- Power, Knowledge, and Feminist Scholarship: An Ethnography of Academia by Maria do Mar Pereira
Dr. Maria do Mar Pereira opens her bracing and unexpectedly hopeful book, Power, Knowledge, and Feminist Scholarship, with its elevator pitch: “I’m analyzing the discourses that circulate in academia about the extent to which women’s and gender studies can produce [cue finger dance] ‘proper’ scientific knowledge, and how feminist academics negotiate those discourses” (1). The dismissive notion that women’s gender, feminist studies (WGFS) “is not quite proper academic knowledge” (1) comes as no surprise to many of us who struggle to keep our footing in the shifting sands of the neoliberal academy. However, arriving in a moment when WGFS programs are being shut down in Hungary and shrinking in many institutions globally, Pereira’s compellingly written ethnographic study offers a welcome (if modest) dose of optimism for scholars and students of feminist, gender, LGBTQ studies, and related disciplines. Her additional insights about the escalating demands of contemporary academe and strategies for resistance may well be life-preserving for scholars in any field.
Pereira is a feminist ethnographer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick (UK), where she directs the Centre for the Study of Women and Gender. In this volume, as in many of her publications, she analyzes the ways feminist scholars navigate the “boundary work” of perceived “proper knowledge,” and the implications for practitioners and the discipline. Pereira situates this examination within the “performative university,” the increasingly neoliberal space in which epistemic value must be “continuously enacted and recorded through countable ‘outputs’ ” (205). Readers may move through Pereira’s analysis of interviews, formal discourse and “corridor talk,” and her insights about feminist academics’ constant negotiation around credibility and authority, with mixed emotions. On the one hand, there may be comfort in recognizing that our personal and academic challenges are shared by so many others. However, it also may be painful to see our exhaustion and anxiety as data points in a disturbing international pattern. [End Page 158]
Pereira’s longitudinal methods make for fascinating reading. She draws on several dozen 2008–9 semistructured interviews with scholars and students with various levels of status in WGFS, and in a range of related disciplines and a variety of institutions in Portugal and the United Kingdom, the United States and Scandinavia. She contextualizes these interviews with institutional observations in formal and informal settings, including “humorous” asides in classroom lectures and conversations that reveal the many micro-aggressive ways that colleagues undermine the epistemic status of feminist work. Pereira’s follow-up interviews in 2015–16 allow her to trace the increasingly deleterious effects of performative expectations. Pereira reminds us these battles may be global, but they unfold in local and distinct ways.
As a theorist, Pereira uses Foucauldian discourse analysis to examine the truth-and-power effects of scientificity on WGFS work in academic “audit culture.” In theoretical and elegantly argued early chapters, she also draws on Thomas Gieryn’s cartographic metaphors to explain disciplinary boundary work that is descriptive and prescriptive, naturalizing and legitimizing only certain kinds of knowledge. Pereira applies climatalogical metaphors from Linda Alcoff on the “chilliness” (and even microclimates) in her many examples that enable ideas to be heard or not, valued or not, in specific spaces and moments (58). Lorraine Code’s concept of “the epistemology of everyday life” also allows Pereira to illuminate the local practices described in her interviews in later chapters.
As Pereira reminds us, these struggles about scientificity and legitimacy, which escalated quickly in the noughties, have material effects—lowering or raising barriers to funding institutions, organizations, and journals that further establish credibility and authority (55). In chapters that examine the boundary work of scholars both outside and inside feminist studies, Pereira provides fieldwork examples to demonstrate how even scholars inside WGFS sometimes distance themselves from the “epistemic acceptability” of other feminist scholars, establishing legitimacy for themselves while cagily using and distancing themselves from often simplified versions of theories in acts of “dismissive...