and values. A recent Harvard Business Review student surveyed ‘195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations’ to ask for their top 15 leadership competencies.

W160302_GILES_TOPTEN1-1200x800 HBR Leadership competencies

We can see from this list that none of these ‘competencies’ should be viewed as exclusive to men, women, ethnic groups, LGBTQ or disabled people. These are recognisable qualities that I agree with, though I may reconsider the order of priority for some. What was not considered with this study was whether respondents were envisaging a model leader when describing competencies and this unconscious bias may have affected the choices made.

Unconscious bias can have a major impact, as I have previously alluded to, in terms of the ‘leaky pipeline’ for female academia. A recent CIPD, People Management article discussed it’s impact across a range of protected characteristics:


What is worrying from these statistics is that Academia features prominently in gender, ethnicity and disability bias. It certainly feeds into my underlying assumptions that there is a culture of sameness (white male) that pervades academic institutions. It concerns me that places of learning and academic development, where we espouse noble values and promote our leadership role within our communities, cannot lead in our approach to equitable career progression and bias.  I do not want to tarnish all institutions in this way, but I also do not feel the observations and the discussions I have had are unique and limited to one organisation. We all have a part to play in changing this and the Equality Challenge Unit and the Athena SWAN charter is a great step in the right direction.

A test that I have taken recently on the recommendation of my supervisor is the Harvard Implicit Bias test: Using a word association method, this test is rally illuminating as a means of uncovering your unconscious associations for gender and other characteristics and careers etc. Before we can act collectively, we must assess and become aware of our own individual biases and mitigate for them.

Certainly, the naive male author quoted on twitter had succumbed to imposing his unconsciously biased version of the female voice without consideration of each individuals’ independent consciousness. It is an absolute failure of characterisation to impose your perceptions of a character’s individuality (be that gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability etc.) without serious and dedicated time and effort to engage with, interrogate and understand what it is to be that person. I expect this author has attempted to embody someone (and a gender) he thinks he knows and has focused on the external projected personality he has observed without contemplating the internal, intrinsic personality he has neglected.

My reading over the last two weeks has centred on my sociological alignment, or where I see myself relative to theoretical schools of thought. As I have alluded to in previous posts, I am focused on my contribution working to disrupt the gender imbalance in organisational reality I personally perceive and encountered through discussions with peers. From my exploration of the four paradigms, I have placed myself within the Radical Humanism quadrant which is formulated on my belief in subjective truth, not objective certainty, conscious individual freedom and a desire to enact change. I am critical of the systems and structures that are in place and the effect they have upon individual liberty and our conscious selves. I am particularly critical of organisations which promote collective values (granted these may be consulted with its employees), but are ultimately imposed as core to the operation of the organisation and with a range of influences including market forces.

The diagram below is taken from Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (2017) and shows a range of theoretical stances within the Radical Humanism paradigm. I am exploring French Existentialism as a possible fit to my approach. I have identified Jean-Paul Sartre as a potentially useful theorist and thinker. His three concepts of being ‘in-itself’, ‘for self’ and ‘for others’ identifies the intersection of and concept of  ‘nothingness’ where the gap between the real world and the consciousness of individuals enables the space for individual liberty, freedom and creativity. I am excited by this concept as it aligns with my proposed use of fiction and dystopia to disturb the reality and raise the consciousness of my readers to new possibilities and the nightmarish reality that we may all be inhabiting already.


Sociological Paradigms

When considering the other options, and having read about solipsism, I cannot find myself in this ultra subjective theoretical framework. I believe that humans have conscious, subjective selves, but our actions and perceptions of reality have a real and tangible impact on what I see as out shared reality. For me this shared reality includes community and our environment (global sustainability and shared responsibility). Conversely, the functionalist and structuralist quadrants strike me as too dependent on a predominant assumption of shared understanding of objective reality and the ability of actions to uniformly work within this framework; grounded in a reality that is independent of subjective differences. In my view subjective truth can be recognised and appreciated and by respecting each other’s truths we can find common ground for meaningful understanding.

There is one question has been nagging at me as I have started to position myself and it is something I need to spend a lot more time to figure out:

How can I be credible as a privileged, white male within the paradigm of gendered leadership I wish to disrupt?

I believe, and share this view with others, that we cannot achieve any meaningful change if we work in silos (be that gendered or other interest groups). If we invert the imbalance, we create a new problem and a new conflict, not a joint solution. I believe I can position myself as a self aware and humble practitioner within the gender movement, but I hope I will not be as naive as the male author quoted on twitter. I know my task will be challenging and I am sure I will encounter sceptical views from my peers. I accepts this reality, strive to unburden myself of latent biases that may taint my authorial voice and continue on my journey to learn more, respect my subject and value each individual as a conscious and free person.


Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (2017). Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis: Elements of the sociology of corporate life. Routledge.



Legally Blonde paradigms and dystopian inspirations: Resilience and identity in Gendered Leadership: – Week two

My eye was drawn to the BBC article this week relaying an encounter between a film journalist and Legally Blonde star, Reese Witherspoon. On the surface, this encounter described a wonderful opportunity for a fan to share something meaningful and inspirational with an iconic female star who inspired her. The fact that her dissertation was enthusiastically received is also a positive angle that we can all appreciate and dream for with our icons. Looking deeper, the themes of female identity and resilience are admired qualities present in the film and its lead and these qualities appear frequently in dystopia.

Theoretical readings of Dystopia and Young Adult Dystopia have often returned to the idea of resilience and the ability to take action (Mallan, 2017) as a critical contributor to success. We can look to the example of Katniss Everdene in ‘The Hunger Games’ (Collins, 2013) and countless others who transcend their reality to walk a new path. The idea of resilience conjures up thoughts of strong characters who ‘bounce back’ despite a series of potentially detrimental circumstances. It is sometimes predicated on a context whereby oppressed actors are unable to express themselves fully and must therefore exhibit resilience to cope with the challenges of these negative forces to retain their purpose and identity. In the case of Elle Woods, her resilience is founded in an unerring desire to practice law in her way in spite of a tirade of judgemental and conservative principles which exclude her ‘type’ from participation in such noble professions. It is her personalised approach, coupled with some required conformity to the learning practices of her Law school, that enables her to achieve the respect and admiration of her peers in academic and legal practice. In organisations, two of the phenomena I am interested in are conformity and resilience for female leaders. One of the questions I want to explore is how do women succeed in this masculine paradigm with rules created by and for masculine leaders?

It could be argued that they succeed through conformity to this paradigm, compromising their own identity to align with the expectations of the organisation and the broader perceptions of what a leader is.  Alternatively, it could be said that women channel remarkable reserves of resilience against wave after wave of mansplaining, hepeating and unequal reward. What we need to consider is how we channel this powerful resilience to harness the power of the repressed and take responsibility for change as per the young adult protagonists combating the adult power of their dystopias (Mallan, 2017). Certainly ‘collective unity’ (thanks to John Mabillard) and solidarity in pursuit of our cause are vital. My supervisor promotes the role of the ally in providing support for female (or minority) ideas that may otherwise be marginalised or re-framed by a dominant actor in the room without recognition for the originator. We can all become allies in our workplaces and lives by standing together on issues that we agree are important.

One damaging influence upon the goal of collective unity is trust. In our increasingly individualistic and fearful society, the circle of trust we can draw upon becomes smaller and smaller. If we are unable to open ourselves to the benefits of a wider network of trust, we may be fatally flawed in our journey towards equity. Power, in dystopia and reality, seeks to disrupt collective movements and dismantle collective unity. Beware the spectre of fear that drives a chasm into the collective visions we aspire to; it breeds distrust, betrayal and individualism – the enemies of collective unity.

Finally, I have been considering my philosophical approach in addressing my research question. One of the primary problems I face concerns the dominant paradigm of masculine power which has defined the business world and therefore the gender dynamics, rules and behaviour norms of organisations. As I have engaged with the scientific methodological approaches of Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, I have begun to consider the problem of trying to answer a problem when the rules of the world you are trying to understand are stacked significantly in favour of the men who predominantly receive the lion’s share of the benefits.

It is human nature to protect what we have and to maintain our position of power when we achieve it. I am beginning to consider the falsification principle of Popper’s ‘refutation’, the subjectivity of knowledge and the absence of certainties in science as more philosophically aligned to my radical approach of disrupting the gendered organisational paradigm via dystopian trope analysis.  This challenges the Kuhnian approach of working within the paradigms to confirm and expand existing theories. I conceptualise the gender movement, at present, as constricted within the prevailing paradigm of masculinity. To achieve equity and parity for women and minority groups based on current rules, it is necessary to work within the system, not create a new system outside the existing parameters. If we live as hermits, we only impact our own lives, we don’t things for the better.

I am not dismissing Kuhn’s conceptualisation of scientific method as he also points to new paradigms as historical realities within scientific reasoning and methodology. I  argue that my research goals are centred on demonstrating a critical and robust argument against the current system and showing the ways to a new paradigm inspired by the lessons of dystopia. Popper’s insistence on validity of scientific theories only if they are refutable by testing to the degree of falsification may present a challenge to my approach. To build falsification measures into my paradigm for progressive action may weaken my argument for the inspirational influence of subjective hope which drives collective agency and is found in the Dystopian subversions of power.

I am concerned with highlighting the inherent flaws of the system and ‘breaking the box’ to create a space and opportunity to explore a new paradigm where the rules and principles are based in equitable shares in prosperity. If we can take inspiration from Elle Woods and her journey to ‘break the box’, we can see her resilience, identity and integrity never wavered. A character who has inspired millions should be taken seriously. She is an icon of female empowerment and someone whose approach subverted the dominant paradigm and redefined the rules of success. Progressive gender movements must draw strength and inspiration from these icons and remember their identity, resilience and power.


Collins, S. (2013). The Hunger Games Complete Trilogy. Scholastic UK.

Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago press.

Mallan, K. (2017). Dystopian fiction for young people: Instructive tales of resilience. Psychoanalytic Inquiry37(1), 16-24.

Popper, K. (2014). Conjectures and refutations: The growth of scientific knowledge. routledge.

Utopian Visions, Dystopian Nightmares and Inclusion Riders – Week 1 – March 5th 2018

We start this blog together at a time of exciting possibilities with #metoo (Tarana Burke, 2006), #timesup ( and ‘inclusion riders‘ (Stacey Smith, 2016), yet I will be exploring the dystopic underbelly of our experiences. Let’s start with reality. Based on current statistics, only 6% of UK FTSE 100 CEOs, 22% of MPs and 24% of UK University Professors are women. These are stark figures that point to a fundamental imbalance in the seats of power and influence within our society. We may be told that things are changing and progress takes time, but when you review those figures and consider your workplace reality, you may begin to reevaluate the positivist narrative you are being fed. The question becomes, who is feeding me this narrative and why are they doing it?

Why is this dystopian exploration important and why does it matter?

Dystopia explores the worst in us, the nightmarish possibilities inspired by our contemporary experiences. To understand what we are capable of gives us insights into what we may be perpetrating today, perhaps less conspicuously than in famous dystopian canon, but often just as devastatingly effective in its oppressive and controlling influence on our lives. This blog will explore the question of what we can learn from fictional dystopian examples and apply these lessons to our reality. The purpose is to shock you and raise your awareness of what is happening under our very noses. In our hypernormalised reality (Alexei Yurchak, 2006; Adam Curtis, 2016) we conform to the gender normative systems that provide stability, traditions and purpose to our lives. We conform, mostly willingly, and often in the unconscious or conscious knowledge that what we experience is not fair or just or right, yet the scale of the problem is so vast and pervasive we struggle to conceive of a way out. We are waiting for the solution, the leader to show us the way, but perhaps the solution is within us.

The second area of exploration in this blog will consider and promote examples of dissidence, subversion and rebellion in Dystopia and contemporary working life. We see pockets of activism across all walks of society, but what can we learn from dystopian protagonists and their struggles against oppressive systems? How does subversion succeed and how does it fail? To start with, using #timesup as an example, we see that high-level buy-in of powerful voices in Hollywood has lended credence and power to this critical movement. You may have noticed that the ‘Inclusion Rider’ concept was coined in 2016, yet only gains wide recognition this week. Such a terrific concept deserved to be shared as soon as it was conceived, yet we rely so much on the voices of those with platforms. Here is the battle ground, the first allies have spoken, what we need now is momentum. Just look at the remarkable transformation in Jeremy Corbyn’s fortunes, from the brink of political extinction, derided and dismissed, to the spokesperson for the many, not the few. How was this possible, well Momentum (excuse the pun) and the collective power of thousands of people pulling in one direction was a vital ingredient. That story is not over yet and neither is ours, not by a long way.

I conclude this opening blog, which has been meant as an introduction and taster, with the horrific, iconic image created by George Orwell, ‘If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever’ (1984). To avoid this fate, we must fight for what we believe in and resist the tyranny of concentrated power.