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Reviewed by:
  • Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia ed. by Gabriella Gutiérrez et al.
  • Sonia Lawrence (bio)
Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G González, and Angela P Harris, eds, Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (Boulder, CO: Utah State University Press, 2012).

This book was eagerly ordered and awaited, then sat around neglected for a while. Not surprising, perhaps, that when it came down to it, I was reluctant to dive into all of the damage and dysfunction the academy has visited upon this particular group of outsiders who made it in. When I finally read it, most of what was in the volume was not a surprise. However, it was presented in ways that allowed me to think rather than to just feel. Well curated by the editors, it remains a vibrantly mixed bag of work, able to serve different purposes at different times. I was almost finished the book when I went out to a symposium organized around it by the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice. Many of the contributors were there as well as a new group of women brought into the project, and the day amplified and complicated many of the themes.

The contributors are almost all employed as full-time academics (one who does not fit this category is the lone Canadian, Delia D. Douglas, a sociology Ph.D. and independent scholar).1 They come from a variety of disciplines, mainly the social sciences and the legal academy, probably a reflection of the editors, two of whom are law professors (Carmen G. González and Angela P. Harris). Contributors Angela Mae Kupenda, Adrien Katherine Wing, Elvia R. Arriola, Stephanie M. Wildman, Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Sylvia Lazos, Dean Spade, Deidre M. Bowen, and Margalynne Armstrong all teach in the legal academy, while the others are in a variety of fields mainly in the social sciences/humanities. They write about a wide range of different things and in an equally broad range of styles. The book is divided into five parts: general campus climate, faculty/student relationships, networks of allies, social class in academia, and tenure and promotion, each with a short introduction.

The editors identify a number of themes that provide more insight than the substantive divisions. These are “the negotiation of identity in the academic world,”2 [End Page 166] the “link between agency and structure, the individual and the collective,”3 “the nature of academic culture,” and what is valued in our strange little world, and, finally, “mechanisms for change.” Within these frameworks are found stories that articulate or illustrate the emotional reality of working in a space that claims fervently to be a meritocracy and yet so clearly marks merit as a raced, gendered, and classed prize.

The authors are quite careful to talk about what is not in their book. Disability, for instance, is not explicitly named, although the authors note that “[m]any women described stress-related physical and psychological symptoms and disorders, including high blood pressure, asthma attacks, autoimmune disorders, significant weight gain, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and cancer.”4 Other silences are self-protective. Attending a March 2013 symposium on the collection held at University of California Berkeley School of Law, I heard many participants tell stories that they would not write down—a variety of risks to self and others back up these decisions. The nine categories of reasons for silence that the editors offer tell us much about the kind of stories left out and the situations of the women who decided to remain silent. Class, too, seems to get short shrift. The fourth part of the volume, which looks at social class in academia, is the shortest part, but in fact many of the other narrative-style contributions do implicate class hierarchies. I do not want to lay these silences at the feet of the editors—they are clear about the openness of the call and they interrogate the silences in a meaningful way. In fact, the discussion of the silences may be one of the most important parts of the book.

Although there were...


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pp. 166-169
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