- Introduction: Critical Mobilities in the Neoliberal University
This special issue of Feminist Formations centers on the politics of the movement of feminist scholars within, across, and out of academic institutions, or what Patti Duncan (2014, 56) has called “academic migrations.” Too often, feminist scholars relocate or are relocated as a response to discrimination, bullying, harassment, and/or hostile work environments. Such relocations may involve changing departments/units or institutions, or leaving academia altogether. Contributors to this special issue ask how and why feminist scholars circulate within, across, and sometimes out of academic institutions, what factors drive these movements, and what the meanings and consequences of their movements are at various scales. We seek to address the continued need for critical reflection on the experiences of scholars “from the margins” in academia, and of critical mobilities, specifically exits and reroutings.
Our collaboration on this topic originated at the annual meeting of the Pacific Sociological Association (PSA) in Portland, Oregon, in 2017. Anchored in the work of PSA President Karen Pyke, the theme of the meeting was “Institutional Betrayal: Inequity, Discrimination, Bullying, and Retaliation in Academia.” We were there to take part in a panel discussion Katja had organized about the exit of feminist sociologists from “traditional” sociology departments, and the “lateral” move into (presumably) critical interdisciplinary units such as women’s and gender studies and ethnic studies. The room was full. The audience included graduate students and faculty members at different stages of their careers. One of the contributors to the pathbreaking volume Presumed Incompetent (Gutierrez y Muhs 2012) was present in the audience. Panelists and panel attendees engaged in animated conversation. There were more questions than answers, and so much more to say than what could be included in one conference panel. In fact, we realized that a whole conference was not enough space.
We can now speak of a growing literature that centers the experiences of women of color and other marginalized groups in academia and calls for institutional and structural analysis and transformation as necessary responses (see, for example, Ahmed 2012; De Welde and Stepnick 2014; Chaterjee and Maira 2014). [End Page vii] The day before our PSA panel, another well-attended panel had revolved around discussion of how Presumed Incompetent developed, and why it had been so well received. As Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde (2014) wrote in The Feminist Wire, “Few texts in recent years have had such a rippling effect in the non-self-reflective world of academia, and the book has inspired a tsunami of support for change within the system.” The popularity and prominence of published works on the challenges women of color and other marginalized groups face in academia is no accident. They have resonated because they reflect the lived experiences of many. They have provided tools for women of color and other historically marginalized groups within academia across fields, academic institutions, regions of the United States, and internationally, to connect the dots across what might have initially seemed disparate individual experiences and to begin examining patterns of shared experience.
One thing that became clear through our panel exchange is that academic exits by critical feminist scholars in connection or in response to institutional betrayals are a recognizable and perhaps all-too-common experience, especially for women of color. The conversations held in Portland around exits and institutional betrayals felt both urgent and unfinished. A key premise that motivates this special issue is that there are particular institutional and structural constraints and conditions that impel the moves and exits of critical scholars, especially of those who occupy marginalized social locations through their embodiment of nondominant ethnoracial and gendered characteristics, identities, and histories. This focus thus differentiates this special issue from the broader body of work known as QuitLit, through which scholars share their stories of leaving academia, often for personal reasons or due to the impossibility of securing a tenure-track position after completion of their graduate training. Also, the consequences of moves and exits are likely to be different for critical scholars from marginalized social locations than for “mainstream” scholars occupying dominant social locations, who may move across institutions to increase their status and/or...