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Reviewed by:
  • Women Activating Agency in Academia: Metaphors, Manifestos and Memoir ed. by Alison L. Black and Susanne Garvis, and: Lived Experiences of Women in Academia: Metaphors, Manifestos and Memoir ed. by Alison L. Black and Susanne Garvis
  • Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle (bio)
Women Activating Agency in Academia: Metaphors, Manifestos and Memoir
Alison L. Black and Susanne Garvis, editors
Routledge, 2018, xvii + 210 pp. ISBN 9780367890957, $48.95 paperback.
Lived Experiences of Women in Academia: Metaphors, Manifestos and Memoir
Alison L. Black and Susanne Garvis, editors
Routledge, 2018, xviii + 199 pp. ISBN 9780367890940, $48.95 paperback.

Amid the continued rise of scholarship on the topic of academic women’s self-construction, two new collections have appeared for readers of all academic fields, particularly lifewriting scholars. As handbooks of narrative resistance and empowerment, Women Activating Agency in Academia (WAAA) and Lived Experiences of Women in Academia (LEWA), both edited by early childhood education scholars Alison Black and Susanne Garvis, offer a timely platform and resource for examining and supporting the construction of new subjectivities for women academics in androcentric institutions.

WAAA and LEWA succeed brilliantly in uniting dozens of voices, with thirty-five and thirty-six contributors respectively. Both volumes are conversant and intertextual, with many essays inter-referencing others within and across titles. The overwhelming majority of the essays are collaborative, co-written both within and across disciplines (sixteen out of eighteen in LEWA and eight out of eighteen in WAAA). The editors take care to highlight the diversity and volume of voices by placing the contributor biographies before their own preface.

Both collections feature narratives written by women about issues facing women in academia—in a wide variety of autotheoretical and automethodological approaches to career self-construction, including autoethnography, self-auditing, and collaborative social justice activism. The auto/biographically constructed essays that form these bold collections showcase women grappling with the roles they are expected to play in a wide variety of fields, including philosophy, education, anthropology, and nursing, as well as a range of positions in the academy, including adjunct-scholars, administrator-scholars, teacher-scholars, and alt-academic-scholars. There is even a narrative by an “anonymous” author whose identity is protected because, as the editors tactfully but unapologetically explain,

This is the author’s first effort at writing about a very difficult chapter in her career and life, and her inaugural attempt to write in the genre of memoir and personal narrative. Her telling of this story is raw, chaotic, and unfinished because she hasn’t been allowed to come out of the chaos yet. Characters are given pseudonyms, and the chapter is being published anonymously, as threats and harassment from her perpetrator continue.

(LEWA ix) [End Page 829]

This essay is perhaps the most provocative contribution among them, and on its own, distinguishes the work of these collections as unique and daring in their efforts to facilitate both the voicing and the witnessing of how women across the globe and across disciplines inhabit the more hostile spaces of academia.

Black and Garvis’s central mission to protect and promote the power of women voicing their academic personhood is encapsulated in Black’s own contribution, “Responding to Longings for Slow Scholarship,” in which she declares, “There is a richness to our individual experiences and stories that must not be reduced. From these can emerge a collective vision that speaks to our individual, emotional and embodied lives—lives which the neoliberal university too oft deems insignificant” (WAAA 25). While all scholars are expected to divest themselves of the situational knowledge and authorizing experience of life, this code disproportionately impacts women—especially graduate students and early career scholars— for whom the labor of constructing an academic career in the androcentric academy also requires an active silencing of “what it has felt like, and feels like, to be a female academic,” sometimes at the expense of the mental and emotional wellbeing needed to thrive in their careers (LEWA xiv). Their greater vulnerability in this regard often leads them to leave academia, in part because of the pressure of an illusory, ideal career persona.

While not explicitly drawing on the theory of auto/biographical studies as a field, WAAA and LEWA do...